Sales Management Digest

Online Sales Training: 3 Myths Debunked
Heather Baldwin
Online learning, once a novelty, is now firmly established in the corporate training world. Yet many sales organizations are still not tapping into this method of educating salespeople.

As it turns out, many of the most common concerns sales managers have when it comes to virtual training programs are rooted in myth or negative experiences with the earliest iterations of e-learning technology, says Glenn Eckard, COO at Rapid Learning Institute (RLI), an online talent-development organization. Below, Eckard shares three of the more common concerns and misconceptions about online training – and the truth about e-learning today.

Concern: "We're not ready to replace our live, instructor-led training."
Reality: Online learning is best used to reinforce – not replace – instructor-led training. When concepts are introduced in a classroom or at a weekly sales meeting and later reinforced through multiple short sessions online, behavioral changes occur more rapidly than with live instruction alone.

Rick Mendola, training and dealer-development manager at Thermal Industries, says he is using RLI's e-learning solution as part of a three-pronged approach to sales training that includes biweekly telephonic seminars, live training in small groups, and online reinforcement. Before he added the online component, "[training] was just me talking to them," says Mendola. "There wasn't a lot of reinforcement or opportunity for [reps] to study on their own." Now reps are learning constantly, and new ideas stay top of mind.

Concern: "Constant training can be a constant distraction. We'd rather get it done all at once in a full-day or multiday seminar once or twice a year."
Reality: Attention spans are shorter than ever. After 8 to 10 minutes, the average person's attention starts to wander, says Eckard. Yet most training programs still mirror our education system, where students sit in hour-long classes all day. The result: Our brains get overwhelmed, our attention goes in and out of focus, and much of what is delivered is quickly forgotten.

For this reason, RLI designed its training to be delivered in short, 6- to 10-minute segments, an approach that appealed to Carter Benjamin, executive VP of Wind-lock Corporation. Benjamin says he has attended many seminars where he's come out "pumped up and ready to go for the next 24 to 48 hours." Then he gets back into his work routine and goes back to his regular habits. In contrast, the short-burst approach to training is driving behavioral change in his reps through constant reinforcement.

Concern: "I don't want to relinquish control of sales training to a computer or get locked into a cookie-cutter approach to training."
Reality: E-learning solutions can actually give sales managers greater flexibility and control of training curriculum and rep development. With a library of topics to choose from, managers can pick and choose the topics that work best for them and their teams. Or they can push targeted content to individual reps, giving them the information they need when they need it.

Before working with RLI, Mendola conducted an assessment of his reps' strengths and weaknesses. His first training topics addressed the most glaring weaknesses. After that, he decided to work through the progression of the sale, starting with prospecting and continuing through to post-sale challenges such as dealing with angry customers.

"When it comes to sales training, you have your learners, your vacationers, and your prisoners," Mendola concludes. "E-learning took a lot of our last two types and turned them into learners."

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