Continuous learning is the key to a successful sales team

The research identified that roughly a quarter of the learning effectiveness comes from pre-work, a quarter from the learning event itself and half through follow-up. This compares with the investment made by many companies that shows 10 per cent invested in pre-work, 85 per cent in the learning event itself and just 5 per cent in follow-up. 

Clearly organisations need to get smarter in planning how they deliver learning. Responsibility for this lies not just with the L&D teams inside companies but also line management; many of whom focus on event driven initiatives and take less interest in follow up.

Teaching your staff to think

Another related research study shows a more fundamental shift in the nature of the learning required for the job. 

Research from Robert Kelley at Mellon Carnegie showed that in 1986 typical knowledge workers were able to retain 76 per cent of the knowledge to do their job; by 2013 that figure has reduced to 5 per cent. The other 95 per cent of the knowledge comes from elsewhere; from Google and the Internet through to our own technology and personal network.

The approach to learning needs to change to one more focussed on teaching people how to think and one that is less focussed on knowledge itself. 

Howard Gardener in his book, Five Minds of the Future, comes to similar conclusions and outlined a radical rethink of our educational systems; one that is less focussed on knowledge and more focused on critical thinking techniques.

We believe that what is required in our current age is “persistent learning on demand” – here more responsibility for learning is shifted to the learner. In order to thrive this has to exist in a learning culture with a “core” based on:

  • Accreditation: to measure reflective learning effectiveness
  • Mindset: a core belief that learning enhances personal and organisational effectiveness
  • Frameworks, strategies and maps: tools to help creative and critical thinking for learning
Product knowledge is key

At a recent event in Singapore, Narendra Kumar, Regional Head of Training for Allergan, shared some interesting insights from his 2013 MBA dissertation into the correlation of learning and sales performance as it applies to new product launches.

Pharmaceutical product development can cost more than $3bn dollars and he cited research that showed that unless the product was firmly established in its market within the first three quarters it would not succeed. 

He also found that the least important factor to sales people for a new product launch was financial reward. The most important was their own product knowledge – how to sell it – and doctor education. 

Kumar also learnt that new product training has to be scheduled at least 12 months in advance; quite radical when most new product training happens in the month prior to launch.

With research such as this pointing the way and being tested and validated in markets around the world, slowly but surely an increasing number of organisations are coming to realise that a sales performance and learning culture absolutely can co-exist. 

Where training was often bottom of the agenda on the board review of new product launches, it’s now rising up that same agenda and being taken as seriously as marketing.

Dr Philip Squire is CEO of Consalia.

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