Can Virtual Sales Training be Better Than Traditional Classroom Training?

By Tim Riesterer, Chief Strategy Officer

February 9, 2018

Virtual Sales Training: Can it Be Better Than the Traditional Classroom?

In-classroom training limitations are only exacerbated in a virtual classroom. Is there a better way?

Everyone assumes that virtual sales training is a pale imitation of classroom-based training when it comes to behavior change.

Especially if that virtual sales training is a bunch of self-paced online modules where a salesperson can “quiz to complete.” Do you seriously believe a salesperson can demonstrate proficiency in sales process, presentations or negotiations skills by completing a quiz in a module?

As a result, some companies are pushing for virtual classroom experiences – telepresence, LMS online classrooms or web conferencing – as a replacement for in-person classroom. And, as an opportunity to include practice and performance beyond watching online modules.

While there are cost advantages to online training, there are three big examples of limitations that actually exist in the so-called “holy grail” of the in-person classroom that are only compounded when you go to the virtual classroom:

1. Takes time out of the field — It still requires a salesperson to carve out time in their day to participate. So, it still takes them offline from their work just like an in-person classroom. But, to make matters worse, since they didn’t have to fly anywhere, it is very easy to simply not show up assuming no cost, no harm, no foul. Or to show up, and put another app like your CRM or Outlook up over the virtual classroom and go about your business day until called on to present. We’ve seen online classrooms where over 70 percent of the attendees have a different app up on top of the classroom app (little do they know that this can be tracked by the person doing it!)

2. You don’t get adequate practice or coaching – In a classroom, you are always up against a clock to get in the teaching time and practice/coaching time everyone believes is necessary for behavior change. As people try to cram the classroom full of more people, you will find that some people don’t get a chance to get up and stand and deliver, or their time is compressed, along with their coaching. In an online environment, it’s only worse. Instead of two days, many online events go two hours. People get to hide or participate in quick team presentations and receive even less involved coaching and feedback.

3. It’s an event, done and gone – Even though people are in a classroom for sometimes two days, give or take, it’s still an event that comes and goes—just like the knowledge imparted and the practice and coaching experienced. But, at least you had days and intensive focus, along with the ability to watch your peers do their thing and get their feedback. In the virtual classroom, it’s an even shorter event, that disappears even faster, with less performance requirement and less time to watch your peers…since you are probably doing emails anyways.

Improving Virtual Sales Training with Recording

Recently, we’ve been providing an entirely new way of delivering virtual training with a powerful practice and coaching component. Which will not only provide an improvement of virtual classroom, but may actually be a more effective environment for behavior change than even traditional in-person classroom.

It’s training, practice, and coaching in a recorded environment where salespeople participate in e-learning for knowledge transfer, but perform recorded practice challenges or have their recorded role plays or even their recorded web conferences with prospects reviewed.

Below are the advantages over virtual classroom or even a regular classroom:

1. Do it on their time—not an assigned time or place reps need to be. Reps learn, practice and receive coaching when it fits their schedule, without taking them away from their day job

2. Everyone does a complete stand-and-deliver presentation—instead doing a partial, incomplete presentation, or even getting to skip their presentation as they might in a classroom

3. Receive an expert, scored assessment, where a coaching expert reviews the content and scores it against a rubric based on the skills taught and expectations set for demonstrated proficiency

4. Get detailed coaching feedback and tailored remediation – Beyond just red/yellow/green scoring, your rep gets custom, complete coaching notes identifying specific strengths and weaknesses, along with a pushed set of emails and short remediation videos for improvement in their specific areas of weakness

5. Opportunities for “certification” – When you really need reps to demonstrate proficiency on a skill, product, or new message, you can ask for re-submissions until certification-worthy levels are reached

6. Watch their peers’ best work – Unlike a classroom where you have to sit through some potentially bad examples, in this environment, you can push the “five-star” examples from their colleagues for reps to review

In a recent industry survey, we asked our respondents which approach they’re currently using or most strongly considering using, in the future. The split was essentially 50-50 between a virtual classroom and a virtual recording experience.

 

This even divide raises an important question: What do sales leaders actually value most when it comes to virtual training?

When asked to stack-rank the importance of six key considerations, respondents rated the following three areas most crucial:

  1. Ability of salespeople to learn and train on their own time, rather than at an appointed time
  2. Amount of time a salesperson actually gets to practice
  3. Ability to see peers’ best practice examples

Concern about time out of the field is the major reason sales leaders are turning to virtual environments in the first place. A previous industry survey found that 56 percent of companies are struggling to train as many reps as they want because they’re concerned about them losing valuable time in the field during training days.

No surprise, then, that as companies make the switch to virtual environments, time-based considerations are foremost on their minds. I’d like to break down the top three virtual sales training needs as revealed by the survey and discuss each in terms of which virtual sales training environment best addresses them.

  • Ability to learn and train on your own time – This need breaks heavily in favor of the virtual recorded environment. Clearly, sales and enablement leaders are keen on liberating reps from having to train within a pre-established timeframe. A virtual classroom might allow reps to train from anywhere, but it doesn’t allow them to train at any time. In an era where self-pacing, flexibility and individualized learning are increasingly favored, that can be a major restriction.
  • Amount of time a salesperson actually gets to practice – One of the most profound factors in creating behavior changes and instilling deep skills knowledge is the opportunity to practice in a stand-and-deliver environment. One of the biggest limitations of traditional classroom-based formats is that not every rep gets ample opportunities to practice—and master—the story and skills they need to deliver. Unfortunately, the virtual classroom model again comes up short here, because it doesn’t sufficiently alter the traditional workshop environment enough to allow for more practice opportunities. The virtual recorded environment, on the other hand, presents more chances to practice and refine your delivery—while providing precise, individualized coaching and feedback. From an accountability and message ownership standpoint, the recorded format wins. 
  • Ability to see peers’ best practice examples – In a virtual classroom, you may well be witness to a bang-up example of how to deliver your story. You might also not be. That’s the risk of a live environment, classroom or virtual, and it’s a risk that a recorded virtual environment completely eliminates. In the latter, you’re guaranteed to have access to the most outstanding example of your story in action. From a skills acquisition standpoint, that’s huge.

There’s no doubt a live virtual environment has its merits—just as a live classroom-based event does. But a big reason you’re making the switch to virtual sales training is to minimize the inherent flaws of classroom-based learning. Based on what sales leaders value in that transition, it seems that live virtual classrooms may not deliver on that promise—and could even exacerbate some of the limitations of traditional, classroom-based training that companies are most eager to see gone.

Want to learn more about an alternative approach to virtual sales training that’s not a pale imitation of the in-person classroom? Check out our report.

Report: Can Virtual Training Be Better Than the Classroom?

A version of this article originally appeared in Sales & Marketing Management Magazine.

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