Episode 139: Debra Flick on Building Training Programs to Drive Behavior Change

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Shawnna Sumaoang: Hi, and welcome to the Sales Enablement PRO podcast. I am Shawnna Sumaoang. Sales enablement is a constantly evolving space and we’re here to help professionals stay up to date on the latest trends and best practices so that they can be more effective in their jobs. Today, I’m excited to have Debra Flick from Cultivating Talent and Wellness join us. Debra, I would love for you to introduce yourself, your role, and your organization to our audience.

Debra Flick: I’m Debra Flick and I’m a training and sales enablement leader with over 15 years of diverse experience with a B2B sales background. I managed a regional sales team covering a nine-state area, and then I moved into program and product management. I started my sales enablement journey as a training facilitator, then moved into instructional design and then leading the strategy teams and programs. I’ve spent five years contracting and consulting with several fortune 500 companies and a few startups. I’ve developed and enhanced training and sales enablement programs for five companies.

My education is in business and organizational leadership. I enjoy digging into the data to find opportunities, to make an impact solving challenges and helping salespeople engage with their prospects and creating training and resources that help them close more deals or advance them in their sales career.

SS: In addition to sales enablement, as you mentioned in your intro, you have experience in training and instructional design. So, in your opinion, what are some of the core factors you need to consider when you’re designing a learning experience for sales reps?

DF: Training can make such a big impact that people often think that training’s the answer for every performance improvement issue, but it’s really not. I often think of training being the appropriate solution when skills and knowledge are needed. And then there are other things that we can do if it’s a lack of motivation or lack of information and that type of thing.
Some of the things I think of are that you need to begin with an understanding of your training needs by conducting a needs analysis. That can be super simple, or it can be more complex depending on what you’re trying to do, but really trying to identify the gap between where you are and the desired performance, or where you want to go with regard to knowledge and skills. Identifying gaps may be seen in trends such as tasks or your assessments, surveys, interviews, you could do full focus groups. Observations is something that I work with a lot. I tend to sit by, of course not during COVID, but sit by salespeople and really listen to what they’re saying, what they’re doing, what’s working, what’s not working. And then you can also use qualitative data and quantitative data to really get the big picture.

Another thing that we use in training and development is the ADDIE approach. That stands for analyze, which is basically what I’ve just described. That would also go into really getting a sense of what’s the best type of training. Is it e-learning? Is it a podcast? Is it a classroom training? Is it virtual? Getting a sense of that and designing a storyboard to start developing what you’re trying to do. And then it goes into design, develop, implement, and evaluate. So, it’s an iterative process, meaning it’s not simply linear one through five. It’s really where during the cycle you may be learning new information or there might be a change in the company that changes. It could be a leadership change or something happens that changes the direction or some of the content. So, it’s really looking at all of those pieces and knowing that it continues to evolve.

One thing I like to always do as a beta whereby when you’re implementing it, doing it with a group of people that have some knowledge and potentially maybe there’s people in there that don’t really have any knowledge of the topic and they can give you really good feedback on how things land. What makes sense? What do you need to add or areas where you could certainly improve it or making it more fun, more engaging, whatever the case may be.

SS: I think that’s a great place to start. Now, you had mentioned on your LinkedIn that stakeholder management is an important aspect of instructional design. How do you go about aligning with stakeholders on the goals and the outcomes of the learning programs that you’re developing?

DF: I think definitely having buy-in and support, whether it’s a project sponsor or other stakeholders, is really important. And I think it really comes down to getting that level of trust that what you’re doing and that you’re working together to figure out what it is they’re trying to accomplish. What is missing? What’s the gap? Also really communicating any issues clearly so that they are informed early on so that they know exactly what’s going on. And I mentioned earlier, just being a constant observer of people. I’m always looking for that, listening to calls, learning about what’s working.

The main reason for that is every organization’s different with how they approach things, and I’m always trying to tie into how they do things. But also getting that level of expertise so that the stakeholders realize that I know what I’m doing, and that they trust that their expertise might be sales. My expertise, I’m building it from that perspective, but also knowing how adults learn and what’s the best way for us to help them learn what they need to do in order to be successful. Then setting up meetings upfront is really helpful.

Something that I find really imperative because people’s schedules get really busy. When you have that kind of sign off upfront that they’re going to be attending the meetings, and I would really gear it around that ADDIE process so that you are getting some sign off at each stage of that process. It really helps to mitigate any issues down the road when changes become much more time consuming and definitely more expensive as well.

SS: Fantastic. I think those are some great ways to get stakeholder alignment. Now, with regard to the experience for the reps themselves, how do you make learning experiences engaging for reps and what are some strategies to grab and maintain their attention?

DF: With sales training, I think the most important thing that you can add is a level of competition because they’re competitive. They tend to be competitive. That’s why they are in sales, partly, and they love winning. So, I’ve used prizes and it doesn’t really matter what it is. It could be company pens or company swag, anything that helps allow them to win something and have that bragging right. I think that’s one of the critical things with sales training.

I like to add in a lot of role-play of various types, whether it’s prospecting calls or anything to do with your sales process and really building it from kind of that foundational level. And then building on that key knowledge, always trying to tie back to something they already know, so that it just makes it easier for them to put all the pieces together. Then I’ve used flashcards. Nowadays, you can do those online for any topic on the note of competition. At the end, have it known upfront that you’re going to do a competition with the entire sales process, adding in the products so that they really start to have that level of not just competition, but more that, “Hey, I’m going to have to present this at the end.” They start to really engage in what do I need to know in order to be able to do it well at the end. So, a lot of role-play and it could be pop quizzes.

One thing I like to do is something where you’re giving them a scenario and then you’re just asking them questions. And it’s a pop quiz, say there’s eight people in the training and you’re just picking on each person randomly and they have to be on their toes. It’s similar to being in the hot seat when you’re in front of a prospect. So, always being able to help them really understand what it is I need to know, and that they’re ready for it. The more they get that time to practice, the better off they’re going to be when they get in the field.

It’s super important that they feel the same in the classroom or in the training versus when they’re in front of a prospect. That is a big deal. And that prospect may not know that they’re not saying the right things or doing the right things or talking about the product, but if you give them enough practice ahead of time, it really alleviates any of those issues.

One thing I like to do, whether it’s an online classroom or in the classroom, is something I call think-pair-share. This allows everyone to think on their own before sharing. Some people take more time to process. Some people are more thorough and need that time. So, they do that piece on their own. Just write out a bunch of answers or maybe it’s a one-minute essay on a topic, and then they share with another person.

Then finally, maybe depending on the size of a group, you might have a few different groups share together. They get the top ideas out of their group, and then they share with a larger group. Another one is online that we’re getting used to thumbs up, thumbs down, chat answers to the quiz or a series of questions. Then having to maybe do a step-by-step sequence. Like if you’re teaching them a sales process to really help them know which step comes next, having each person have a step and then it could be a fun exercise where they get up in a classroom and really talk about that particular step. But they line up in the sequence of the steps. And then of course, group discussion is always good as well. There’s a lot of different things you can do to keep their attention.

SS: I love that. I think you gave some fantastic examples. Now, beyond attention, I think retention is the other thing that we think about when we’re trying to skill up sales reps. So, how do you reinforce the knowledge learned in your training programs to ensure that reps can apply it and also begin to change their own behaviors?

DF: Repetition. I think I mentioned that, but repetition is the key to learning by using all the engagement tools, using some assessments. I didn’t mention this earlier but doing a pre-test ahead of time in a post-class test whereby they know they’re going to have those, or at least they know the post-test and that can be really helpful. Then also something I call round-robin questioning. And I somewhat mentioned that where you’re just given a scenario and asking random people, I think that really helps build the knowledge and reinforces what they need to do, and also puts that bit of pressure on them so that they come to class or they come to the training environment ready having practiced. Maybe it’s a five-day training. They’ve practiced after day one.

Another thing is always involving that manager, so that they’re championing the course or the content and having a one-on-one after each day of class so that they know what was talked about. And they’re asking some key questions about that so that the salesperson starts to realize, one, I’m not only learning, but my manager, it’s important to them and they know what’s going on. And they’re asking me and engage me. Maybe they’re asking some questions that are somewhat quiz questions, things that are important to them when their reps get out in the field or on the phones. I think that can be really helpful.

Then, I highly recommend adding a full practice. I kind of mentioned that earlier, but having something at the end where they have to go through the full. If it’s a sales process and there’s multiple products that they at least know several of the products that they can actually demonstrate for that customer. Then, whether they’re doing it in front of the class, or they’re doing it in front of their manager, or both, I think is really important because then you know that they know what you need them to do in the field or on the phones.

SS: I think that’s fantastic to help with reinforcement. Now, you mentioned on LinkedIn that you also specialize in coaching people through change with what you called motivational interviewing. I would love for you to explain to our audience what is motivational interviewing and how does it help to guide behavior change?

DF: Motivational interviewing is a collaborative conversation. It’s really for strengthening a person’s own motivation and their commitment to change. I learned it through wellness coaching and they use it in counseling as well. It’s really powerful and it’s a conversation that guides versus directs and its primary purpose is to strengthen the motivation for change. That’s a way of activating their own motivation, their own commitment and resources for change through that conversation. It’s interesting because we are more likely to be persuaded by what we hear ourselves say than potentially someone else. In asking them questions, it’s more of guiding rather than telling them what to do. In some ways of coaching, it might be more of giving a bit of advice or constructive feedback. This is really putting the onus on them.

There’s an underlying spirit that connects a coach’s heart and mind to the conversation whereby you’re really in partnership with that person. You’re helping them to accept that there’s a need for change and having that compassion and helping them to evoke the change on their own. Some of the ways that you use the questioning is open-ended questions, affirmations, reflections, and then summarizing. It’s interesting because it’s similar to sales where you really want them doing more of the talking, like you would a prospect.

Then yourself as the coach, you want to be asking some questions that are open-ended or affirming what they’ve just said, and then letting them speak because as they speak, they start to realize some of the things they’ve been saying for a long time potentially. And they start to realize just that I’ve said this for a long time, but I haven’t activated or done something. I think it just, again, puts the onus on them and they start to realize there is a problem, or I’ve been looking at this for a long time, or maybe it’s been showing up in their life for a long time and they start to take more ownership of it. They’re determining what the resources are that I need in order to make the change.

SS: think that’s a really interesting approach to that. Now, Debra, in closing, I’d love to hear from you around the topic of metrics and measuring success, which I think all sales enablement professionals are keen to do better at. How do you measure the success of your learning programs?

DF: I think you’re absolutely right. This is something that is really important and sometimes it can be difficult. One of the things that I used and continue to work on is Kirkpatrick’s four levels of really looking at return on investment. The first thing would be reaction. Sometimes people will call this in learning and development, “smile sheets”, but I don’t look at it that way. It could be just a survey at the end of the program and asking that learner. Was the information relevant, easy to follow questions, such as about the facilitator – there are lots of different questions that you can ask.

I’d keep it pretty simple, like probably 10 questions, probably not more than that. And then the second level is really learning, measuring the knowledge and skills gain, and that could be your test scores, it could be an influence on your KPIs. Is there a change with that? Is the ramp time getting to be less? Are they getting to their first sale more quickly? And then also it could be one-on-one manager feedback. There should be assessing along the way, how things are going with the new person. Are they getting up to speed more quickly than potentially people did previously? Maybe it’s three months ago or six months ago, are we continuing to improve the training so that it’s better each and every time from the feedback and then level three is really behavior.

So again, that could be self-assessment down the road could be 90 days later and on the job observations, as well, looking at those KPIs. Then it could be net promoter scores or some type of customer surveys. And I think the biggest thing there is, are the learners confident to share their new knowledge and skills? Maybe the manager says 90 days out, I’m going to have you present our team on XYZ. And then finally, level four is the result measuring the results such as reduced costs, increased productivity, employee retention, customer retention, increasing sales, getting to full quota. How quickly is that happening? And then learning transfer back on the job. Do they know what they need to know in order to do what they need to do? Is that evident?

At that point you could also start implementing certification exams if you’ve got a program for that. It could be level four. And then finally, the return on investment. In its simplest form, a return on investment is really your return. The benefit you’re getting minus the training costs divided by the investment costs. So, in this simple example, say that you determined that the benefit is $120,000. That might be from in a customer service unit where you have reduced the time that calls are being conducted. So, you’ve reduced that, or you’ve had an increase in sales, whatever the case may be minus — say, you have a training that costs $30,000 — and then you’re dividing it by that $30,000 times 100. Then that equals, in this example, 300%. So, you have a 3% increase from that $30,000 investment, which most people of course would be like, of course we’ll invest $30,000. But if you don’t explain what the benefit is going to be, they may think $30,000 sounds like a lot. But if I get three times my money back, I’m in.

SS: Debra, thank you so much. I think you landed a lot of really fantastic points for our audience. I really appreciate your time today.

DF: Appreciate it. I enjoyed the conversation as well and love sales enablement, so happy to help.

SS: To our audience, thanks for listening. For more insights, tips, and expertise from sales enablement leaders, visit salesenablement.pro. If there’s something you’d like to share or a topic you’d like to learn more about, please let us know. We’d love to hear from you.

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