Four Tips to Deliver Engaging Virtual Training That Sticks

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Practically every aspect of the sales organization will accelerate toward digital innovation, creating both challenges and opportunities for companies as they adapt. Sales enablement is an essential lever to help sales teams survive and thrive in a virtual environment with sales training tailor-made to embrace this digital innovation.

Rather than simply repurposing lesson plans built for the classroom in an online setting, sales enablement leaders can design meaningful sessions with content crafted for the virtual environment in order to prepare sales teams for long-term success as they adapt to change. To do so, sales enablement can leverage varied content, personalization, gamification, and assessments to make virtual training more effective and efficient.

“Don’t look at virtual as a limitation,” said Megan Allen, global sales and buyer enablement manager at ZScaler. “Leverage it to your advantage here. Get creative and pay attention to every detail. You may think planning a virtual program takes less effort and time…It takes more, especially if you take the time to deliver everything at the highest quality that you can.”

Here are four steps to take in virtual training to drive rep retention, adoption of key concepts, and behavior change.

Chunk and Space Content

In a virtual setting, all-day training sessions can be especially fatiguing. Expecting to maintain participant attention online in incessant, multi-hour blocks is setting reps up for failure. Instead, training content must be bite-sized, straight and to-the-point, and most importantly, spaced out to allow for decent breaks.

Focus on developing short sessions that clearly outline the key takeaways for reps. Avoid packing too much content in, and leave plenty of room for discussion and practice. For variety, content can also switch between large group sessions, independent learning, and smaller break-out rooms with well-timed breaks in between.

“If you sequence it and time it correctly, you don’t flood people with Zoom fatigue or session after session,” said John Hsieh, founder and president of Scale GTM. “You allow them space to react to it, apply it, and then come back and ask questions. This is where you’re going to get the most benefit and impact.”

These abbreviated sessions mean presenters likely will have less time to convey information than in an in-person environment. Therefore, it’s important that enablement not only prioritizes information but also reminds learners of the main message as often as possible. Likewise, practitioners can require some pre-work so sales reps come prepared to maximize the benefits of the information shared.

“You have to be really engaging,” said Michelle Dotson, senior manager of sales enablement at Zoom. “It was really important to cut down anything that’s fluffy and extra, anything that was really taking away from the point. What people really want to know is, what do you want me to learn? And what do you want me to do after I leave this session?”

Personalize Activities to Enhance Engagement

One benefit of the virtual environment is that it allows enablement to deliver more personalized agendas in training programs. Reps will struggle to retain training content and become frustrated if, for example, they are in different time zones than where the sessions are being hosted.

Personalized agendas can help companies deliver a flexible, but still synchronized, virtual training experience. Dotson recommends asking the following questions to better understand how to tailor training agendas based on reps’ preferences:

  • Who is attending? What roles are they in?
  • What regions are they in?
  • What’s their tenure?
  • How do I tailor this content to ensure it is relevant to them?

“That allowed for everyone to have not only a relevant start time that allowed for them to log on,” said Dotson. “But it also allowed us to tailor the actual sessions, the presenters to have in-region customization as well, and to bring on customers that are relevant or outside agencies that were relevant in a time zone at reasonable hours. It’s a mix of figuring out who’s coming, figure out what times work best, and then start to tailor from there.”

The following strategies can be used to personalize training activities:

  • Content Round Table: Source ideas from reps on topics they are interested in seeing covered and let them vote on a few to ensure the content resonates.

“We first ask our colleagues what their expectations are,” said Ruben Boom, global head of sales enablement at ifm. “A lot of good feedback came in and we put all those ideas together and then really came to the point, ‘okay, this is where we’re needed most at this time.’ That helps with really setting priorities. Getting input from colleagues globally means lots of talking, lots of calls, etc., but it is definitely needed.”

  • Sponsor-Led Training: Engage different subject matter experts to lead breakout sessions and allow reps to choose what they are most interested in. The sponsors are responsible for developing content tied into focus areas that they believe would be valuable to reps, as well as for selecting speakers to present the sessions. This empowers SMEs to deliver content to a smaller amount of reps, instead of forcing enablement to push out all-centralized content to a large audience. It also alleviates some of the pressure on enablement regarding training, as it spans out the responsibility for the content.

“The [reps] got to pick the content they were most interested in and because those groups were smaller, they got to really engage, ask questions, and hear from a SME that they were really excited about,” said Callie Apt, senior director of global sales enablement at Domo.

  • Peer-Led Discussions: Encourages reps to explore content in their own way by asking well-formulated questions and sharing ideas and opinions. Such inquiry-based learning works well in group settings where collaboration lets them assemble knowledge through lively and meaningful discussion.

“The quality of the content is king,” said Mary Tafuri, chief sales enablement officer at IBM. “Especially in the virtual world, you don’t want to waste any space or any time with noise.”

Include Gamification

A gamified training experience ignites a competitive spirit in sales teams when learning important sales behaviors. Gamification can provide instant feedback to reps so that they know whether they’re performing skills correctly. This alleviates the learning curve and increases confidence, thus accelerating outcomes.

“Doing [gamification] cements the information into their brain a lot better than just going through PowerPoint slides and telling them what the benefits are or having a speaker up there talking, even if the speaker is really engaging,” said Laura Welch, director of sales enablement at HP. “Having them actually do something and stand up is good.”

Gamification eliminates potential intimidation by breaking the subject down into small segments, with achievable milestones to reach throughout the learning process. Enablement can organize content into bite-sized topics such as sales plays, competitors, market trends, and product knowledge, while making complex learning more fun and engaging. This can also help improve adoption of knowledge or skills by encouraging reps to apply their training right away.

Meanwhile, it allows enablement to gain data-backed insight on how reps are progressing, including identifying reps who know the most about a given topic or are the best at a particular skill. These reps who are becoming subject matter experts can then be tapped to assist in helping other reps retain information and can further help drive adoption after sessions end. On the other hand, it can highlight who is struggling and needs additional help, or topics that are consistently causing difficulty.

“We have a very prescriptive way to measure if one challenge or the other in one part of the portfolio or in one specific market is more effective than others,” said Tafuri. “It’s all driven by data collection and analytics and nicely displayed in a dashboard. I’m very proud of the adoption rate that we now have as a result.”

Regularly Check for Knowledge Retention

Frequent knowledge checks throughout training can help practitioners monitor engagement and assess the retention of key concepts among reps.

Beyond formal assessments, these casual knowledge checks also allow enablement to give their stamp of approval for how reps think through key concepts and might apply them in the field. When evaluating retention of key concepts, Miranda Martin’s book “The Ultimate Sales Training Success Guide” recommends focusing on just one to three things at a time before moving on to new topics. In doing so, consider including a brief knowledge check every 15 to 30 minutes to give reps a chance to pause and digest information as they learn.

Feedback is also a core component of these knowledge checks, as it helps correct any misconceptions and address learning gaps in the moment, before any issues become too deeply embedded in behavior. The following tools can be used to provide constructive feedback to reps during incremental knowledge checks:

  • Discover List: Separate feedback into a list with two columns, including “What Went Well” and “What to Improve”
  • Sandwich Approach: Present a positive finding, a negative finding, and then another positive finding
  • Magic Question: Ask the rep, “How do you think you did?” People are usually harder on themselves and will give themselves negative feedback, and enablement can then address those perceptions and follow up with positive reinforcement

Sales organizations that proactively address the challenges and maximize the opportunities of virtual training are more likely to navigate digital innovation in the business environment successfully, thereby driving success for reps, customers, and the company.

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