How To Design Sales Trainings For Adult Learners
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How To Design Sales Trainings For Adult Learners

Developing the perfect sales training program can feel next to impossible; keeping spirits high, engagement up, and information relevant is not an easy act to juggle. While it may be tempting to adopt a traditional didactic approach that features passive listening from your audience, many Instructional Designers would argue that heeding the characteristics of adult learners is more effective in influencing their knowledge, skills, and behaviors.

These 6 characteristics were founded by Malcolm Knowles who, beginning in the 1970s, elaborated on the existing adult learning theories of the time with his own research and study. Many of his theories and principles are still used today and are rooted in these characteristics. Here’s how you can tailor and develop your training and learning programs to reflect the tendencies of adult learners, and ultimately unlock the potential in your sales team to drive revenue growth for your organization.

1. Adults Are Internally Motivated And Self-Directed

Although sales training is critical to the success of the seller and overall organization, it’s important that those conducting the training are providing sellers with some level of autonomy throughout the process. In order to nurture self-direction, provide ample learning opportunities that exist outside of the traditional classroom setting. Empower reps to guide their own learning process with pre-work and optional resources that supplement the “required” materials.

Furthermore, foster a learning culture within your sales team that promotes the exploration of ideas and concepts by encouraging questions and feedback. Having these types of systems in place that sellers can go to freely when they require support or guided assistance is essential in fueling their personal growth at a pace that works for them and their hectic schedules.

2. Adults Bring Life Experience And Knowledge To Learning Experiences

Training, when effective, is seldom a one-dimensional process that relies solely on teaching and relaying new information. For adult learners especially, it’s fruitful to dedicate time to analyzing the sellers’ actual experiences with applying learned information. Once a training has occurred, it’s important that the coaching sessions that follow continuously evaluate the seller’s activity and performance against key metrics such as lead conversion and quota attainment. Encourage reps to reflect on their outcomes and experiences in order to understand which behaviors contribute to a certain result. Then, you can appropriately address what needs to improve and how to get there with additional training or resources.

3. Adults Are Goal-Oriented

It’s a universal truth: all sellers want to crush their numbers and hit their goal. Even so, it’s important to realize that not all sellers are truly motivated by the same thing. Some are propelled by the glory of being the best, while others might be driven by the prospect of buying a house for their family. Take the time during one-on-one coaching sessions to tap into the underlying motivations of your reps, and allow these to guide how you coach, train, and lead them toward success.

If you’re looking to generate momentum for new tool adoption or a new behavior, consider innovative ways that can make reps want to do it rather than forcing them. Gamification, for instance, can be an effective motivational tactic for many of the achievement-oriented personalities within your sales team.

4. Adults Are Relevancy-Oriented

A critical rule of thumb when designing learning programs is to focus on including information that sellers can and will use. Learning or training sessions are often full to the brim with new information that sellers are expected to remember, so be mindful of details that are superfluous or unnecessary. Adopt a systematic process for keeping materials updated and timely, and eliminate busywork. Keeping things as simple and streamlined as possible will foster greater attention and engagement from your salespeople.

5. Adults Are Practical

Rather than just training your sellers for the sake of training them, illustrate the usefulness of the curriculum by incorporating role-play exercises that cover various sales plays and objection handling. Have high-performing reps share their own selling strategies and engagement techniques with their peers, and let them lead role-play sessions to demonstrate what “good” looks like. Role-play sessions are an ideal way for sellers to achieve readiness within their training programs, as it allows them to utilize the skills they’ve learned into a more practical, applicable context. Conduct job-shadowing sessions to give constructive feedback and assess gaps in real-life situations that the sellers can directly relate to.

6. Adult Learners Like To Be Respected

Above all, indicate to your new hires or sales reps that you respect them as individuals and value their contributions to the business. Be transparent with them about why a training initiative is being implemented (and how hard it’s going to be) in order to create trust and meaningful buy-in.

Conduct a competency audit prior to training sessions to ensure that more experienced, tenured sellers aren’t having to participate in training that is more appropriate for new and inexperienced reps, and vice versa. After a training session, establish a formal system for feedback to take place and visibly address the feedback in the next training so that reps know their voices are being heard. Facilitate one-on-one coaching sessions between trainings that prioritize developing genuine rapport and trust.

By taking into consideration these natural characteristics of mature learners when developing your sales training efforts, sales leaders are likely to see increased engagement and better retention, leading to a greater impact on overall sales performance. Not only will this increase the confidence of the seller while out on the field, it will also generate revenue growth for the organization and its bottom line.

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