Adapting Training Practices During the Transition to In-Person and Hybrid Environments

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The past year has emphasized the importance of agility, collaboration, and empathy in the design of sales enablement programs. One of the most critical enablement programs during this time of change is sales training, as it is necessary to help reps navigate shifts in their behavior as a result of change. Meanwhile, the design and delivery of training programs underwent massive transformation as well.

Companies were required to shift from in-person to virtual training environments, and now back to in-person and hybrid training. Sales training, which largely depends on active engagement and peer collaboration, is evolving along with the norms of the workplace. As a fundamental and core value to sales organizations, training deserves proactive planning and thoughtful design that can be applied in virtual, hybrid, and in-person settings.

Although the shift from in-person to virtual environments was immediate and unpredictable, the shift back into in-person and hybrid environments is one that companies can plan for with intention, leveraging all of the lessons learned throughout the past year. Sales training can be a key tool to help ease the transition for many reps.

As organizations work to make the transition back to in-person and hybrid training as seamless as possible, there are three essential insights to keep in mind.

Merge Best Practices of Virtual and In-Person Environments

To make training as accessible as possible, using both virtual and in-person tools will be vital to a smooth adaptation as training redefines itself. This means flexibility is key.

“Be flexible and adaptable to the here and now,” said Alexa Regimand, vice president of sales enablement and training at Compass Group. “In order for business to survive, you have to pivot and you have to pivot fast so you don’t get left behind. There’s not a one-size-fits-all training program out there. Once you have a hybrid training program, it doesn’t end there. Keep adapting it, be relevant and keep communicating with your stakeholders throughout the entire process.”

Moving forward, it is important to be mindful of what practices are most conducive to either a virtual or in-person setting. For instance, new hire onboarding, role-plays, and skill-based courses are often most successful in person, as each requires human interaction and bonding. However, things like weekly enablement calls, ongoing workshops, and virtual bonding activities like happy hours can be delivered through virtual settings, as virtual programming can reach large global audiences and foster inclusivity.

In addition to determining the right setting, it is also important to think through the activities that can help maximize engagement in various settings for hybrid programs. For example, in virtual settings, there are so many readily available distractions. As such, interactive training is vital to keeping participants engaged and taking a more active role in their learning.

With a skilled facilitator, there are many ways that people can participate and feel comfortable participating, with the intention that programs will meet people where they are. For instance, utilizing the chat and breakout rooms in hybrid environments gives people a chance to use their voice and participate fully whether they are in person or virtual.

“The last thing you want to do is create a silo between the people who are in person and the people at home,” said Emily Ricco, senior manager of learning design for enablement at Salesforce.

To avoid isolation and disconnect between in-person and virtual participants and create a comfortable classroom layout, there are tools training leaders can exercise:

  • Ensure that all questions in the chat are being voiced aloud to the group
  • Breakout rooms can pair virtual participants together and in-person participants together
  • Have everyone come in for the same segments and be remote for the other sessions

Meanwhile, there are also some lessons learned that can be applied to all settings and training program types. For example, one best practice from virtual training that can be carried forward is the use of short, digestible sessions. With short blocks and structured breaks, trainees can avoid fatigue and burnout. To keep trainees engaged, integrating interactive aspects to training, like quizzes and games that leverage the inherent competitiveness of salespeople, are great tools to keep trainees focused and excited. Whether training is virtual or in person, letting all participants know what to expect from the program is extremely helpful in keeping trainees focused.

“I think a big thing that I started to realize was you’ve got to set expectations upfront at the beginning of the training,” said Regimand. “That seemed to really make a big difference, doing that agenda on the front end.”

Exercise Empathy

Exercising empathy will be integral for a smooth transition into in-person and hybrid training. In addition to trying to create engaging training programs – a challenge in itself – facilitators are working with reps who might be experiencing a vast range of emotions. To combat the omnipresent anxieties that come along with change, enablement leaders have to be supportive and flexible amid the uncertainty.

“People are looking to you to set an example,” said Regimand. “They’re looking to you as a shining light, a beacon of hope as cheesy as that might sound, but if you’re showing anxiety, fear, nerves, the audience feels that too.”

When reps feel as comforted and supported as possible, programming and sessions will be far more successful, and reps have a higher probability of retaining the information being taught.

“I had to really realize that in sales, it’s not about you,” said Regimand. “It’s about your client and your prospect. As a leader, it’s not about you. It’s about your team. As a trainer, it’s about your trainees and getting them comfortable and up to speed.”

By leading with empathy, enablement leaders make the success and growth of their trainees a priority. When team members feel they are important to the organization, training – whether in-person or virtual – can be far more effective.

“We made it clear that every individual was important,” said Sarah Pearson, director of global sales enablement at TIBCO. “You weren’t just a number. You weren’t just somebody else on another team, but you were personal to us. We made it our mission to make everybody feel welcome across all the time zones, across all parts of the organization.”

Embrace Collaboration

Successful training cannot be accomplished without the help of cross-functional teams. Understanding the role that collaboration plays in building out successful hybrid training programs, and how to best leverage that collaboration is vital to creating effective training practices.

“The biggest thing is full transparency across all levels, communicating timelines and expectations and touching base with stakeholders,” said Regimand. “For anyone who’s involved in the training process, anyone that has team members or direct reports that will be going through training, understand what their needs and wants are. What do they want to protect? Where do they perceive the gaps to be? Are there any musts for them on what should be in-person versus virtual?”

By placing value in the feedback of team members across the entire organization, training programs can evolve based on the needs and experiences of reps. As part of the transition back to in-person settings, there might be additional partners to consider or lean on more heavily to ensure reps are set up for success in physical classrooms.

“I think some of the partnerships that we had before the pandemic are even more important now,” said Ricco. “Outside of enablement, there are lots of teams that you need to depend on: your IT team, your audio and visual team, your facilities team. All groups have different roles now in ways that you can pull what you learned from virtual training back into the classroom.”

When cross-functional teams work in tandem to create training programs, there are increased insights and resources that will in turn create more successful and digestible training programs.

“You don’t have to have the answer right away for the very next program,” said Pearson. “Just work as hard as you can and continue to encourage your team.”

With a phased approach to address transitions one step at a time, the evolution to in-person and hybrid training can become less daunting. By implementing the lessons learned from virtual training, remaining empathetic, collaborating with cross-functional teams, and intentional planning, adapting to in-person training will be more seamless and successful.

“Focus on your goals and focus on the salespeople that help your customer,” said Ricco. “Look at virtual and in-person as tools in your toolkit to achieve your goals. Don’t get too fixated on where we’re at when we’re learning, just use the right tools for the right end.”

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