March 18, 2021

How to Create an Effective Continuous Sales Learning Program

On Wednesday February 25th, Showpad’s own Russell Wurth was joined by Forrester Principal Analyst, Jennifer Bullock in Delivering Sales Learning That Sticks, a webinar that discussed how to build a continuous learning program that keeps reps sharp. 

This post will recap Russell and Jennifer’s main talking points, giving you ideas on how to approach rep training, set expectations and the 5-step framework you can use as you go about building your learning program.

Why prioritize a continuous sales learning program?

Building and implementing a formal learning program isn’t just a good idea in theory; its importance is backed by hard data. Jennifer references Ebbinghaus’ forgetting curve that states 87-93% of formal learning is forgotten within 30 days if not applied on a daily basis. And according to Forrester’s 2020 Customer Facing Role survey

  • Organizations that have a formal learning environment see a significant impact on quota attainment and overall pipeline.
  • An effective and engaging learning environment plays a crucial role in attracting reps to an organization. 36% of high-performing reps report that a lack of ongoing development opportunities is a significant motivator to leave a company.

With the B2B sales landscape constantly changing and the endless list of software to be learnt, salespeople must always be learning. Delivering sticky learning is not only critical to help your sales reps develop and drive revenue for the company, but also to develop them on a personal level. So where do you start? 

How to build a continuous learning program

Jennifer shares her take on the first step to building a continuous learning program. 

“The first thing you really need to do is to establish the expectations. Ask yourself, what is the knowledge, what are the skills, the processes that are specific to each person’s role?”

She states that if these aren’t established, measuring your success going forward will be very difficult. With no baseline, you won’t be able to see how far you’ve come. You’ll also need to identify individual gaps with every rep. There are two types of gaps reps can have:

Planned gap: A gap you can see and plan for (a new product launch or a change in your messaging)
Corrective gap: A gap that exists when a rep doesn’t have a skill that exists in their role and improvement is needed

After establishing expectations and identifying gaps, you need to validate that someone owns the competencies throughout their tenure. Through self-assessments and reviews, you can see if the knowledge has been transferred to the rep and if they’ve taken ownership of mastering the skills you’re teaching them. Consider having your reps go through a multi-level certification process and using their newly acquired knowledge to aid other reps’ progress. This helps in two ways. Reps develop skills they need for their roles and you get to assess the impact of your learning program going forward.

After all, continuous learning is centered around looking forward.

What is continuous learning supposed to accomplish?

The fact is, any learning program put into place will help your reps develop professionally and strengthen the skills they use in their current role as well as their future roles. There are three learning categories that live under a learning program and they are:

Occupational learning: Understanding the competencies that are needed in the current role (reps can ask themselves what they need right now to be successful in their role).
Aspirational learning: Understanding the competencies that are needed in future roles (reps can ask themselves what they need to be successful in their next role).
Inspirational learning: Revolves around the rep’s curiosities and their desire to develop themselves. Because organizations are attracting millennials that are interested in career exploration, encouraging inspirational learning can be a great way to retain employees.

In most B2B roles, employees can afford to ask themselves if they’re sufficient enough at these competencies but in a B2B sales role, the stakes tend to be a little higher. The rep has to execute independently in front of the customer. The knowledge that you give them has to be retained and applied in order to be effective. As a sales enablement professional, whatever program you put in place must be measurable so it’s impactful for your reps. Through observation and repetition, they’ll be able to retain the skills and knowledge necessary for their role.

The steps of knowledge retention

There are five knowledge retention steps you can observe when planning your learning program. They’re as follows:

Telling: as the enablement professional, you’ll tell them what they need to know. This can be something as simple as teaching them new product information and measuring how well they grasp the concept through comprehension testing.
Showing: you show them what good looks like. The rep can observe buyer interactions, shadow a client call, see what assets are used and have the chance to review customer-facing documents.
Doing: The reps will go through selling motions and improve a skill in a controlled practice environment. This can be scenario-based roleplays to immerse them in a realistic customer interaction.
Reinforcing: You assist reps and reinforce the learning in a live environment. This is where a learning environment shifts to a coaching environment. The rep is practicing these skills in front of a customer.
Owning: At this point, the rep will own the competency and can teach it to other team members. You can ask the rep how confident they feel in their skills and ask for success stories across the team for added motivation.

continuous learning framework

Once these foundational competencies are established, continuous learning will help sales reps to perform better in their current role, prepares them for a promotion and has the ability to satisfy a curiosity. By implementing a strategy like this, your reps will be equipped to retain the knowledge they need to confidently sell and ultimately drive revenue. 

Jennifer reminds us that every step is critical for success. Don’t just jump into the “do” phase. Start from “tell.” That way, you can be assured that you’re building better reps and better teams. And while every step is important, every rep is unique. Be an active listener and work with them to tailor the learning program if necessary. 

The major goal of a learning program is to see the connection between the program and your reps’ improvement so you can link learning outcomes to rep productivity.

Missed the webinar? No sweat. Click through to watch the full session.