Will Virtual Sales Training Replace In-Class Training?
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10 Elements That Will Bolster Your Organization's Virtual Sales Training Capability

Sales training programs are an important investment for every organization. They ensure that the salesforce has the right knowledge about the organization’s products and policies, and are upskilled on critical functional skills such as selling skills. Investments in sales training correlate with the company’s overall performance as well as with customer and salesforce attrition. The goal of every sales team is to better understand the customer’s needs, build long-term relationships, and propose effective solutions.

Despite its growing importance, many organizations are still unable to fulfill the training needs of their sales reps. As per an industry survey, 4 out of 5 companies say that their salespeople do not get the skills training required to improve job performance. The L&D experts cite the following reasons:

  • 56% sales leaders find it challenging to provide sales training as it takes the reps out from the field
  • 37% companies are unable to invest in sales training due to budgetary limitations

Traditionally, the most sought-after mode of conducting training has been Instructor-Led classroom training. However, most sales managers are unwilling to give up 3-4 days of productivity to effectively train their field force. They look for virtual sales training options that can help them to reduce costs as well as to avoid having the sales reps compromise on their field time due to the training.

Virtual Sales Training Initiatives

But how should virtual sales training initiatives be designed to ensure that the retention and effectiveness are as good as classroom training, if not better? Since classroom training has proven its effectiveness in the past, people often think that it would be ideal to mimic the classroom environment in a virtual setting. In this way, they can have the best of both worlds without any additional costs involved. However, this approach has revealed the following shortcomings:

  • Virtual sales training conducted via live webinars demands that users come together at a designated time. Despite being virtual, sales reps will be bound to fit this into their time schedule.
  • Due to multiple work-related priorities, learners often end up multi-tasking during a virtual session.
  • Since there is no cost of investment from a learner’s end in terms of traveling to a destination, they can easily skip the training.
  • Even in virtual training, time is a constraint and hence, there are fewer opportunities to engage, learn, and practice the concepts together with peers.
  • Depending on the virtual instructor’s pace, some topics are covered faster than the others, making the learning experience inconsistent for the salesforce.

Not all training can be conducted virtually and achieve the same effectiveness. Going virtual does not mean only technologically operating remotely from each other. Virtual sessions require engagement opportunities that can replace the engagement created in a classroom due to the proximity of the sales reps. Peer learning is as important in a virtual session as it is in a classroom session.

The way a training needs to be conducted also depends upon what needs to be achieved through the training. Some trainings require people to collaborate physically, conduct experiments, and follow a research-based approach. However, sales training primarily requires people to learn new sales concepts and use them in their sales conversations. A blended approach to sales training, that has a mix of interactive live sessions as well as self-learning modules, can boost engagement in virtual sessions so that they become a viable alternative to classroom training.

1. Custom Scheduling

People learn best when they find themselves deficit of knowledge and want to learn it. Rather than designating a time for training, give an option to attend the live session or make the recording of the session available to view later. This will allow the busy salespeople to fit the training into their schedule without compromising on their work timing. This is also useful in cases where the sales team works in shifts. Custom scheduling can reduce the time and cost invested in organizing multiple sessions.

2. Engagement

A classroom is a good place for peer learning and asking ad hoc questions to your instructors. The inability to imitate this in a virtual session may make the session passive. In a virtual setting, you can set aside a designated time for Q&A to address the questions by the audience. You can also use chats, discussion forums, leaderboards, quizzes, breakout sessions, or polls to create engagement during live webinars or self-paced learning sessions.

3. Microlearning Content

A sales pitch needs to be short and crisp, and it usually lasts for no more than 5-7 minutes. Using this same approach for imparting learning, you can create small 5-10 minute learning nuggets. It will provide the essential information required for a sales pitch. Sales reps can use these modules to quickly learn some important sales concepts and refer to them again before a sales pitch.

4. Mobile Learning

89% of the smartphone users download apps, 50% of which are used for learning. Since many sales reps are already accustomed to learning through mobile, sharing the sales training modules on mobile will boost skill development. Besides, a generation that has been trained to use mobile so frequently also has a high response to digital reminders. Therefore, it would be good to nudge the sales reps to learn through mobile.

5. Converting Role Plays To Simulations

Selling skills are primarily developed through role-plays. Hence, sales and customer service skills can be effectively developed using simulations, especially those which leverage game-design to make simulations inherently fun and engaging whilst still recreating the real-world dynamics between a buyer and a seller.

6. Real-Time Feedback

Use real-time data received through online assessments, polls, participation percentage, etc. to understand a learner’s engagement and receptivity to the training initiative. Instructors can leverage this data to learn if the sales reps are able to understand a concept or not. They can then use it to improvise the learning content and enhance learning effectiveness.

7. Spaced Repetition

Virtual sales learning allows instructors to conduct multiple sessions or share sales-related reading material at a spaced interval. This can also start prior to the actual session and create a flipped learning experience. This type of learning helps the sales reps to increase their retention by learning fewer concepts at a time and reinforcing their learning through subsequent engagement with the content.

9. One-To-One Sessions

Classroom sessions may not give enough time to engage with the sales reps individually. Some sales reps may also shy away from public presentations. Through 1-1 video assignments, sales reps can record a video of themselves executing a sales concept and share it with the instructors. This will help to increase the overall engagement of the instructor with all the sales reps.

10. Gamified Learning

Engagement does not have to be restricted to communication alone. Sales reps also need to engage with the content that they are learning. This can be achieved through gamification by applying game design elements in non-game contexts. Leaderboard and team scores can further help the sales reps to create a sense of competition and achievement among themselves and remain active while learning.

Can virtual training replace classroom training completely? That could be a debate for another day. However, in the future, we are more likely to see an interface between virtual and classroom sessions and enhancements in the way virtual training sessions are delivered. It is critical to be mindful of the learner's behaviors when designing any training for your sales reps.

A lot of conferencing platforms like MS Teams, Zoom, Cisco WebEx, etc. are available to help first-time trainers transition to virtual training. There are also digital learning platforms that seamlessly integrate with conferencing providers to make learning more interactive and engaging. With time, these tools are also likely to evolve and make learning furthermore interactive and engaging.

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