Many in the B2B industry are buzzing about the death of in-person sales training programs. But my team at Mereo has been witnessing and navigating the evolution of these in real-time over the past couple years, and right now we are starting to see a marked shift that tells a different story for the future of training.
Just last month, I joined a fellow Mereo principal for an in-person sales enablement session — this client’s second in-person engagement in 2022, with many bi-weekly virtual coaching and reinforcement sessions in-between. While all the sessions have been accomplishing the program objectives, in-person sessions have proven most effective for salespeople. Role-playing sales conversations in-person simply works better. Coaching sidebars with salespeople during breaks or over a meal are powerful.
The remote requirements of early 2020 forced B2B organizations to scramble to shift sales training programs to virtual. Today, while in-person sessions are increasingly being explored again, there are still many signs that virtual sessions will remain commonplace going forward.
There is without argument many benefits from virtual sales training. Leadership has greater flexibility with scheduling. They can save their company 30% to 70% on travel costs and lost productivity. They even can modify programs to make them work best for their sales team and needs.
This last benefit is major, because virtual programs often lack what we at Mereo have found are some of the most vital elements of sales training: opportunities to practice skills and content, accountability and reminders.
Yet, according to a recent research report by CloudShare, many organizations are cutting out the instructors who can help guide salespeople through exercises, role-plays and follow-ups. In fact, they discovered that in 2021 virtual instructor-led trainings (VILTs) decreased by 16% while self-paced programs increased by a whopping 365%.
How can your organization resurrect the best parts of in-person sales training programs while also reaping the benefits of virtual formats? We at Mereo have a tested solution. Read on to learn more.
AN IN-PERSON / VIRTUAL SALES TRAINING PROGRAM COMPROMISE
Regardless of my own inclinations toward the power of an in-person sales training program, the virtual reality of today necessitates a hybrid compromise to ensure salespeople are getting the skills and support needed to best serve your buyers. When it comes down to it, the best virtual sales training program that gets forgotten and goes unimplemented by your sales team becomes just an expensive lecture.
When your leadership is choosing or modifying its virtual sales training program, discuss how you will incorporate the following elements that are vital to ensuring greater retention and success:
- Practice: Your salespeople will not succeed with or retain a new selling skill by consuming it on a screen alone. Period. Your leadership has to insist they practice it. Then practice it again. And, for good measure, again. These role-plays, ride-along sessions, and one-on-one and group exercises allow your salespeople to not only work out any struggles away from a prospect / buyer while gaining muscle memory for a new selling capability — but the extra effort also signals to them the importance of remembering and implementing this new skillset when out with buyers, where the pressure and stakes are higher and old habits are easier to fall back to. When you give your salespeople enough chances to practice, a new selling skill starts to become not so new.
- Accountability: Step into your sales leadership role and help your salespeople succeed. Leaders who hold their team accountable see measurable results and positive outcomes. How will you ensure your salespeople are taking and completing your virtual trainings? What steps will you take to check they are actually engaging with the training content rather than just going through the motions or letting a recording play in the background? How will your leadership team address any struggles or failures with the new selling skills and turn them around to successes? What extra efforts will your sales leadership take to check that the training is being put into practice consistently?
- Reminders: A lot of work remains for sales leadership after a sales training. People can only retain so much information after each session. And it is up to your leadership to let your teams know what specific information is the most important for them to remember. Set the standards and expectations as clearly as possible. Then, remind your team about these on a consistent basis, in a number of ways — both formally and informally. Take on the tough but rewarding role Chief Reminding Officer.
BUILD YOUR BEST SALES TRAINING PROGRAM
While it is tempting to try to figure out how to accomplish these vital sales training program elements within a virtual format, do not fully discount in-person just yet.
That novel in-person sales enablement session I shared at the beginning of this article? I met a number of sales leaders and former connections on that trip, some of whose travels happened to have them in that city the same week as me (hint: travel is picking up). In every conversation, each sales leader shared their intent to reconvene their teams in-person in the coming months. They plan to do so, though, while keeping a cadence of virtual sessions.
So is in-person sales training really dead? Or will it come back with a vengeance and kill off virtual sales training? No and no. Both of these training and enablement environments have proven value and an earned space into the future of B2B organizations.
To learn more about the full power of Mereo sales enablement and training programs, explore the Pitney Bowes success story.