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September 10, 2019

The ROI of Informal Learning and Sales Collaboration

Guest Blog written by Jake Miller, Allego

In the movie A Few Good Men, a young Marine is questioned about the application of a technique not referenced in any “book, manual, pamphlet, or regulations.” During his cross-examination, the Marine’s response to a question about where he learned this technique shines a spotlight on the role that informal learning plays in almost any organization:

“Well, I guess I just followed the crowd at chow time, sir.”

Corporate trainers and sales leaders know that the majority of the learning taking place on a sales team happens informally: either through on-the-job experiences or informal interactions between reps.

Salespeople want to learn from other successful reps, and they want plenty of “at-bats” to practice and refine what they’ve learned. But the lack of real world information they receive from training contributes to some of the issues today’s training organizations face:

  • Poor rep engagement
  • Low knowledge retention
  • Inability to facilitate the sharing of new ideas and best-practices
  • No mechanism to disseminate timely information and updates

A recent Gallup study reported only 33% of US employees are engaged with their jobs, and even when employees are engaged, they’re not turning to formal training content for the information they need to be successful: 50% are more likely to search for answers online. Even more revealing is the extent to which employees lack confidence in their company’s own vetted learning content, evidenced by 75% of them investing their own money with outside providers to gain or improve skills needed for career development and advancement. This behavior creates another problem among sales teams: inconsistent messaging, which can quickly undermine customer engagement and hurt brand equity.

Teams need formal processes to support informal learning

Sales reps, who operate in a continuous cycle of acquiring and applying knowledge, are the perfect barometer for the effectiveness of the 70-20-10 model for corporate learning. While formal training (10%) will always be a part of employee development, the majority of corporate learning is informal: with experiential learning (70%) and peer collaboration (20%) being the most consequential factors for influencing employee behavior and generating desired outcomes. In fact, research shows that informal learning content is consumed at a 50:1 ratio to formal content produced by the training or marketing organization. But these informal modes of learning and content are predicated on knowledge sharing and just-in-time access to information, so how can today’s geographically distributed sales teams collaborate and share ideas from a distance?

When training organizations establish formal processes for supporting informal learning, they provide a guided structure for even the most distributed teams of reps to address their knowledge gaps and gain confidence as they apply new ideas and best-practices. Training teams who do this also enable their companies to promote important information, best practices, and approved messaging that keeps sales reps aligned with company strategy. But in order for training organizations to accomplish this, they need to empower reps, managers, subject matter experts, and other support staff to share their knowledge and ideas even when teams are separated by time and distance. In other words, they need to empower them with the means to create and share engaging learning content themselves. 

Agile content

For example, sales team members need to be able to quickly share knowledge learned in the field: for example, capture a selfie video detailing a new objection they encountered in early sales interactions after a new product launch and share it with their manager or peers. Another example is the need for subject matter experts to quickly share an update about a new competitor without typing a lengthy email  that only a fraction of the sales team will ever read. Training organizations must quickly surface the best of this content and use it in formal training courses for new hires or even the whole organization.

The value of this approach far exceeds what trainers who generate all content on their own can provide. The following is a look at the ROI drivers of an informal learning approach using this type of content:

  1. Lower cost to generate higher-quality resources
    A platform that enables top performers to share their experiences and best practices—ideally in mobile video format—quickly produces easily consumable assets to help reps overcome real-world This flow of knowledge sharing directly helps underperforming sales regions address deficiencies and improve skills.
  2. Increased knowledge retention at the time of need
    Like most people, sales reps will take the path of least resistance when trying to solve a problem. When companies provide peer-to-peer collaboration and access to objection-handling, best practices, and time-sensitive content generated by top-performing reps and subject matter experts, reps are more likely to utilize those resources. In addition, they will better retain the information since they’re acquiring it during a time of need and immediately putting it to use.
  3. Unfiltered truth
    Perception is key when seeking assistance, especially when it comes to career development and revenue goals. For sales reps, nothing beats learning from a successful sales mentor who is willing to disseminate tips and tricks that can help others succeed. Salespeople want to hear from other successful salespeople.
  4. Observable change in behavior
    Empowering sales reps to create and share videos demonstrating their own hard-won best practices and approaches also enables sales managers and trainers to observe the results of their training efforts through those videos. In turn, this allows for additional training targeted to individual competencies.
  5. Higher employee retention
    When employees fear they aren’t developing new skills and advancing their careers, they are far more likely to jump ship to another company who can help them increase their value. Companies that invest in the kind of agile content and informal learning described above experience more success engaging reps in their own learning, and can assuage those fears. Doing this increases employee retention, reducing the cost associated with recruiting and training replacements.

Informal learning and peer collaboration are more prevalent today because technology finally caught up with the way sales reps have always preferred to learn. For companies who enable their people to succeed in this way, the result is a sales force with far more engaged reps taking advantage of what their best and brightest peers have to offer. And only when businesses can elevate and maintain that rep engagement over time will they realize the revenue potential of a sales force operating in a fully collaborative manner.

About the Author: Jake Miller joined Allego after commercial launch to help establish product marketing and lead ongoing strategic use case development and commercialization efforts. Jake is passionate about sales performance and incorporates his experience as a salesperson in the commission-only high-ticket retail world into his approach for product marketing at Allego. Allego provides a sales learning and readiness platform that elevates sales team performance by harnessing the power of mobile video knowledge sharing to drive better customer conversations and empower reps with the training, practice, coaching, and collaboration they need to win more deals.

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