Avoiding the Most Common Mistake in Sales Learning

Have you ever read a book or seen a movie more than once?  If you have, you may have noticed something remarkable the second, third or even fourth time through – that story you thought you knew so well suddenly has hidden gems you didn’t notice before.  Maybe it’s a character that didn’t capture your attention before, or a theme you never noticed, or foreshadowing that only made sense the third time through the story.  

Why is this?  Did the creators develop multiple versions so that each time through it would be a different experience?  Of course not.  The reason this happens is two-fold.  First, few people have total recall, which means some of what we experience we will soon forget, no matter how compelling the content.  

Second, the reader or viewer and the story collectively create the experience.  What we experience when we read a story or watch a movie is very much dependent on who we are at the time we read or view it.  The story appears different each time because WE are different each time.  Moreover, many good stories have multiple layers that are best appreciated when reviewed multiple times.  This is why many people can watch the same movie or read the same book many times over and not only enjoy the experience, but gain new insights each time through.

Which leads us to the most common mistake in sales learning: the belief that learning is “completed” after a single pass through the content.  

On the surface, completing assigned learning, whether online or in the classroom, appears to be a perfectly reasonable concept.  In fact, most good organizations even conduct some kind of evaluation to ensure learning objectives have been achieved and that people can effectively recall key concepts from each module.   

However, recall of key concepts within minutes or hours of learning them does not necessarily equate to full comprehension, let alone expert application, which may require revisiting the same learning module multiple times.  

In the initial pass through a particular module, concepts are new and untried.  Ideally, learners grasp the basics and make some attempt to apply what they have learned.  This application, and the results achieved, bring the learner to a new level of understanding.  

The next time through, the person has their own experience applying the concepts, a new lens through which to view the material and consider its relevance.  Low and behold, strategies and tactics that were hidden before are now revealed – not because the content has changed but because the learner has changed.  

Each iteration offers new insights as the learner further evolves and develops their skills.  Even for more basic selling models, material can offer new insights three or even four times over as people work to sharpen their skills.

So, does this mean that learning can/should be static and that it will never be “outgrown” by participants?

Absolutely not.  However, it does mean that leveraging learning to drive meaningful sales outcomes requires a more thoughtful approach than simply assigning everyone to attend class or complete the requisite online learning modules.  

In fact, the best approach includes an initial pass through content followed by targeted revisits based on the unique and specific needs of each individual salesperson. These needs can be defined by the users themselves, managers and coaches, or even systems that help identify improvement opportunities.  

In addition to identifying these targeted learning opportunities, organizations should make the learning as readily accessible as possible.  The “friction” between the trigger that prompts the need for additional learning and the actual access to the learning must be as low as possible – preferably no more than a couple clicks.

Unfortunately, on-demand learning is often hosted in a learning management system, not the CRM, requiring sellers to exit their system of record and go to another system, one with which they are generally unfamiliar, just to find appropriate learning – a level of effort many will simply skip.

So, while the standard one-and-done approach to skill development isn’t nearly as effective as repetition, there is good news to the story.  

Companies that leverage this approach can drive dramatically higher adoption and proficiency with their most critical sales skills.  Where traditional learning programs yield 20-30% adoption, newer approaches can lead to 75% adoption or higher.  This results in significantly better sales outcomes and a much better ROI on training investments.

Want to talk more about continuous learning in the cadence of your business, visit us at www.axiomsfd.com today.

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Bob Sanders

Bob Sanders has more than 25 years experience in sales, sales management, and marketing. Bob has served as President and CEO of AXIOM Sales Force Development from 2006 to 2018. His passion about sales behavior and coaching helps develop people into their best selves. Since Bob joined AXIOM as a partner in the fall of 1993, he's helped dozens of companies around the world generate hundreds of millions in additional revenue. Bob holds a degree in Marketing from Miami University. He has been a keynote speaker at numerous corporate events and industry conferences. He is a founding underwriter and frequent contributor to the Sales Management Association. He co-authored AXIOM's “Selling Sciences Program™” workbook and audio program, and is a contributor on "A Journey to Sales Transformation". When Bob is not advocating on behalf of buyers and sellers worldwide, he is an avid cyclist, father, and husband.

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