The entire business world went virtual seemingly overnight when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, and it drastically transformed the role of the salesperson. It also created an education gap. The shift to remote work limited the ability to learn new skills from trainers, managers and peers. But thankfully, there are tools and practices that can help close this gap.
Pre-pandemic, salespeople could generally be broken into two camps: Inside representatives, who, as the name suggests, work inside an office; and field reps, who work in the field, interacting with prospects face-to-face. In the age of remote work, the differences between these roles have become less clear.
Information Sharing Gets Disrupted
This has created a few new challenges.
First, salespeople can no longer rely on the “swivel chair method” of sharing tribal knowledge in an office environment. Previously, inside reps relied on in-person knowledge sharing to sharpen their skills and receive feedback and advice from colleagues and managers in real time. Similarly, field reps would get plenty of “windshield time” with their manager to debrief when traveling between meetings with customers and prospects.
These on-the-spot opportunities for coaching and guidance no longer exist in the way they used to. In a fully virtual selling environment, it’s more difficult for managers to have a bearing on what their reps are up to and how they’re performing. In an effort to keep track, managers are tasked with reporting and analysis that eats away at time they could otherwise be spending with reps to make them better salespeople.
If sales reps are no longer learning in the office or in the field, then how are they learning? Not through sales training, evidently. According to Gartner, reps forget 70% of the information they learn within a week of training, and 87% will forget everything within a month. Add to this the fact that most training today is virtual (read: the sales reps attending are even more distracted and less engaged), and it’s easy to surmise the efficacy of common training methods is highly questionable.
Long story short, sales reps’ learning and productivity have slowed. Turnover and burnout are high. Training is episodic and ineffective. Managers can’t coach their reps because they don’t have the time or opportunity. Sounds bleak, right?
Thankfully, there are tools and strategies companies can put into place to help close the learning gap.
Tech’s Teaching Role
Conversation intelligence tools like VoiceVibes from Bigtincan, Gong and Chorus let sales managers do things like watch reps’ calls so they can provide feedback, helpful tips and coaching in today’s remote work environment. There are also sales enablement tools, like Seismic or Highspot, that make learning consistent and bite-sized so that reps don’t forget what they learn and can constantly put it into practice.
On-demand sales coaching is another critical resource for providing the education and support reps need to master their craft. Sales managers who are stretched especially thin are often not available for the ad hoc coaching that can make the difference between a won or lost opportunity — like helping to navigate a tricky situation or simply offering a fresh perspective on a new sales approach.
It’s also important to have on-demand coaching for things that are not directly related to sales but that may impact job performance down the line. This includes developing better soft skills around communication, self-awareness and empathy, plus wellness issues like nutrition, exercise, mindfulness and mental health coaching. (Burnout in sales is real!) For example, sales reps might meet one-on-one with a mindfulness coach each Monday morning to set their intentions and goals for that week. This can empower them to make better use of their time, reflect on what’s working and what’s not, and streamline their workflow. Perhaps more than any other function, success in sales often depends on a salesperson’s state of mind, body and spirit. Their energy, motivation and confidence have a large impact on their results.
Mentoring and peer coaching is another fabulous way to shrink the learning gap. Salespeople can share the motions that are working/not working to accelerate performance across teams. More experienced reps can be empowered to mentor newer sellers or be leveraged as subject matter experts for key behaviors that are consistent with winning business.
Again, the key is to have the right type of growth opportunities available, wherever and whenever they are needed. In a time-scarce environment, support and development must be available in the flow of work. If it is not now, it likely never will be.
Sales is a demanding gig. Any way companies can ensure salespeople are being supported is a win and will reflect positively in their performance. On-demand coaching is a key tool for making this happen. In today’s sales environment, we must be more intentional than ever about learning. There’s no more water cooler chat or borrowing tidbits you hear on the sales floor to try for yourself. Companies need to invest in the right mix of tech training tools to close the education gap and set reps up for success, now and in the future.