Is there a more critical function in most companies than enabling sales professionals to excel their jobs? After all, a high-performing sales force is the lifeblood of most organizations including non-profits. Most businesses realize this already — but many often allocate sales training resources in the wrong areas. According to Bersin & Associates, 73% of companies believe their most valuable learning approaches are informal, yet only 30% of resources are focused there.
Try this number on for size: On average, large organizations spend close to $1,000,000 per year on sales training. This is a staggering figure considering that studies show 70% of what sales people learn about how to do their jobs, they learn from informal approaches.
So why then are we spending so much time and effort designing and delivering formal training programs? I am not sure I know the answer to this question. Perhaps it is inertia. Perhaps offering training as a solution is all we know. Perhaps learning and development professionals do think about informal learning but do not really know what it is or how to get past simple training videos.
Here are some practical approaches to informal learning.
Get new sales people to their jobs more quickly by having them observe sales calls sooner, shadow with experienced sales people, and conducting some of the steps in the sales process sooner, like prospecting.
Assign an experienced sales person to each new sales person. The new salesperson will learn more quickly with high-touch contact with a experienced sales person.
Communities of Practice
Set up a salesperson-led process in which once-a-month, sales people get on an internal webinar and one sales person shares a story of how they landed a great new account. The sales person will share how they got to the decision-maker, how they identified the need, and advanced the process. They should also share the mistakes made, the things that worked well, and what they would do differently. There is a lot to be learned from hearing how others did it, and this tactic promotes a culture of continuous learning.
User Generated Materials
A wiki is a great place for sales people to share things they learned that would benefit other sales people. For example, when speaking with prospects, sales people learn a lot about what competitors are doing. A sale person can easily add that information to the wiki for other sales people to find and use.
I do not suggest eliminating formal sales training, but if it is true that we learn most of what we know about our jobs through informal methods, learning and development professionals need to spend much more time tapping into these informal methods to help sales people learn more quickly and more naturally.