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Sales Training in a Classroom or Online?

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Sales Training can comprise product knowledge, sales procedures & reports and selling skills.

We have been developing sales training courses for automobile major in Europe, with market presence in Europe and Asia. During the development, we realized that this client company is using a blended approach by addressing certain aspects of training via online delivery and certain others in the classroom.

For example, the procedures and reports that need to be followed and filled in respectively are quite amenable to be put online. So the company went ahead and asked us to develop a 60-minute online course to teach their sales people various procedures to be followed which included the sales planning process. The course presented adequate opportunities for the learners to test their understanding.

Products in this case were automobile spare parts; there was nothing much to be learnt about them as they fell in some kind of consumable category. Had the product been an automobile itself, product training could have been attempted through eLearning, with ample use of 3-D animations and voice over.

Coming to the controversial component – selling skills. Can it be done effectively via an online course? As a former sales person and also a training professional, I classify learning how to sell under experiential learning – learning by doing. Usually, selling skills training is either done on-the-job (OJT) along with a senior sales person for providing guidance and feedback or in a classroom where typical sales situations are simulated for the learners to enact the role of a sales person while another learner takes on the role of a buyer. Feedback is generally given in the form of a video shoot of the process.

Given this kind of training, I think eLearning or online mode of delivery is not very suitable for selling skills training.

What do you think? Thank you for reading my blog and I welcome your comments and sharing of experiences.

RK Prasad

CEO

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  • RK, we agree with your comments. as a 15-year old sales development firm, we offer a full online library to compliment our instructor led sessions. I think the online value lies in the ability to focus on one particular sales skill. the online environment allows us to be very granular with the learning, breaking a sales step down to its smallest component. due to its self directed format, a learner can spend as much time (or as little time) with that module, to perfect their own skill for that step. we also work hard to make the online courses as interactive as possible so that the user has to complete questions about how they personally approach a sales call. the online environment can also help a participant to feel more comfortable with a skill and gather the courage to actually try the sales approach once they are in an instructor led role play session.

    great question! thanks.

  • i agree with everything you wrote here, i would add that asynchronous learning also helps learners to do some homework. As of the behavior part of our job, which is enbaling sales professionals to overcome their inhibition, i must agree that nothing is likely to be replacing face to face role playing. We do role plays with real executives which creates a special learning environment. i would consider high quality video conferencing to be replacing face to face in case my client will request a “zero CO2 emission training”

  • Tracy Adams

    No matter how selling skills are taught, developing skills requires good, live feedback. That can be gained in the classroom, but it can also be gained through a well designed and USED coaching practice within the sales management body. Giving learners the chance to practice a skill in the classroom is good, but nothing beats the real world experience. Using online resources to teach a skill, then having a management team that is prepared to coach that skill may in many ways be the best. Short of that, you certainly can’t rely on CBT of any kind to train selling skills without some classroom component.

  • Excellent comments that I agree with. I will add that from a learning point of view, “live” with a facilitator who knows, understands and exemplifies the topic presented accelerates the integration of the new skills. Then of course in the field experience coupled with coaching is even more powerful.

  • Agree with all comments above. Also, when skill mastery is essential, in-person practice, demonstration, feedback, and reinforcement is the only way of insuring skill consistency across and organization. Asynchronous learning is excellent where mastery can be measured with yes/no and multiple choice tests. “What I know” versus “what I do” is how we differentiate.

  • Thanks, folks for sharing your views.

  • Abhinava S.N

    Dear Prasad,

    A sales training program can still be sectored into knowledge that is required, the comprehension of how things are ‘supposed’ to happen and the ability to then showcase a behavioral change based on the training. (Broadly, the first three levels of Blooms)

    While the first two as you said are easily done through eLearning, the third is where the challenge lies. It is usually assumed that the third is too tough to be handled through the ‘e’ Medium…

    However, I contend that this is in an ideal world… In the real world however, it is quite possible to influence (or largely influence) their selling skills through an eProgram.

    This i say because:
    1. It is quite a decent assumption that the sales people have at the very least some pre-existing knowledge of how to sell… corrective or complementary (or supplementary) skills are relatively easy to build in the e-mode.
    2. I am not entirely convinced that an ILT (or ILO) mode will readily influence behavior drastically. a 3-4 day workshop might not create any large impact in terms of actual selling skills… and what that can create… I am sure eLearning can offer at better economies.
    3. eLearning should not be thought of as flash based courses – there are half a zillion other modes of eLearning and we should learn to expoloit them to offer better learning solutions.
    4. Lastly, solutions based selling and not feature based selling – selling what you can can only imped the veracity of the solution. sell what should be sold – and do what you can – get done the rest :)

    Hope this helped.

    Do reach me on
    abhinava.sn@gmail.com or
    +91 9902066909.

    We can discuss this further. :)
    -A

  • Thanks, Abhinava, for the detailed sharing.

  • Judy Cooke

    using a blended learning approach works well for sales skills because is uses all the learning elements such as, e-learning, Instructor Led Training (ILT), collaborative learning and coaching. Glad to hear others are thinking through these concerns.

  • I have provided both instructor-led training (ILT) and online training (OLT) for sales in the US, Canada, Middle East, Asia, and Africa. Many of the points for ILT have been made, but an additional one that I have experienced results from the camradarie that the ILT progams provide.

    When salespeople can work through real-world cases and selling issues collaboratively, and face-to-face, ideas flow and insight is gained in ways that are not facilitated in an online environment.

    Both ILT and OLT are necessary and self-supporting for advanced sales training. In general, I recommend ILT for advanced selling skills that rely on tacit knowledge that the participants provide.

  • Hello Prasad,
    Thank for the question and thank you for stimulating such educated responses.

    Our company is amongst other things a call centre provider, a large one with over 5,000 staff across 40 different clients. inbound, outbound, at home agents, off shore as well as providing multi channel contact – email/sms/mail etc… we acquired an established eLearning business to assist us with a few objectives we had. Things like attrition, speed to competence, cost of training, time off the phone, knowledge retention etc… As part of this strategy, our new Salmat Learning business has taken our very effective sales and customer training IP and developed an online program called Quality Conversations. 26 modules broken up into streams like Introduction (modules), Core (m), Customer Service (m) and Sales (m). The training is quite unlike many other eLearning programs. If we focus on the Sales for a moment some of the “tests” are very realistic, choosing an agents state of mind when they answer the call and then being offered different verbal responses (reflected by physical responses)that can be chosen during the sales call. Of course there is an offline aspect, but this is focused on forums, program champions, debriefs etc – all backend managed by our LMS.. We believe that there really is nothing of this type in the world today (or so we are told) – over 8,000 hours in development! Not pitching here at all, this is after all and forum to disucss effective learning and the feedback we are receiving from the learners, there managers and in the metrics i.e. less customer complaints and more customer compliments as well as many others such as more sales, less time on the phone, quicker speed to competence etc are telling us that this program is hitting the right pain points. I am more than happy to discuss, in the meantime please feel free to go to http://www.salmatlearning.com.au/qc/home.html if you would like to discover more and access some demonstration modules. We have worked very hard on this and would love your learned feedback. Many thanks and regards to you industry professionals
    jamie.merriman@salmat.com.au

  • Thank you very much, Jamie, for your detailed post. I will study your demo modules and get back to you.
    Best,
    RK

  • Thanks RK

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  • Hi Everyone… I see allot of great comments in here and would like to point out one factor that hasn’t been taken into consideration yet…. When you say “sales training” it’s important to categorize what type of sales person is to be trained.

    Are they an outside sales person our an OUTBOUND sales person (phone sales… not a “call center” person)?

    The difference is if they are an outbound phone sales person using the phone to prospect, lead follow ups etc… face to face classroom training is not necessary…. even if they are brand new to sales.

    With today’s Web 2.0 technology, you can do live training online without the hassle of traveling to the classroom. You can have role playing break out sessions and you get instant feedback from a live instructor.

    I would venture to say that in order for sales training to be effective, you definitely need a combination of classroom training blended with eLearning modules as long as it is understood that classroom training can and is done online as well. And it’s faster training for everyone (no traveling) as well as less expensive.

    Hope this helps.

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  • hasan

    Very Good Discussion

  • Aseem

    Good one.

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  • Its like you read my mind! You appear to know a lot about this, like you wrote the book in it or something. I think that you could do with some pics to drive the message home a bit, but instead of that, this is fantastic blog. A great read. I’ll certainly be back.