Earlier this year I was at an annual two-day sales training event for a global software company. The venue, meals and entertainment had been painstakingly planned to ensure everyone had a memorable time. Unfortunately the actual training portion of the event was not so memorable.

Based on roles, tenure and a self-assessment, each sales team member was given a curriculum of mandatory training classes to attend.

External experts as well as internal employees from product marketing, sales enablement, marketing and sales operations taught the classes. The goal was to improve sales productivity and achieve a target level of skill consistency across geographic regions.

According to the senior director of sales training, “Curriculums provide personalized training paths so each person builds the right skills they need to be successful.” The training team spent a year on the content, the curriculums and pedagogy in hopes sales would be engaged, motivated and retain more of the information.

The whole training event sounded great on paper except that it lacked a key ingredient: how sales wants to consume information.

Wake Up, Please

Two days of “death by PowerPoint,” discussion groups, demos and role-playing on content that wasn’t current or contextually relevant to the challenges the field faced resulted in sparsely attended sessions and quite a bit of snoring in the back of the rooms. Trainers, event planners, management and attendees left highly frustrated, vowing to skip by any means possible next year’s event.

It wasn’t the curriculum that failed but the content. Why?

“Just as it can be hard to engage prospects today, the same challenges exist with your internal team,” explained Joan Babinski, vice president of corporate marketing for Brainshark.

Brainshark conducted a study on the state of sales training and found that 48 percent of training professionals said their content wasn’t engaging enough to work with and 25 percent said the material didn’t match the needs of sales teams. Creating relevant and engaging content is hard because it is time consuming (50 percent of respondents), hard to do (24 percent), expensive (31 percent) and hard to keep current (32 percent).

Stale, boring content is only part of the problem. “Sales reps are just-in-time learners, and as they’re frequently in the field and on the road, mobile access is a key factor in training effectiveness,” said Brainshark President Greg Flynn. “To be successful, reps need to be able to find content at the time and place they need it – and that is frequently from their phone or tablet. Organizations looking to reach reps at the moment of need are looking to more visual, interactive mediums that deliver a great experience for the learner on any device.”

Going Mobile

Mobile-based training is on the rise and is proving to be more effective than locking your sales force in a room, real or virtual. Babinski noted:

Asynchronous training can be a very effective part of the training mix. A very important aspect of developing interpersonal-based skills is knowing your audience, and preparing effectively for a live conversation. We have customers whose reps videotape themselves delivering their presentations, or doing a role-play. They send those videos to their managers – who can watch them carefully and rewind, and then provide coaching, so individual reps can improve interpersonal and communication skills.”

Video can be a powerful training tool if the length matches the learner’s ability to pay attention and retain the knowledge. 88 percent of training professionals believe that videos should be less than 20 minutes in length with 32 percent of trainers recommending 5 minutes or less.

Developing training videos that can be viewed on smartphones and tablets demands that content be specifically built not just formatted for mobile. Best practices state that includes how interactive links, quizzes and gamification works.

Capturing the attention of Sales is easy but keeping it is hard; you get only a few chances to get it right. In that way, sales teams are very similar to customer engagement expectations. Babinski said:

For marketers, the survey results highlight that it’s often important to communicate with your internal salespeople as if they’re an audience you’re marketing to. How do you get your message across in an engaging way, in a format they’ll respond to? Often, that means using short and snappy, interactive, mobile-friendly multimedia -- something that’s likely to elicit interest, sustain attention and promote information retention as well.”

From a customer experience perspective, addressing these sales training challenges -- and making training content more engaging, sticky and effective -- results in salespeople who are better able to bring more value to their customer conversations, help them achieve target outcomes, and build positive brand preference.


Title image by Steve Doria  (Flickr) via a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license.