4 Key Factors to Consider When Designing a Learning Curriculum
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Designing an effective learning curriculum is easier said than done. If your eyes have ever glazed over during a PowerPoint presentation or you’ve zoned out while reading a textbook, you know that this is true – training can sometimes be perceived as tedious.
Sales enablement is responsible for ensuring that all salespeople have the knowledge and skills they need to be successful. Teaching information is just one layer within a cohesive learning program – it also requires practice, feedback, and coaching to reinforce knowledge and create behavioral habits. This means people not only need to learn and retain information, but also apply it appropriately in the moment of need.
Learning curriculums need to be designed with the understanding that people have different styles of learning, sources of motivation, and levels of experience or expertise. Here are four key things for sales enablement to consider to design a learning curriculum that engages an audience with diverse needs.
Understand the psychology of sellers
Sales is a tough business. A seller can be at the top of the leaderboard one quarter and struggle to close a deal the next. While there are certain foundational skills and personality traits that can help salespeople be more successful, it is important to understand that at the end of the day, no two salespeople are exactly the same.
They have different sources of motivation, different ways they learn and retain information, and different natural tendencies. Expecting an identical pattern to lead to success from one seller to the next is unrealistic. Rather, sales enablement needs to embrace the different preferences, characteristics, and learning styles across the various customer-facing teams.
“People learn differently, people accept information differently,” said Jenn Haskell, director of global sales training and enablement at Monotype. “They have different levels of emotional IQ. Those are the types of things that if I can tap into it for myself as an enabler, I can have more effective sales enablement programs and I can make that personal connection.”
Establishing that personal connection helps sales enablement gain credibility and earn the trust of those that will be part of training. Conduct a listening tour with sales reps to learn what they want to get out of a training program, what their strengths are, and how they want to learn. Understanding the psychological factors at play will help sales enablement professionals build programs that will resonate with individuals across the business, not just certain profiles.
Consider the environment
Environmental factors are important to helping people retain and apply what they learn. As Julie Dirksen points out in her book, “Design For How People Learn”, people are better able to recall information that is learned in the same environment in which they have to apply it. For example, if a person studies in the same setting where they have to take a test, they are more likely to recall the information during the test because the associations will be familiar.
Of course, not everything can be taught in the same environment in which people will need to recall information, like how to fly a plane or drive a car. However, you can take measures to simulate some of those environmental factors in the learning environment.
For example, utilize role-plays to teach people how to navigate tough questions, set time limits for presentations and deadlines for assignments to mimic a sense of pressure, or offer an improv workshop to teach skills for pivoting and reacting to issues on the fly.
“I try to ratchet up the pressure most of the time, because when they are actually there on a sales call, there’s going to be pressure on the line,” said Kyle Bastien, director of sales enablement at Drift. “If roleplay is too casual, then it is actually a huge waste of everyone’s time…We like to do them publicly with more pressure, so I will randomly invite senior leaders from other departments into role-plays and have them compete.”
The more realistic the practice environment, the better prepared people will be to retain and apply their training.
Start with the problem you want to solve
Before building out the content or format of your learning program, start by identifying the specific problem you want to solve. This will help center your curriculum on an achievable outcome, allowing you to work backward to determine the steps it will take to get there.
Often, learning programs are designed with a large goal in mind, such as improving sales productivity. While training can certainly play a role in improving this, it is difficult to attribute such things to a single program. By pinpointing an underlying problem impacting those larger goals, such as objection handling with a certain persona, sales enablement can narrow the focus of a learning curriculum and better monitor impact.
Then, break the desired outcome down into the learning objectives that training will cover and communicate those transparently at the beginning of every program.
“One of the most important things about enabling sales reps is to provide training in a way that supports their sales activities,” said Laura Welch, director of sales enablement at HP. “What I mean is, it doesn’t occur as an interruption or a problem. Make sure that they know what’s happening and what’s coming quite a bit of time in advance.”
One way to do this is to present the learning objectives ahead of time and ask participants to rate their expertise on that topic prior to participating in the learning program. As you begin teaching, you will have a sense of the spectrum of knowledge and can allocate your time and resources to certain learning activities accordingly. At the same time, the participants know what to expect and can better prepare.
“It reinforces to them that the things we are going to be covering during that training are important and we want them to learn,” said Welch. “At the end, it has them really look to say, ‘am I comfortable with that or do I need more information?’ We can also use that to tailor our training next time.”
Ensuring that learning will resonate with audiences across teams, tenure, experience, and regions is one of the greatest challenges sales enablement faces when designing a curriculum, and it becomes even more potent as organizations grow.
Sales enablement simply does not have the capacity to deliver completely different learning programs for each of these nuances. Flexibility and accessibility are essential requirements for the design of any learning initiative.
“I can’t be the single-threaded point of contact for all that stuff that happens,” said Mike Kunkle, VP of sales enablement services at SPASIGMA. “I need to start being able to develop other people who can support that process so that it can scale across an entire salesforce.”
Consider the following elements to improve the adaptability of your learning curriculum:
- Simple frameworks that can be easily customized: Create central content that can be tailored quickly for different areas of expertise or localized for other languages/regions.
- Multiple formats to appeal to different internal personas: Mix up how content is presented to cover the many ways that people learn. For example, leverage in-person interactive sessions, videos, podcasts, articles or transcripts, gamification, and more.
- Partnership with frontline managers: Provide frontline managers with your expectations and framework for coaching based on the training: what should their teams be able to do and what behaviors should they exhibit?
- Digital solutions to reduce barriers and improve accessibility: Utilize the technology that is readily available at your fingertips to help save time, increase accessibility, and widen your reach. For example, use video to execute role-plays or coaching across multiple teams, regions, or time zones.
Learning is a critical way that sales enablement can impact sales productivity, instill behavior change, and manage individual performance. To do so, it needs to effectively engage an audience that ranges across teams, regions, and more.
The first step to designing engaging learning experiences is to consider the factors that impact how learning is perceived by the audience. Before you even begin to outline the content within your curriculum, assess the psychological, environmental, outcome, and growth needs your learning program should meet. In understanding how each of these play a role in how people learn, sales enablement can design learning curriculums that will better resonate with diverse audiences.