Sales Training Small Victories

by Stephen J. Meyer, CEO of Rapid Learning Institute

Stephen Meyer, CEO of Rapid Learning Institute

Stephen Meyer is the former Director of Publishing at The Hay Group, a leading HR, benefits and compensation consulting firm. Meyer spent eight years at Progressive Business Publications, where he headed up both editorial and marketing. He was also a reporter at Advertising Age magazine. Meyer received his MBA from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and has a Masters degree from the University of California, San Diego.

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Webinar Transcript

Male: ...consulting firm. At the Rapid Learning Institute, he developed a model for 6 to 10 minute quick take rapid learning modules. He received his MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Thank you for sharing your knowledge with us, Stephen. Take it away.

Steve: Hi, I'm Steve Meyer, cofounder and CEO at the Rapid Learning Institute. The title of my talk is 'Small Victories: A New Paradigm in Sales Training.'

I don't think I've ever met a sales manager who doesn't believe it's really important to train and develop sales reps. If you think about it, selling is just like any other skill, like swinging a golf club or playing a musical instrument. To be good, you've got to practice the fundamentals. You've got to play in front of other people and get feedback and work on problem areas. Even the best golfers in the world have swing coaches, right? Yet, most of us struggle to find time for training and developing our people.

At the Rapid Learning Institute we sell an online sales training system. Do you know who our biggest competitor is? It's not some hot shot trainer with a best selling book. It's not Sandler. It's not Miller Heiman or Richardson. It's not even another elearning company. Our biggest competitor is doing nothing. That's right, during discovery our reps find out that a huge percentage of sales managers do no ongoing selling skills training at all. How can this be? I'm going to explain to you the reason it happens, and it's not what a lot of people think. I'm going to describe to you a new paradigm for sales training that will help managers start doing the selling skills training that needs to be done that will improve managers' coaching skills and that will vastly improve rep performance.

Why is it that so many managers find it difficult to embrace their talent development role? Is it due to lack of motivation? Do we need to be convinced that developing our reps is good for sales? Based on my own experience as a sales manager, I don't think so. We know it's important and we're plenty motivated.

What's the reason it often doesn't happen? Well, because it's hard, and I mean two things when I say that. First, sales managers are incredibly busy, their reps are incredibly busy, and selling is always going to seem more urgent than training. The second reason is that sales managers tend to get promoted because they're good at selling, not training. A lot of them never got formal training in sales management, and teaching selling skills is a little bit outside their comfort zone. Add to that the fact that most sales managers frame talent development through a wide lens, as in my job is to teach my sales reps everything there is to know about selling. That task can seem overwhelming, and it's very common when we face a really big, really overwhelming task that we end up doing nothing. It's one of those things that lands on our priority list but it just keeps getting pushed down.

The solution is to make training and development seem easier. Let me show you a really simple but really interesting model from a guy named BJ Fogg. He's an expert on behavior change and he founded the Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford University.

Here's a picture of his model. Fogg's model says this: if we want somebody to change, and when I say that I want you to be thinking how can I get myself or my sales managers to invest more time in developing reps, we need two things. One is motivation. That's the vertical Y axis. You either have high motivation or low motivation or something in between. Two is ability. That's the X axis. You either find something hard to do or easy to do or, again, somewhere in between. If you are below the orange line, you'll tend to move training down your priority list and you won't get it done. If you're above that line, you will get it done.

The brilliance of this simple model is that it tells us exactly what we need to do to make sales coaching and training actually happen. We need to make it seem easier. We've got to move to the right on the ability axis. Because when you're out here in easy to do territory, that is if your managers perceive training as easy to do, you don't need nearly as high a motivation level to get yourself above the orange line. You could be here with a relatively low motivation level and the training is still getting done.

How do you make this happen? I'm going to introduce two new ideas, both of which are key to making selling skills training seem easier. The first is called rapid learning or, as some call it, micro learning, bite sized learning, or chunk learning. We define rapid learning or micro learning as brief learning events for today's short attention span workforce. In technology enabled training or elearning, that means 6 to 10 minute programs. Those of you who have some experience with elearning know that short modules is not the norm. Until very recently, most elearning modules were 30, 60, even 90 minutes long, which is way too much for busy sales reps. Even in other types of training, such as instructor led training, there's a trend right now toward delivering more training value in less time and being more focused.

This leads me to the second key to making training seem easier, and this is the one idea that I want you to take away from this presentation. It's called single concept learning. Think about some of the classic models for sales training you've experienced. Probably the most common is the two day sales workshop. You sit in a hotel ballroom in Las Vegas and a sales trainer delivers a fire hose of really great ideas. You take lots of notes. You go home with a big fat binder.

This model is the exact opposite of single concept learning. It's multi concept learning. There's a big problem with it. There's tons of research out there on something called cognitive overload. It says that the amount of information human beings can process at one time is surprisingly low. That explains why when you get back to work after one of these events you rarely look at the notes you took. You almost never go back and open that binder. Worst of all, you never deploy what you actually learned. What happened in Vegas stayed in Vegas.

This isn't inevitable. There is a way for a sales manager to make sure that reps deploy all those great ideas and make more sales as a result. Think for a moment about what it would take to make that happen. You would have to travel to Vegas with your reps and attend the two day workshop yourself. You'd have to take detailed notes. Then, when you got home, you'd have to process all that information and prepare extensively for meetings where you'd review the 10 or 20 great selling concepts that the trainer presented. Then, you'd have to follow up individually with all those reps to make sure that they're doing everything right.

Back to the BJ Fogg model. Where does what I just described fall on this chart? You're probably thinking it's not even on the chart, it's way over here, it's not just hard to do, it is impossible to do. Your motivation is pretty much zero. Single concept learning makes that impossible task seem possible. Single concept learning, what we call thin sliced learning, is a paradigm shift in the way we train people. Instead of trying to give your sales reps a fire hose of knowledge all at once, you give them one concept designed to bring about one behavior change and achieve one desired outcome.

You may have heard the term thin slicing before. That's what Malcolm Gladwell's book 'Blink' was all about. Thin slicing is a term used in psychology to describe the brain's ability to intuitively spot thin slices of experience and draw powerful conclusions from very limited information. We hijacked that term and applied it to learning.

Single concept learning is about identifying thin slices of learning and delivering a powerful impact with very limited information. Imagine a training event where you teach reps how to handle the first 20 seconds of a cold call. It's a pretty narrow concept, isn't it? You're not trying to teach them everything you know about cold calling, just one thing. That's exactly what thin slicing is about.

There are two major benefits of single concept learning. First, it's far better for your reps. They're busy and they have short attention spans. Even if they'd like to take time for sales training, they see it as a major time commitment and they won't do it. The second benefit is for managers. I said earlier that if we frame talent development through a wide lens, as in I need to teach my reps everything about selling, that task seems overwhelming and won't get done. But, if we frame it through a narrow lens and see ourselves teaching just a single concept, as in I'm going to teach my reps how to respond to a price bully or how to get past a gatekeeper, the task seems doable. It moves in the direction of easy to do on the chart. You cross the activation threshold, and training starts getting done.

I didn't mention a third component of Professor Fogg's model. He calls it a trigger. A need that suddenly pops up could be a trigger. For example, if a rep is being stalled, you'd coach them on stalls. That would be a trigger. Or, sales meetings could be a trigger. That's how a lot of our customers use single concept learning. They kick start a meeting with a single concept module and then discuss it as a team. Professor Fogg says you get behavior change, you get action, when you combine motivation, ability, and triggers.

As I said before, I believe most sales managers are motivated to be better talent developers. They know it's good for the performance of the reps and for their teams. They know it's good for their careers to develop their skill. And, they feel bad when they can't get around to doing it. With single concept learning as a model, they can get around to doing it.

Let me conclude by going back to our title which referred to small victories. Since the whole point of this talk is to make training seem easier, we might've said instead of swinging for the fences and trying to hit a home run with training, just go for a single. That's the spirit of single concept learning. What happens is that every time a manager teaches a thin slice of learning successfully, they hit a single. They achieve a small victory.

Let's plot an initial small victory on a chart with a red dot. Let's say you spend a whole month teaching a rep or all your reps to make better cold calls, and they're getting incredible results. Well, that's where the real magic of small victories kicks in. When you get a positive result one time, you want to go out and tackle a different thin slice. You want to do it again. Over time, you start accumulating more and more small victories. You create what Professor Fogg calls success momentum. You start getting better and better at coaching your reps. Success breeds success.

Eventually, if you follow this model, you will acquire the holy grail in sales management. You master the ability to replicate in others the knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviors that made you successful as a salesperson. You build a core  competency as a talent developer.

To help you get started with single concept learning, I'd like to send you a free ebook called 'Ten Research Based Concepts You Can Use to Kick Start Your Sales Training.' It's got 10 really powerful thin sliced selling concepts that you can share with your team. Try kick starting a meeting with a few of them and see what happens. Visit the link on the screen and I'll get it out to you. That link is rlin.st/insidesales2015. Thanks for listening. [00:12:15]

Onscreen Text: This is the end of the session. To watch the next scheduled session use the 'Up Next' agenda. We think you might also like these on-demand sessions. Visit the expo hall for a library of free content from our sponsors. We'd like to hear your favorite part of the summit on Twitter or LinkedIn. @Inside Sales. #Sales Summit. Remember, these sessions will be available for the next two weeks. So, feel free to come back and watch more sessions or share the event with friends and colleagues. Thanks for watching.

This is the end of the session. To watch the next scheduled session use the 'Up Next' agenda. We think you might also like these on-demand sessions. Visit the expo hall for a library of free content from our sponsors. We'd like to hear your favorite part of the summit on Twitter or LinkedIn. @Inside Sales. #Sales Summit. Remember, these sessions will be available for the next two weeks. So, feel free to come back and watch more sessions or share the event with friends and colleagues. Thanks for watching. This stream will end and the screen will become blank in the next ten seconds.

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