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Learning Cycles: A Structure for Sales Training

Posted by Paul Ironside on 10/15/15 9:28 AM

In a followup to Part 1 – a profile of efficiency vs. efficacy in sales training – we suggested a framework to help bring structure to sales training.

Here, I’ll share that framework, and answer a key question: “how do you make sales training stick?” Given the ever-growing complexities across the buyer landscape, the question remains a perennial challenge and arguably the key issue facing sales leadership today.

How familiar does this situation sound? Your marketing, sales, and enablement teams launch a new product and decide a webinar is the key communication vehicle. They put a herculean effort into planning the event, build pricing, messaging, and even creating new buyer personas - only to find that reps are multi-tasking during the call. A week later, 70% of the new product messaging is lost. We’ve all seen it happen time and time again.  

 

What happened?

Reps were only given one chance to hear the new message before being asked to take it to market. The event is episodic, only allowing reps one chance to engage, absorb, and apply the content. This all too often mirrors our approach to onboarding, upskilling, weekly sales calls, and many other learning moments.

So how do we actually go about creating training with stickiness? One method we’ve found is to create structure in the form of Learning Cycles.

 

Learning Cycles

Learning Cycles create opportunities for learning before and after your traditional “event” – a Sales Kickoff, weekly meeting, etc. - creating further structure in our existing commercial processes. The idea is to lift how we think about these events from an episodic, disjointed framework into one that forms part of a cycle of learning.

These phases break down into four key steps: pre-event, the event, post-event, and reinforcement.

 

Pre-Event

The first part of the learning cycle is the “pre-event,” an introductory engagement, where reps and leaders are exposed to content in a way that is measureable and visible. You might already do something like this – any effort to get content in front of your team and ensure engagement. 

Before a new product meeting, reps may watch example content or be asked to read material, while also undergoing a certification exercise designed to orient reps around the content and ensure their engagement.

The primary goal of the pre-event is to ensure a level of preparation and accountability when learners walk into a formal event. It also helps create buzz and establish a knowledge baseline across the team.

 

Event

 

The next step in the Learning Cycle is the event, an opportunity for reps to come together and engage with the content in groups, in a classroom setting, or virtually – such as reps dialing into the weekly all hands call. The goal is a high-impact blended learning solution that simply features direct engagement with the content and a chance to ask questions or get feedback.

A best practice here is to have reps actually use the content – engaging in roleplay or using battle cards to act out selling scenarios.

 

Post-Event

 

After the event, reps are asked to certify on the material presented, designed to both teach and ensure adoption. A certification needs to reinforce what reps learned at the event, giving the first set of insights into the effectiveness of the entire learning event. An effort to periodically check on skills should also be included in the process, either in person or through technology.

 

On-Going Reinforcement

 

After, 90-120 days, reps are put through another assessment to gauge their performance against measurable outcomes, such as pipeline metrics. Reps failing to meet the standard can be put back through components of the certification process, utilizing the same tools.

The Learning Cycle structure offers one of the strongest opportunities for reps to truly practice the material and internalize it - before taking it to market. To fully enable the process to work, however, we find that it needs a vehicle that is scalable, engaging, and asynchronous.

We find that the most engaging, impactful way to get content in front of reps is to use video, which a progressive 9% of sales teams already embrace to share content. Yet, video alone is not what works best. To enable practice, communication, and measurement, we need two-way video: the bi-directional video platform.

The bi-direction video platform allows a coach to record a best practice video, share and assign it to the right team of reps, and create an opportunity for review and practice. Why use two-way video? Put simply, it creates the best environment for practice, which ultimately leads to the most impactful sales learning. 

The content lives in one platform, it provides robust analytics into who practices, how often they practice, and what is actually sticking, resulting in increased visibility and measurability. It also offers asynchronous practice, the ability for reps and coaches can learn anywhere in the world at any time, without the need for travel or coordination.

 

Building a Curriculum

 

The Learning Cycle approach, combined with the bi-directional video platform, best enables rep engagement and adoption of the content. But how do you deploy the framework in a structured way? Curriculum building blocks.

Curriculum building blocks are our contribution to the industry, discrete “blocks” of processes designed to achieve one goal in the learning process. These allow for different treatments for different parts of the learning process, depending on what state of the Learning Cycle you are in.

Our building blocks have different degrees of effort involved, from heavy to light, depending on the goal:

 

  • SpotCheck – Quickly test rep knowledge without any configuration or formal evaluation, using a short, simple video-based prompt
  • Certification – Develop training or a series of model scenarios for reps to use as a formal certification process, all within the platform
  • Watch & Respond – Light activity that introduces informational content and encourages learners to think critically about a topic
  • Sourcing – Tool to collect best practice knowledge from the field and directly within the team

 

Alone, these elements are powerful ways to drive education while still maintaining visibility and measurability. Paired with a framework, the Learning Cycle approach, you can create a repeatable, easily deployed learning process across your team.  

When the Learning Cycle framework is used to build a curriculum around an event, and combined with specific curriculum building blocks, you produce a strategic approach to learning. All it takes is matching the stages of the learning cycle with the video-enabled tools, based on the need: behavioral certification, knowledge sharing, or retention testing. Certifications before the event, as in the Certify to Fly model, lead to activities during the event and a formal certification afterward. 90-120 days later, reps are continuing to engage and learn with SpotCheck exercises confirming understanding. Those that fail to meet the standard go back through elements of the learning cycle.

The Learning Cycle provides much needed structure to sales training to compliment our existing commercial processes. Additionally, the Learning Cycle allows sales enablement greater visibility and accountability of the learning process.  The result is learning that works. 

As we start to apply these combined learning cycles and curriculum building blocks, we being to insert frequency and structure into sales training. In Part 3, we’ll share a case study of the Learning Cycles approach in a situation that may be relevant to you right now: Sales Kickoff.




About the Author

Paul Ironside

Paul Ironside is the Chief Executive Officer and a board member of CommercialTribe. Paul has more than 20 years of experience in sales, sales management, marketing, operations, and executive management at leading companies such as Gartner, Parature, and Corporate Executive Board (CEB). Most notably, Paul served as EVP Sales and Service and as a member of CEB's Executive Committee during the firm's $100M to $500M growth trajectory.

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Topics: Sales Enablement, Onboarding, Sales Leadership, Upskilling


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