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Nine Trends in Sales Force Effectiveness and Learning & Development for 2013

What’s happening in the marketplace, and how can your company take advantage of it?

Technology continues to evolve rapidly, and demographic shifts among your employees and clients are changing buying and selling behaviors and preferences. Many of these innovations impact the areas of sales force effectiveness and learning and development (L&D).

1)  Mobile (Smartphones and Tablets)

Tablet computers (both iPads and Android-based tablets) are fast becoming the tool of choice among sales reps. It’s hard to deny the cool factor and lure of portability; they are picking up where netbooks left off in helping to lighten the load of road warriors. However, we haven’t yet reached the point where sales reps can completely abandon their laptops.

Platforms and vendors such as Salesforce.com are pushing mobile computing and will continue adding functionality to give sales reps options for use when traveling or meeting with clients and prospects.

M-learning (Mobile Learning) is happening but hasn’t been perfected yet. E-learning programs were designed for desktop and laptop consumption. But to be effective, those longer modules need to be further adapted for viewing on smaller devices and in shorter “chunks.” (See #6 on Bite-sizing.) And depending upon the age of your “current” modules, perhaps rather than simply converting them, you should take this opportunity to refresh the content as well as how it is delivered.

Is your content in a format that is accessible for your clients? If you’re really “old school,” you may want to invest in an upgrade. Tablet- and smartphone-enabled tutorials are growing in number but still have issues to be resolved (e.g., network connectivity, streaming, buffering, resolution, formatting). One sticking point has been Adobe Flash, which has been the standard for creating videos for desktop viewing but is not compatible with Apple devices. However, the latest version of coding language for the web (HTML5) will resolve those issues by enabling audio and video playback on all platforms (for now!).

Mobile apps are also growing in number and popularity. Salesforce.com and Revegy have been working to make their app integration seamless for users who rely on their programs for productivity.

Think about how your sales reps and clients work and access data and information. In an increasingly mobile world, make sure you stay connected.

2) Social

No one should need convincing that social media has become a dominant force in people’s lives, both as individuals and as employees. How do you encourage sharing and networking within your company? Do you block access to social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, or do you encourage your staff to leverage these tools for your (and their) business success?

What are your colleagues working on? How do you share institutional knowledge and get quick answer and updates when you need them?

No one wants to receive or read any more e-mails. Platforms such as Chatter enable collaboration and reduce the need for e-mails and waiting for status reports. (“Create a free, private, and secure social network just for your business. Get auto updates on the people, projects, and files that you care about most.”) Similarly, Yammer bills itself as “a private social network for your company,” allowing colleagues to safely ask and share customer and competitive knowledge, data, and insights.

Help facilitate internal networking and information sharing so that sales reps can stay in touch and on top of sales and projects.

3) Cloud/Integration

Not that long ago, each computer had local versions of business software installed for their use. Any time an update was required, it would takes days, weeks, or longer to complete the process depending on how many people the IT staff needed to service throughout the company.

That process improved significantly when applications were designed to be housed centrally on servers, allowing one update to be made that all users would receive simultaneously. This was a win for employees and clients alike. However, data and applications still needed to reside somewhere and be managed by internal IT staff.

The newer model is cloud computing, in which applications and data storage are web-based. Salesforce.com is a great example of a cloud-based company. Their SaaS (Software as a Service) platform allows users to access the data they need without having to store it on hard drives and servers locally or worry about being updated.

Tech heavyweights Google, Apple, and Amazon are helping to further expand the possibilities of cloud computing into everyday life. Vendors of business software now sell access to their products through individual or bulk licenses as opposed to physical installations of their software.

The other change to note in the evolution to SaaS is that the buyers have changed. When selling software installations, the CIO was often the target buyer. However, sellers of SaaS platforms can now target business unit managers who ultimately use the programs.

 4) Big Data and Metrics

In 2010, Google CEO Eric Schmidt was quoted as saying that “every two days now we create as much information as we did from the dawn of civilization up until 2003.” So there’s clearly no shortage of data. If anything, you’re likely drowning in it. We have so much data, but now we have the computer processing power to be able to leverage it. Figure out what pieces of data are important to your business, your customers, and your ability to meet your strategic objectives, and begin to measure it.

Google is probably the best at analyzing its users’ queries and serving up relevant search results as well as relevant ads and promotions. Amazon has similarly perfected the “you may also like” feature to suggest other products. Facebook users will have noticed ads based on their likes and those in their network.

We have the ability to capture, track, measure, and analyze data – and then make decisions based on it. In short: measure, analyze, and monetize everything! Those in the c-suite have taken notice and have come to expect input based on big data. It’s hard to ignore numbers and trends.

5)       Millennials

Millennials (born 1980-2000) are entering the workforce as Baby Boomers retire. This generation of workers has different behaviors and expectations for their jobs and careers. They are often categorized as the digital generation that is highly tech savvy and possessing different values, expectations, and learning styles than Gen X (1964-2000) and Baby Boomers (1946-1964).

These nuances impact training, learning, and development across the group. There’s a perception that if you put a big, thick manual in front of them, they’re not going to take to it very well. That’s not to say that older workers haven’t been using technology and altered their behaviors and expectations — but for Millennials, that’s all they know.

What are your clients’ demographics? If their number of Millennial employees is on the rise, then you need to be able to help them connect with them.

Find a way to look at this issue objectively so that you can meet the needs of your own Millennial employees and your clients’. “Seasoned” managers and execs from older generations are the ones making the decisions and investments in connecting with Millennials — remember that it’s not about right or wrong, but rather about the most effective way to connect with and develop this group.

6) Bite-sizing

Now you can start to see convergence among technology devices and delivery along with user preferences and behaviors. Bite-sizing refers to breaking down large volumes of learning content and information into smaller “bite-sized” pieces. This not only reflects how Millennials prefer to digest content but anyone who has embraced (or been consumed by) the digital age.

Bite-sizing effectively changes the tempo of learning and application for both instructors and participants to fit these changing preferences and demands.

Learning and development should be viewed as a process, not an event. Classroom learning and reinforcement should be spaced over a longer period of time to ensure that users have mastered each section before they move on to the next topic.

7)   Flipped Classroom

The flipped classroom inverts traditional teaching methods, delivering instruction online outside[AD1]  and moving “homework” into the classroom. In this new environment, teachers are more coaches and guides as opposed to lecturers. Time spent in class is now focused on the application of what students heard in their offline lecture.

How can you best facilitate knowledge transfer when training your employees? Look for opportunities to have your trainers, facilitators, or subject matter experts record their lectures in brief videos that students can watch before (and after) the classroom activities. This allows more time for coaching, role playing, and teamwork and interaction in the classroom. Then, use the videos and other tactics to reinforce knowledge and behaviors after the training session.

You can supplement your own curriculum by referring trainees to sites such as the Khan Academy (which has delivered nearly 215 million lessons since 2006) or TED.com (an online repository of business and conference presentations).

8) Gamification

Once you’ve taught your employees something new, you need to help them maintain the knowledge and sustain the new behavior. Gamification is an increasingly popular method of creating an active, competitive learning experience. Often technology-enabled, this strategy fits with Millennial preferences as well as the flipped classroom.

Developing games is a great way to reinforce learning and apply it in various relevant scenarios. While it serves the dual purpose of keeping things interesting for students and encouraging the right behaviors, it is important that the games (and more specifically, the developers) maintain a clear focus on the goals and objectives that management is trying to achieve.

9) Performance Support

Beyond gamification, how can you help your employees to sustain behavior and do their jobs most effectively? The learning experience must extend beyond the training event.

Performance support tools provide relevant information accessible on demand at the point of need. But not everything needs to be a multi-media e-learning module or video. For example, quick reference guides for sales reps can be very handy when trying to recall new product information to share with clients.

After reading this list of trends, do you feel current and on top of things? Are you wondering how to take advantage of these ideas? Or worse, do you foresee a battle in convincing the powers that be to invest in some or all of these areas?

Technology continues to evolve rapidly, and demographic shifts among your employees and clients are changing buying and selling behaviors and preferences. Many of these innovations impact the areas of sales force effectiveness and learning and development.

Don’t get left behind. If you haven’t already started, consider how your sales organization can leverage some of these trends in sales force effectiveness and learning and development to enhance your business in 2013.

About the Author

Richardson is a global sales training and performance improvement company. Our goal is to transform every buyer experience by empowering sellers with critical skills so they can create value to buyers and drive meaningful conversations. Our methodology combines a market proven sales and coaching curriculum with an innovative and customizable approach to learning that ensures your sales teams learn, master, and apply those behaviors where and when it matters most — in front of your customers. It’s our job to anticipate change in your industry so that your sales team can focus on fostering long-term relationships, becoming indispensable partners for their buyers.

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