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The Future of Sales Training: Innovation for a Sales Force in Transition

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Whenever I speak at conferences or with clients their training needs, I ask this question: “What will it take to engage your learners?”

From London to New York to San Francisco, the answers are surprisingly similar, and whether I’m talking with sales leaders or corporate learning leaders, there is broad consensus about what is required:

To engage today’s learners, training has to be flexible, personalized, bite-sized, relevant, provide meaningful data, and be accessible on demand across a wide range of platforms and devices.

Significant innovation is necessary in corporate training in order to meet these expectations and address the changing needs of today’s sales organizations.

Not only are learners changing, but the business environment has changed significantly as well. Over the 37 years that Richardson Sales Performance has been helping organizations improve sales performances, the pace of business has grown faster, ultra-informed buyers come to the table having already researched their desired solutions, and productivity demands on sales professionals are considerably greater. Time has never been a more precious commodity, and sales professionals must spend it wisely, maximizing interactions with customers and minimizing days away from the field sitting in training classrooms. This makes it more important than ever to deploy the latest technology to efficiently train sales people and drive rapid, sustained, and measurable behavior change.

A Salesforce in Transition

A driving force behind the need for change is an emerging multi-generational sales force increasingly comprised of members of the millennial generation.

In 2015, millennials (born between 1980 and 1995) surpassed Generation X (1964 to 1980) in the workforce, just as Gen Xers once surpassed baby boomers (1945 to 1964), who surpassed traditionalists (born before 1945). Already, the next generation is set to take its place, as those in Gen Z (born after 1995) are beginning to graduate from college and move into the workforce.

Consider the implications for training and development. As demographics evolve and more people are working longer, it is possible – even probable – to have four or five generations represented in one sales force. Millennial learners have grown up as digital natives and have expectations of online learning shaped by their recent high school and college experiences. Recent research shows that on average, millennials use three screens a day, and members of Gen Z typically use five, counting smartphones, televisions, desktop computers, laptops, and tablets. Attention spans are also on the decline; it is estimated that the average Gen Zer’s attention span is about eight seconds. Now, contrast that with the experiences and expectations of previous generations, like baby boomers and Generation X, and the challenge for corporate learning becomes clear.

The Business Case for Adapting to New Learners

The business imperative for sales organizations to adapt to how millennials learn was noted recently by the Aberdeen Group. According to its new report, “Sales Performance Management 2016: How the Best-in-Class Evolve Success,” top-performing companies adapt sales management to a changing audience:

More than three-quarters of those surveyed, 77%, reported making significant or extreme adaptation to managing millennial sales professionals. Further, the majority of these top-performing companies are investing in formal learning applications for their sellers, knowing how frequently millennials “consume content” and how top-performing reps are “hungry for any new edge they can get on their competition.”

Meeting the Needs of the Future Learner

Best-in-class organizations adapt to managing millennial professionals, and their needs and expectations are leading indicators of where the whole sales organization is ultimately headed. Given that, it’s critical to not just understand the needs of the millennials, but to think carefully about how to deliver thoughtful, blended experiences that meet the needs of the multi-generational sales team.

All learners – not just millennials – want relevant content delivered to them in ways they recognize and can access easily and quickly, wherever they are and whenever they want it. Technology is both a cause and a solution for current challenges in the sales environment. It is critical that we adapt to the changing needs and learning styles of sellers across generations, preparing a broader range of tools and technologies for accessing our content.

At Richardson Sales Performance, our team is making it easier for people to understand where they are in the learning journey, to assess their skills, and to identify where they need to improve and why. Depending on their preferences, learners will be able to access text and interactive content, educational videos, learning games, practice content, quizzes and tests, and user-generated content.

As we design training experiences to meet the expectations of future learners, our benchmark must be broader than just other training products. The courses and products that we develop will only be successful if they are as easy and intuitive to use as the best digital learning products, whether from Apple, Google, or open-source MOOCs and video-learning platforms.

The Roadmap for Innovation

Meeting the needs and expectations of clients and learners requires significant innovation on two fronts: the content that we offer and the delivery platforms that we use to bring it to learners.

In my next blog post, I’ll talk about how Richardson Sales Performance is developing the next generation of sales training content, and taking a scientifically-based approach to developing a broad range of modalities, learning paths, and integrated measurements. We’ll also discuss how adaptive learning, video, and cloud-based mobile solutions can be paired with skill-based teaching and coaching to deliver meaningful blended-learning experiences that sustain meaningful and measurable behavior change for sales professionals.

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