It’s time to rethink how we train our reps
Dr. Yong Zhao
Director of the Institute for Global and Online Education
Our Industrial Education System
I recently attended a conference and was spell-bound by a keynote speaker, Dr. Yong Zhao. A native of China, he left that country to get an advanced degree in the U.S. and has since become an international expert on education. At the conference, he postulated a startling theory:
With all the emphasis on Common Core and Leave No Child Behind here in the U.S., we have focused our efforts on readiness for college and career. But in spite of heroic efforts, we keep hearing statistics that make us all depressed: Over 50% of recent college graduates in the US are unemployed or under-employed. Our kids consistently rank behind students in other parts of the world on tests in the key STEM curriculum (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math). How behind? According to Teach for America, the United States ranks 25th in math and 17th in science among developed nations. Ouch.
But what Dr. Zhao said next made me sit up in my chair and take note, as I thought about the thousands of sales execs I’ve had a hand in hiring or training over my career. He pointed out that teaching that STEM curricula—or any curricula for that matter—in the way we do today in classroom settings, books and tests, is actually preparing our kids for an economy that no longer exists. Just like the industrial age transformed us from an agrarian economy to world where factories were king, we’re now going through a similar transformation as we move into the age of entrepreneurialism and what I sometimes call ‘digital everything.’ The problem is, our educational system—and the way we typically train our sales teams—are still back training kids for the industrial age.
Our kids, and our sales teams, aren’t poorly educated. But as Dr. Zhao calls it, they’re ‘mis-educated.’
“They were prepared to look for jobs, but not to create jobs. They were prepared to solve problems, but not to identify problems or ask questions. They were prepared to follow instructions, but machines can follow instructions more precisely and more important, with less cost.”
The evidence? Can you name a great, innovative company coming out of the countries that are besting our kids at the rote curricula? Alibaba you say? OK. It’s an Amazon knock-off. Huawei? It got its playbook from GE. Samsung? It’s trying to copy Apple. That’s right. In spite of lagging behind in the core curriculum standards, we have some of the most entrepreneurial and creative business people in the world today. Many of our best leaders didn’t even finish college.
Preparing Our Reps for The New Age of Selling
That got my attention. And then I began thinking of how we typically train our reps.
Here’s how most of us do it. See if you agree:
- Bring reps together in a classroom or auditorium setting for a multi-day training on our new products or solutions
- Have multiple presenters (usually product or marketing types) talk about the latest ‘thing’
- Certify or role play to test their knowledge
- Send them forth to sell
Sound a lot like how we teach in school today? It did to me. It’s no wonder that typically one out of 3 new reps fail.
But how did our best reps really learn? They learned from their mentors. They observed, and stalked the best and imitated them until they got it right.
That observational/practice learning style has been proven to be the most effective in teaching new sales skills. But our training systems today are woefully behind. Not only do they not encourage that kind of mimicry and practice, most of our best reps don’t have the time, or the inclination, to teach and mentor. They’re busy selling.
It does not have to be this way.
Observational Learning At Scale
Solving the sales training dilemma takes two basic solutions:
- Make it easy for our best reps to share what they know
- Record one time, share it with many
- Capture what they know when it’s convenient for them
- Give them status/rewards for being the most sought after
- Make it easy for our training reps to learn
- Browse for the best/most relevant training content
- Practice and self-critique until happy with the result, then up-load for review
- Certify and or give status/rewards for completing the curriculum
At CommercialTribe, we took this challenge to heart. We created an online platform that makes it easy for the best reps to contribute what they know—and get rewarded for it. And even more critically, we created a platform that enables younger tenured reps to upload and practice bite-size pieces of a training curriculum. Watch. Practice. Record. Re-record until happy with the result. Then Post for Review and comment and sharing. Just like a social media forum, but for our reps.
Think it won’t work? We’ve found that reps using the system practice and record an average of almost 7 times before posting for review. Yeah. That’s seven times more often than they’re practicing now.
It’s also what I call observational learning at scale. It’s sales training for the Digital Everything Age: By Reps, For Reps.
Find out more about CommercialTribe!
 The Atlantic Monthly, April 23, 2012 “53% of Recent College Grads Are Jobless or Underemployed—How?” by Jordan Weissmann
 Teach for America, 2013