Today’s post is by Jeff Seeley, CEO of Carew International.
Recently, a Carew team member who is pursuing her master’s degree was expressing her frustration that the bulk of her classes for the semester were online courses. Her experience has been that the quality of online learning is lower than it is in a class with a live instructor. Her comments spawned a lively discussion among the Carew team about trends we have seen relative to online learning.
The Demand for Online Sales Training
Sometime around 2008, widespread demand for online sales training solutions hit the professional training industry. The attraction was easy to understand: Learning and meeting software had evolved such that they offered a sophisticated presentation of information, audio and video conferencing capabilities, nearly limitless thematic and format options, and an overall user experience that had improved dramatically. Add to this the benefits of eliminating travel and lodging expenses, as well as time out of the field, and it presented a very attractive alternative to in-class training events.
For those of us who conduct sales and leadership training, our knowledge of adult learning and retention – as well as our experience in the classroom – made it difficult to embrace this trend. Live, in-person training events facilitate cultural alignment, team building and problem solving, communication skill development, and role-play activities that immediately put concepts into practice. It is a unique dynamic and lasting bonding experience for the individuals gathered for the duration of the program. As renowned behavioral scientist and master trainer John Jones often said, people learn, comprehend, and gain greater alignment from a significant shared experience.
There is also the dimension of the in-person professional facilitators who not only lead the training process, but also motivate participants, develop relationships in the classroom, and generate discussions that enhance learning. Questions are asked and answered in real time, with the ability to expand or launch a broader discussion of interest to the entire class. It is impossible to capture online the dynamic of authentic coaching and personal connections that occur during an in-person training event.
The Shift to Online Learning as a Reinforcement Tool
Given the digital world we live in, I’m confident there is more learning taking place online than ever before. But we have seen a dramatic drop in the number of sales and business leaders who come to us thinking online training is comparable to in-class skill development or that it, alone, will deliver the dramatic sales improvements they desire. Today, leaders are viewing online resources more realistically and appropriately – as a post-training reinforcement tool.
This shift in client needs was the crux of the discussion among the Carew team: In an age when anything and everything is online, why has demand for online training solutions diminished?
In some cases, leaders have tried online training with disappointing results. In the case of one Carew client who asked to have our training programs broken down into a series of 45-minute segments for remote consumption, we utilized the latest technology to create virtual breakout rooms for role plays and to mimic many in-classroom experiences. Even leveraging technology to closely simulate an in-classroom experience, we found a dramatic degradation in retention, capability, teamwork, participant satisfaction, and performance improvement.
Another theory for the decline in requests for stand-alone online learning is that, like our Carew team member, more and more business leaders have had personal experience with online learning and recognize its limitations.
The Brookings Institute completed a significant study of online learning at the collegiate level and found, overall, a lower comprehension of material presented and higher likelihood of dropout. (See the executive summary and complete study here). Given a choice between a job applicant with 50 percent of their college degree accomplished online versus someone with 100 percent classroom learning, who would you be more likely to hire?
Is Online Sales Training Effective?
Based on my experience with Carew customers, I will assert that, even as a reinforcement vehicle, self-guided online learning isn’t terribly effective. Carew offers an excellent online sales training reinforcement program. Still, I have found that company leaders often love the idea of online reinforcement, but don’t fully utilize it.
Online reinforcement capabilities are often a key consideration in the purchase decision – a resource purchased and never used. Or it is used initially, but engagement falls off very quickly. Too often, the mindset around use of an online learning tool is one of “checking the box,” with little or no follow-up to gauge retention or implementation. Essentially, the process becomes one of task enforcement instead of authentic skill-based reinforcement.
It was this gap that prompted Carew to reconsider the most effective means of training reinforcement. We know sales managers are critical to the success of any sales improvement effort, yet these individuals were being largely overlooked in the process. Why? It is likely because managers are overworked, tired, and don’t know how to initiate or facilitate sales training reinforcement.
We also know that the most effective reinforcement involves coaching and feedback “on the job” – and online reinforcement cannot provide for that. In fact, self-guided online reinforcement completely disconnects sales managers from the reinforcement process.
Establishing a Truly Effective Sales Training Strategy
In response, Carew developed a modular, prescriptive sales training reinforcement system for use by sales managers with their teams. It’s an approach that gets to the heart of effective sales training practices – incorporating new processes and practices into the sales team culture and business norms, while reinforcing at every level. Having a variety of reference materials and turnkey activities (including an online program) available to sales managers allows them to incorporate training reinforcement into their normal touch points, such as weekly sales meetings or quarterly reviews, without the burden of significant prep time.
This strategy also empowers sales managers to truly take ownership in leading the sales improvement initiative. That the activities are completed in a group dynamic goes a long way toward cementing the new processes, practices, and vocabulary into the culture of the sales team – and continuing the momentum and team building that occurred during the initial training event.
Business leaders who are considering a sales training initiative must understand that having the highest quality online sales training or reinforcement tools available does not automatically equate to skill improvement or adaptation. Leaders should give as much consideration to the post-training reinforcement as to the training itself – including the role of (and tools provided to) your sales managers in leading the performance improvement.