How Do Best Practices Evolve Into Common Practice?

Brian Williams, PhD

Quick question:  Who has the shorter attention span… a 7th grade boy or an 8th grade girl?

We’ll get to that in a minute. For now, let’s reflect back to when we were that middle school boy or girl.  Try to remember what it was like sitting at your desk and watching your teachers at the chalk board.  Odds are you can’t remember the specific lessons being taught, but you remember which teachers were jokers, which were disciplinarians, and which ones fell somewhere in between.  You may even remember specific examples of a teacher making (or ruining) someone’s day.  If this level of partial recall is true for you, you’re not alone.

The lack of complete retention can be largely attributed to the growing number of distractions related to the social aspects of life for the average pre-teen.  Middle school is a time when the level of importance given to making friends and participating in interesting clubs or activities is growing exponentially.  We’re so wrapped up in “fitting in” with new and changing social circles that much of what we’re exposed to in the classroom just doesn’t stick around for very long.

 

Social Learning Theory, a concept originated by social psychologist Albert Bandura, suggests that humans learn most effectively by watching other people interact and modeling their behavior.  This explains why you might not be able to spout off all of the Canadian provinces and territories, but you can certainly tell the story of how you first learned to throw a spiral or tune an instrument.

 

The Shortcomings of Most Live Sales Training

 

Social Learning Theory also explains why most modern day sales training falls short of expectations.  If you compare your middle school experience with your most recent, instructor-led learning experience, what are the similarities and differences?  If you had a savvy trainer, you probably felt more actively engaged in the learning process than you did when you were learning long division.  This is typically accomplished through one of two ways:

 

  1. Interactive Exercises

    The best sales training events are centered around dynamic information that is sourced from participants using a lot of smart, investigative questions.  This can be done through breakout sessions, workshops, team assignments, or roleplay exercises.  While reps are applying what they’ve learned in practice scenarios, the trainer floats around the room and provides 1-to-1 coaching feedback.                                                                                                                                                              

    If done correctly, post event surveys show that this is where most learning takes place for training participants.  If not done correctly, this is where that largest volume of potential training value is lost.

                                                                                                                                                
  2. Peer Modeling and Feedback

    Most training programs have physical and financial constraints that limit the number of people available to facilitate the event. As a result, most trainers will lean on participants to provide training and feedback to their peers during group exercises.  While the intentions behind this practice are good, the execution often misses the mark.                                                                                                        

    “Peer trainers” are still learning themselves, so it is unlikely that they have enough experience to provide proper feedback and show others “what right looks like.”  In the best cases, peers watch and model the ideal behaviors presented by their peers.  In the worst cases, groups become an echo chamber that reinforces bad selling behaviors, where every member is convinced that what they are doing is “right.”

 

Unfortunately, many sales training sessions still consist of too much lecturing and not enough interactivity.  Referring back to our middle school example, this results in participants going home with more memories about the conversations they had at evening dinners than about concepts taught throughout the program. 

 

Even when trainers employ an adequate amount of interactive exercises, they often don’t have the resources to provide the individual attention needed to adjust and reinforce the application of training concepts for every participant.

 

So, when faced with these challenges, what is a well-meaning sales leader to do?

 

Developing a Training and Coaching Program That Scales

 

Thankfully, new developments in technology enable us to overcome the inherent limitations of in-person training.  As video becomes a more ubiquitous medium for presenting and consuming information, video-based practice tools are quickly becoming the best way to train and reinforce new selling concepts at scale.

 

Imagine that you are presented with a roleplay prompt asking you to record a two minute sales pitch for a new product your company is rolling out.  Odds are, you don’t get it quite right the first time, so you record three or four takes before submitting it to your manager.  Your manager then provides constructive feedback in the form of notes placed at specific points during your video recording.  If you did well, your manager may also publish your video as a “best in class” example to be referenced by the rest of your team.

 

In this single example, you see many of the benefits that companies are experiencing from the emergence of video-based sales practice software:

  • Enabling managers and trainers to expand their scope of influence by allowing them to provide coaching and feedback to numerous sales reps on their own time                                                                 
  • Naturally motivating reps to practice applying concepts numerous times, leveraging their innate desire to submit their best work                                                                                                                             
  • Capturing examples from your top performers and sharing them with the rest of the team so that they can model the same behaviors                                                                                                                               
  • Facilitating an exchange of ideas and feedback not only between reps and supervisors, but also between reps and their peers                                                                                                                                  
  • Multiplying the number of practice and coaching touchpoints while also generating cost savings when compared to a traditional in-person training event

 

Video-based sales practice software also improves the flexibility and versatility of your sales training program.  What impact would you see in your organization if you could use one tool to train and reinforce concepts in several (or all) of these applications at the push of a button?

  • Onboarding new sales hires                                                                                          
  • Reinforcing lessons from a live training session                                                       
  • Follow-on exercises after trainer or manager coaching “ride-alongs”                     
  • Rehearsing the delivery of sales messages related to new product launches     
  • Ramping up employees who were recently promoted into a new, unfamiliar role

 

Stop Doing the Same Thing, but Expecting Different Results

 

One of the most frequently misattributed quotes is Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  Einstein may not have made that statement, but the idea still rings true for many sales organizations.

 

The foundational truth is that sales reps, like middle schoolers, learn and retain new information most effectively by watching their peers and modeling their behaviors.  All of the evidence indicates that traditional, in-person sales training programs alone do not give reps an adequate amount of practice and social feedback opportunities.  The question then becomes, why do we keep hosting a single live sales training event every year and hope to see better results?

 

Sales leaders and trainers should expand their thinking beyond live sales training alone and consider supplementing or replacing their legacy training methods with video-based practice technology.  Doing so will improve retention of training concepts and drive real-world sales results by capitalizing on proven adult learning models like Social Learning Theory. Check out ways to apply sales enablement best practices through the use of situational awareness here. 

 

Oh, and as for the question we posed earlier…

 

A recent study found that 7th grade boys have twice the attention span that 8th grade girls have – about as much time as it took you to read this article.

 

 

Brian Williams, PhD

Brian Williams, PhD

Researcher, consultant, and sales leader, Brian uses a data-driven approach to drive sales effectiveness. His clients include leading sales organizations in financial services, technology, healthcare, and professional services. Using insight from academics and change management, Brian helps senior leaders and sales enablement teams understand and succeed in today’s more demanding market. His research has been published in Harvard Business Review and other outlets.