Making eLearning Work for the Busy Sales Professional

By Rachel Cavallo on Nov 20, 2017

So you need to train your sales force, but you want to minimize their time out of the field. eLearning is the perfect answer, right? In today’s world of cost and performance pressure, eLearning can easily become the silver bullet to “check the box” on sales training. After all, IBM saved $200 million, a 2/3 savings, by adopting a virtual training program for its employees (Source: IRRODL). But beware… you can easily make a significant investment that won’t move the needle as much as you think.

The other day I was sitting near a friend who had to complete “mandatory eLearning” on a new trend his company was trying to position with clients. As someone who is generally on the other end of these courses (the designing and building of them), I was fascinated by his running commentary. I listened to a few of the videos and heard some of his frustrations along the way, and it crystallized my perspective that there are some right and wrong ways to do eLearning.

The eLearning Reality

Before we get to those, however, let’s be very honest about the reality of eLearning with a sales audience.  Generally, participants will get an email notification or message from their manager with a link to some eLearning and a date by which it has to be completed. They may flag this note or add it somewhere to their calendar so that they can get back to it when they have spare time. Most likely, however, they’ll do it right after they get the last notification that the due date is approaching or is, well, tomorrow.

When they sit down to complete the eLearning, it will most likely be during their personal time, and, if it is during business hours, it will be during time that they are acutely aware could be spent calling customers or planning for upcoming customer calls. Net net… they want to complete this quickly and move on to the next thing on their list.

This is not to say that they don’t expect to find training valuable or helpful; it’s just to say that it’s a distraction from their normal routine, and it’s probably time that they had to carve out of an otherwise busy schedule…  In order to reach this audience, we need to empathize with them and respect the precious time we have taken from them.

eLearning Design Tips

Here are some ways we can design an effective eLearning program that engages our potentially reluctant, or slightly distracted, participants.

  • Keep it crisp. 30 minutes is the maximum that any module should run, and 20 minutes is ideal. Of course, you may need to have multiple segments, but modularize your content so that participants can effectively complete one task, check it off the list, and then come back to the others as time permits.
  • Don’t “oversell” your new offering or initiative upfront in the training. If you are trying to get your sellers to push a new offering or implement a new process, be careful how much time you spend up front “selling” them on it. After about 2 minutes, they will most likely be asking these questions: “What’s in it for me?” and “What do I need to do next?” ("…so that I can get off of this computer and start making more money”). Don’t bury the lead – get there quickly and lay out what they will learn in the remainder of the eLearning module. As much as you may want to demonstrate the global versatility and customer response to this great new offering, don’t frontload all of this unless you can do it in under 2 minutes.
  • Make quizzes and knowledge check questions extremely clear. Quizzes are a great way for participants to check their understanding, and they are a great way to ensure that participants are engaged in the learning. They also provide some kinesthetic interaction so that the learner has to be physically engaged in the learning. That said, questions on quizzes need to have very clear and distinct answer choices. If participants cannot proceed to the next part of the module or cannot be marked as complete without passing the quiz, they need to be able to pass it in no more than 3 attempts, if they have paid attention to the content. Trick questions that keep participants having to go back and re-test to choose different permutations of answers that are seemingly very similar can be frustrating to the participant and counter-productive to the course.  We recommend that at least 4-5 potential participants test the quiz prior to deployment to ensure appropriate question phrasing.
  • Provide clear direction on what participants should do immediately following the eLearning. We recommend that you tie your eLearning to part of a larger initiative, but if you are unable to do this, you should have some immediate actions that enable participants to apply their learnings directly after the course.  The end of course quiz is not enough – it is not in-market, and it doesn’t require interaction with others. Participants either need to have a discussion with someone (their customer, their manager, or a peer) or execute required actions within a brief time frame after the course is complete. Remember, many of your participants are “fitting eLearning in” to their schedules – as soon as the course is complete, they are going back to business as usual. You need to find a way to engage them once they step away from the computer, or the shelf-life of your training with decrease dramatically.
  • Make sure your content is appropriate to the audience. eLearning can be costly, and it can be tempting to try and develop “one size fits all” eLearning. In some cases, eLearning may be highly applicable to some groups and more of an “FYI” for others. Without other proper explanation, this is not an optimal use of an “FYI” participant’s time, if they do not understand how the content fits into their specific role. Where possible, customize eLearning modules to fit the different audiences. If this is not possible, at least provide a communication or upfront splash screen tailored to each specific user group explaining specifically how they should be using the content and what is expected of them after the course is complete.

Interested in learning more about sales training programs and the associated costs? Read our two-part blog series on the cost of sales training (Part 1 and Part 2) or get in touch with us to continue the conversation.

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Rachel Cavallo

Written by Rachel Cavallo

If there’s anyone who understands how sales people tick, it’s Rachel Cavallo. Rachel specializes in strategies that drive sales forces to adopt real change… the kind of change that produces results. She has managed many sales force transformations, helping sales leaders realign organizations and define new selling models, as well as designed and delivered sales training, coaching, and change management programs. At Symmetrics Group, Rachel is loved for her creativity and big picture thinking – she has a knack for crystallizing complex concepts into a single picture with high impact messages.

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