Building an effective and engaging training program for sales staff has always been a challenging task, but the COVID-19 pandemic has made this even more critical. As analysts have pointed out, increasing sales will be crucial to pandemic recovery. Unfortunately, in the age of remote working most firms can no longer rely on in-person collaborative learning to disseminate important skills throughout their sales teams.
Some of these challenges with remote learning - including fragmented training, a lack of engagement, and unclear return on investment - have been around for a decade already, but show no signs of diminishing. This has led to a situation in which companies spend millions of dollars a year on sales training without seeing any measurable improvements from these investments. In other words, the content and method of sales training is both poorly defined and expensive.
Enter performance learning, a strategy that aims to make sales training more effective by identifying the skills shared by top performers, and teaching them to new staff via methods that are contextual, vocational, and more effective than classroom-based learning.
In this article, we’ll take a look at performance learning, and show you how you can use it to improve your sales training.
The basic idea behind the performance learning philosophy is simple enough: instead of focusing on a standardized curriculum, performance learning is project-based. In practice, this means that learners are given high-level objectives to achieve, and then encouraged to use their own initiative to meet them.
The increasing number of organizations adopting performance learning is illustrative of an overall trend away from traditional learning methods. In fact, 42% of organizations are actively investing more into their digital skills training initiatives, and that percentage is likely to continue to rise.
The underlying principle of performance learning – and the thing that makes it so effective – is that learners are able to engage high-level skills, such as critical thinking and problem-solving, rather than simply recalling key facts. This form of learning is not entirely new, of course – learners have always been given large projects to complete under their own direction. The difference is that performance-based learning puts this kind of project-focused, vocational work front and center.
There are many examples of organizations applying performance learning techniques. This paradigm is widely used to teach critical thinking and media literacy, but offers particular advantages in sales training.
So, how can you apply performance learning within your sales training?
First and foremost, you need to revisit your sales training fundamentals. Take a look at your current training materials, and you’ll likely find that they focus on teaching learners the definitions of a number of key terms, metrics, and processes.
You need to re-configure this approach to focus on higher-level objectives. Instead of giving learners a list of terms, set them a collaborative, large-scale task to complete, such as developing a pitch for a new product feature alongside their peers. A useful tool in making this shift is to use a conceptual model known as Bloom’s Taxonomy.
This model maps low level verbs (for example, “reading”) to their higher-level analogues, and allows you to translate your current sales training into a project-based approach. For example, instead of setting an objective for learners to memorize facts (level one) you can base your lesson on learners explaining the importance of these same facts to each other (level five).
Basing these projects on real-life situations is crucial in sales training – for example, making a sale, or increasing the number of conversions. However, don’t focus solely on immediate outcomes; becoming a great salesperson also takes adaptability, agility, and creativity.
The principles informing performance learning make it a naturally effective way to teach sales skills. For instance, performance learning techniques work by defining a goal for learners, and then giving them the freedom to try to achieve this in their own way. This encourages the kind of autonomy and creativity shared by every great salesperson.
Similarly, the focus in delivering performance learning is to provide the skills and resources that learners need as soon as they need them, rather than expecting them to memorize reams of de-contextualized information.
Secondly, performance learning encourages exactly the kind of pragmatism that is valued in salespeople, emphasizing the simple strategies that matter the most for boosting sales. For instance, studies show that companies with a portfolio of prior work showcased on their website can charge 65% more for their products or services than a company without a portfolio. Performance learning prioritizes these kinds of insights.
Finally, performance learning helps to support learners with a diverse range of skills and capabilities. For example, your learners may be incredibly fast at thinking on their feet and retaining practical information, such as the golf handicaps of the last twelve people they talked to, but they might not have read a book since grade school. As a technique, performance learning recognizes and rewards learners who absorb information in different ways.
Ultimately, performance learning shows us the benefits of thinking of sales training as an ongoing process instead of a single event. In other words, we should look at sales training the same way we look at sales itself: just as it takes eighteen calls to get your prospect live, it may take many programs to realize a salesperson’s true potential.
Integrating these performance learning techniques should form part of every business’s post-COVID playbook. Now is the perfect time to focus on offering your learners the resources they need to truly thrive.