Like many of you, our Symmetrics Group team spent the majority of 2020 getting smarter about the functionality of tools like Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and WebEx, so that we can more effectively work with our clients in the virtual world.
On the various platforms we studied things like: How to manage chat questions and live chat conversations, launch polling questions, build surveys, and manage virtual break-out rooms for group exercises. Our objective was learning how to best imitate an effective in-person training experience.
Though our team has worked virtually for years, we still faced a learning curve to make sure the virtual training experience felt easy and seamless to participants.
After several months of delivering 100+ hours of only virtual training and workshops to clients across a variety of industries, our Symmetrics Group team regrouped to reflect on what we had learned and where we had opportunities to improve. We arrived at four key lessons.
1. We must adjust the degree of virtual engagement based on the training topic and sales team sophistication with that topic. We have run many training sessions with high levels of virtual prompts, but we realized that the prompts worked best when the training was focused on enhancing existing skills that were part of an existing sales methodology. By contrast, training sessions that introduce a new and more complex way of selling require more time for sellers to digest and think deeply about application… requiring fewer virtual engagement tricks.
2. Not everyone is comfortable with (or appreciates) virtual tools. Sometimes we too easily assume that training participants have a base level of comfort with popular virtual tools like Zoom, MS Teams, or WebEx and when we ask participants to reply via chat or answer polling questions, it will be a seamless, value-added training component. What we have learned, however, is that sometimes participants feel more stressed about the technology which distracts from the training’s key messages – something we need to constantly weigh the pros and cons about.
3. Training activities and break-out groups require even more planning in a virtual setting. Virtual break-out room exercises, meant for working groups, require a lot of logistical planning and eat up a lot of virtual training time. Typically, with virtual training we are already working with less time than we would have for an in-person session. We have learned that depending on the objective of the activity, it’s better to skip the virtual break-out altogether and assign activities as group homework and bring everyone back together at a later time for the read out. This approach gives sales professionals the freedom to use as much (or as little) time to complete the activities while giving sales leaders the opportunity to observe and coach more groups.
4. There is an overall sense of “virtual fatigue”. Most of our clients are working virtually now, in stark contrast to their pre-COVID routine. We know that (mostly) everyone is craving real interaction. Our clients and their sales professionals are tired of long meetings, phone calls, and being talked at via computer. We have realized that sales professionals need inspiration from their leaders, want more engagement with their frontline managers, and are eager to hear examples and insights from their peers. We, as the third-party trainer, need to build that consideration into our delivery experience and make sure that our sales professionals and leaders are given enough time to share with and learn from one another.
Our experience this year reinforced the idea that a “one-size” approach to virtual technology and tools doesn’t work for all training. Variable conditions such as subject complexity, seller sophistication with that subject, and of course client objectives must be carefully considered. Also, just because a virtual platform has bells and whistles doesn’t mean you should automatically use them all. A good reminder for us all.