Quick question: Do you know any L&D departments who aren't trying to train more people with less resources? Guess what: Salman Khan has some advice for the rest of us and why sales leaders need to pay attention.

We live in a world where training and skill development are top business issues. Yet we see companies operating with fewer L&D staff and struggling to trim training costs--including development and implementation.

Not to mention trying to reduce learners' travel expenses or loss of work time.

Because it’s no secret that “time in territory” is important. After all, if your sales reps aren’t in the field or on the phone, they’re not generating revenue.

As a learning and development professional, you have a lot expected of you.

Don’t worry. You can deliver results, lower costs, raise engagement and improve selling skills. All you have to do is take a page from Sal Khan.

OK, I know what you’re thinking...

Why should you listen to Sal Khan?

Could it really be possible?

Can a non-profit help your sales organization rake in the cash? The answer is simple.


Khan and his team have developed an online learning platform that is making people the world over take notice. 39-year-old Salman Khan, the founder of Khan Academy, has been called "the most watched teacher in the world." TIME Magazine named him one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World.

You may not be a charitable organization, but you can still learn a lot from Khan Academy. To date the organization has:

  • More than 75 million users in 216 countries
  • More than 230 million lessons delivered
  • A presence in 20,000 classrooms worldwide
  • More than 6 million unique users per month.

Along the way, Sal Khan literally wrote the book on how technology is impacting learning. In The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined, he writes, “new technologies offer hope for more effective ways of teaching and learning.”

Plus, Khan has solved a problem that's been plaguing training departments for years. He's figured out how a small team can deliver personalized instruction on a huge scale. That's good news for learning professionals whose budgets are scrutinized year after year. Don't think so? Consider:

  • In just one year, 24 Khan Academy employees reached 43 million unique students in 216 countries.
  • According to Khan, “The numbers get really crazy when you look at the impact per dollar. We have a $7 million operating budget, and we are reaching, over the course of a year, about 10 million students in a meaningful way. If you put any reasonable value on it, say $10 a year–and keep in mind we serve most students better than tutoring–and you are looking at, what, a 1,000% return?”

If you could achieve a fraction of that result, you could help your company make better use of its limited training budget.

How does that translate to sales?

"So what," you say.

"What does helping kids with their homework have to do with training sales people?"

More then you may realize.

  • Personalized Learning: Khan Academy facilitates self-directed learning. By meeting all the students where they are and allowing them to work at their own pace, Khan Academy gives them a measure of control over their learning. Most salespeople enjoy the autonomy of being a sales rep. Just as they like to manage their own time and work, they’ll appreciate learning how, when, and where they want.
  • Data Driven Instruction: Khan Academy gathers massive amounts of data about users and their learning. They measure what works and what doesn’t. This data not only informs the content and the delivery of the lessons, it helps teachers who use Khan Academy make better use of their class time. When you can view the performance trend of reps over time, you can make better use of your in-person sales training and make data-driven coaching decisions.
  • Differentiation: Facilitated differentiation is an important part of Khan Academy’s instruction. Different students can focus on different skills at the same time using the learning platform. Successful sales training means taking into account the different experiences of the learners.
  • Mastery Based Learning: In his book Khan writes, “In a traditional academic model, the time allotted to learn something is fixed while the comprehension of the concept is variable. What should be fixed is a high level of comprehension and what should be variable is the amount of time students have to understand a concept. In the sales world, you want a learning platform where sales reps can practice until they have it down.
  • Interactive Learning: One of the most remarkable aspects of Khan Academy’s success is how interactive their learning platform is. Whether students use Khan Academy one-on-one or in small groups, they’re actively engaged in their learning. The length and format of the videos makes it easy to digest the content. All too often, sales people don’t get the full benefit of training initiatives because the delivery is boring.
  • Rapid Feedback: Teachers and students like that Khan Academy gives almost instant feedback compared to the time required for a teacher to grade and return a homework assignment or even the time associated with students checking each others’ work. Sales managers should look for ways to get reps feedback fast, so they can improve their selling skills in a non-judgemental environment...not in front of a prospect.

So you want to transform sales training? First, understand learning

What if you could have a cup of coffee with Sal Khan?

(image credit: aquarianmermaid.tumblr.com)

Well, even if you can’t, we can imagine what he'd say. In fact, based on interviews and speeches, here are Sal Khan’s answers to three of your most burning sales training questions.*

Q: How can I use training hours more effectively?

A: Khan would probably suggest using both online and offline sales training techniques. In fact, during a speaking engagement he said, “digital materials and software can be used in conjunction with the physical experience and this idea is typically called blended learning.”

Q: Any other tips for giving my sales reps powerful training and still leaving them time to actually sell?

A: At Khan Academy, the goal is less lecturing and more interaction. This is known as “flipping the classroom.” The concept frees up time to work with each training participant on areas they need more help with. Khan says, “teachers play the role of a coach or a mentor which I personally feel is a more high value thing than a lecturer.”
Q: What’s next in learning and development?

A: "This is an exciting time in history. For the first time, we have the chance to make personalized learning accessible to everyone," says Khan.

*I did not interview Salman Khan. All quotes attributed to him are from his book, interviews, or public appearances. But you knew that right? Smiley

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(image credit: Khan Academy)

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