Sure, the concept of team selling has been burned into the brain of most every salesperson. But in the trenches, when closing a sale is on the cusp of becoming a reality, it’s still to a large degree about individual success and sole reward. Not so at the management level – and certainly not in a digital age – where success is often defined by the success of subordinates.
“The biggest challenge when companies try to promote sales pros to sales managers is that sales pros are used to operating independently,” said Norman Behar, CEO of Sales Readiness Group, which provides sales management training programs. “Sales managers can only achieve success through others. They need to be able to shift from the role of individual contributor to being a team motivator, coach and mentor.”
With travel budgets curtailed, companies are increasingly opting for virtual classrooms to help groom their top producers for management gigs, according to Behar, who shared some of the benefits of virtual training compared with traditional, in-person training.
Behar’s recipe for virtual sales training stems from what he calls “spaced learning,” in which sales professionals and sales managers attend a series of training and have the ability to apply skills in between work sessions. “It’s the difference between event-based learning – a two-day national sales meeting with a fixed timetable – and spaced-learning, which consists of a series of 90 minute online-training sessions,” Behar said.
Behar also pointed out the difference between “concurrent engagement,” which is a key element in virtual classrooms, compared with “serial engagement,” which is manifest in physical environments, he said.
“The concept being that in the virtual classroom everyone can participate at the same time (e.g. chat pod or white board exercise) whereas in a physical classroom participants respond to questions sequentially,” Behar said. “As a result, participants often echo what others have already said, as opposed to contributing their own thoughts.”
Indeed, social dynamics is another factor to consider when weighing the differences between virtual sales training and in-person presentations. “In physical settings, there may be certain people who tend to dominate the conversation,” Behar added. “Some people are more apt to engage than others. In a virtual classroom, everyone has an equal opportunity to share their views and you see a much higher level of participation.”
Virtual classrooms work best with small groups of, say, between eight and 15 people, according to Behar. “This allows for a very high level of engagement by the participants and allows the facilitator to make sure everyone is able to comprehend and apply the skills”. He also recommends the use of workbooks – sent as PDF files in advance of the class – that include tools, planners, and exercises referenced in the presentation.
Perhaps most important in this equation is audience involvement. Role play and peer-to-peer learning should be encouraged. “Five minutes shouldn’t go by without action from the participants,” Behar said. “It cannot be a ‘Presentation,’ or people will zone out.”
Yet despite increasingly sophisticated technology in virtual sales training, there are still myriad benefits to bringing sales teams together for in-person training e.g., pressing the flesh and getting some face time with colleagues and/or managers. Any gaps in virtual training should be filled by human interaction.