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Tactical Tips to Enhance Learning in Virtual Environments

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For learning to stick, attention and engagement during the learning experience are necessary ingredients. Capturing attention and engagement from sales reps that are often wired for distraction is a task that requires careful planning and design to combat in any learning environment. But as organizations shift to virtual learning environments – in many cases for sessions traditionally conducted in-person – this rings even more true.

For example, many organizations are becoming familiar with “Zoom fatigue“, a term that describes the lethargy that people experience from teleconferencing for long periods of time. In regular face-to-face learning environments, attendees are free to look down or out the window to give themselves a small “mental break” from the training session. In video-calls however, many worry about appearing like they’re not paying attention, and thus aren’t allowing themselves the visual breaks that are normally routine.

Many virtual learners may also face abundant distractions, which leads them to attempt more multitasking than usual. Whether small, like checking an email, or big, like simultaneously being responsible for child care, the distractions can easily pile up during long and tedious training sessions. The problem with multitasking, especially while trying to absorb new information, is that it reduces comprehension of material in the long-run.

In order to avoid these common challenges with your sales reps, practitioners should keep in mind a few helpful methods to derive the most impact from virtual learning. Learn three actionable tactics to maintain – or exceed – the quality of learning in a virtual environment.

Utilize Novelty to Earn Attention

Many sales enablement teams that rely on vigorous face-to-face onboarding or training sessions now need to reconfigure their lesson plans to accommodate virtual requirements. Rather than merely pivot these sessions online, it’s important to find ways to capture similar levels of energy and attention in virtual learning environments as in-person experiences. Sales enablement can leverage novel techniques to hook participants in and maintain their interest, solidifying the likelihood of comprehension.

Think “inside the box”: send creative props to propel new forms of engagement

Prior to a large training session or onboarding a cohort of new sellers, consider sending participants a package just before their first online session that includes props associated with the learning experience. These props can serve as ice-breakers that initiate their participation in a daily activity. Sheevaun Thatcher and her team at RingCentral recently employed this technique during a virtual onboarding session.

“On the day they did objection handling, [we] sent them all little chalkboards, and so they wrote their [response] and shared it on the screen,” said Sheevaun Thatcher, head of global sales and growth enablement at RingCentral. “The fact is that one of the hardest things to do…is to be able to keep people’s attention when you’re live streaming. [We] had their attention the whole time.”

Don’t hesitate to leverage the bells and whistles

If your video conferencing software has built-in features that can drive interactivity, incorporate them. For instance, break-out rooms have the ability to positively disrupt the mood and encourage participants to actively engage. Be sure to integrate other opportunities for interaction such as prompting discussion in the chat or moderating Q&A sessions to interrupt the more monotonous material and encourage a variety of participation opportunities.

“Make sure that you’re using all of the bells and whistles of technology, whether it’s polling, cameras, Q&A, or breakout rooms,” said Julie Zhang, director of North America sales enablement at Russell Investments. “We’re trying all the time to figure out creative, new ways to be engaging with our audience…it makes it a little bit easier to capture their attention for more than a couple hours.”

Motivate Learning with Gamification

Gamification can have two main benefits in a virtual learning environment: for one, using games within online sessions can energize an environment that otherwise feels impersonal or disconnected. Second, the friendly competition that gamification creates can motivate sellers to maintain engagement in order to come out on top.

Break out the board games

Alleviate virtual fatigue by incorporating trivia-like games in the style of Family Feud or Jeopardy. Playing in teams can be a bonding exercise among peers, who might be feeling more isolated with remote work. It also creates a memorable experience that can solidify the retainment of new information. For longer, information-rich sessions, consider informing participants beforehand that one of these games will follow the learning portion in order to motivate their alertness during the session.

Tap into sellers’ competitive spirit to motivate participation

Turning new skills into habit can be a tedious and sometimes painful process for sellers, and it can be difficult to entice people to put in the necessary effort if they can’t see the immediate benefit. Rather than enforcing the adoption of new techniques or processes among sellers, try tapping into their underlying motivations.

Strong sellers oftentimes have achievement-oriented personalities that are well-equipped to operate in competitive conditions. Invest time into creating games that capitalize on your sellers’ competitive edge, and reward them appropriately. For example, rewards might take the form of physical prizes, creative superlatives, or the fame of being featured at the top of a public leaderboard. These types of activities help reduce some of the pain that can come with learning new information and instead make it rewarding.

“To embrace modern selling skills, sometimes it’s harder to unlearn what you learned than learning new things,” said Mary Tafuri, chief sales enablement officer and vice president at IBM. “That was my number one ask: how you can innovate, how you can make the enablement and the skills stretching something that people want to do, not are forced to do. The way we addressed this challenge was through gamification.”

Establish a Comprehensive Feedback Loop

As organizations adapt to new ways of selling, ensuring all sales reps are adequately prepared with the skills they need to succeed is critical. Therefore, it’s important for practitioners to understand whether virtual learning sessions are effective and resonating with sales reps.

As data from the Sales Enablement Analytics 2019 Report indicates, 31% of sales enablement practitioners measure the success of readiness programs through qualitative feedback on learning activities. In order to respond with agility to the changing selling environment, having a trusted and well-established feedback loop for participants and practitioners to rely on becomes even more important.

“Feedback is key to understanding how well our programs are answering the needs of the sales organization,” said Lena Chudasama, senior sales enablement lead for EMEA at Taboola. “We really welcome that feedback.”

Conduct consistent mini pulse-checks

One method to gather this feedback is to conduct anonymous monthly pulse-check surveys, where sellers rate their confidence in sales skills, product knowledge, and overall readiness. The results allow practitioners to evaluate what is or isn’t effective and adjust appropriately. It also demonstrates to sellers that their confidence is a priority, establishing trust and elevating the existing virtual sales culture. During remote working situations, reinforcing these values is all the more important to boost morale and show sellers that their opinions and personal success matters to the organization.

Keep your virtual door open with office hours

A worthwhile feedback loop depends on the equal and rigorous participation of both parties in order to be effective. Practitioners should set prompt deadlines for responding to questions or feedback.

Consider establishing a regular cadence for meeting and interacting with sellers, such as having an optional weekly “office hours” session where they can ask questions and voice concerns. Sales enablement practitioners should pay close attention to who is asking questions, and consider it an opportunity to make a deeper connection with participants by initiating a follow-up conversation down the road to reassess their progress.

By first acknowledging the common challenges of virtual learning environments, practitioners can then begin to integrate the necessary mechanics to keep sellers engaged and motivated to learn. Strive to utilize novel and unique tactics to earn the attention of your sellers and overcome the distractions and disconnectedness of virtual environments. Gain momentum of sales teams through fun and competitive gamification, and finally, carefully maintain the quality of a trusted feedback loop that prioritizes seller confidence.

When building out a virtual learning experience, incorporating these tactical tips will help maintain the quality of your sales enablement initiatives. Most importantly, it will ensure that sellers continue to build the skills and knowledge they need to consistently deliver excellent customer experiences in any environment.