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Making the Transition to Live Online Sales Training

Sales Training | Virtual Training

In the span of a few weeks, the work world has shifted en masse from regular offices to working at home as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. For sales organizations, this means moving everything to virtual, including training.

My colleague Ray Makela recently blogged on delivering live online sales training, but I wanted to share a few additional thoughts on virtual sales training.

First, a little background…

Ten years ago, I led a major development project at our company to create virtual instructor-led versions of our sales training programs. Our team of great instructional designers worked for months and dedicated thousands of hours to this initiative.

After lots of testing and customer feedback, we developed highly engaging online sales training programs for salespeople who have notoriously short attention spans. Since then, we have delivered thousands of live online sessions.

Here are five tips that will help you make the transition to live online easier:

1 | Live Online Training is not a Webinar

The framework most of us have for live online experiences is a marketing webinar where the level of group engagement is low. Maybe the best case, a typical webinar, has 2-3 chat questions and a poll.

To create engaging live online training, you must continuously “manage the attention” of your participants. That means using many interactions: chats, polls, individual exercises, breakout room activities, role plays, and group discussions. Engaging the participants in some type of activity or discussion every 3-5 minutes is optimum.

One question we often get from clients is, what’s the ideal group size for a live online training session? 

For marketing webinars, more is better. Not so for online training. My advice is 8-12 participants per session. If you have more than that, it’s harder for the facilitator to engage the group.

Your goal is behavior change, and that can best happen with a small group participating in an interactive learning experience. On the other hand, if your group size is too small, some of your interactions may fall flat.

2 | Facilitator Mindset

Another challenge is training your facilitators on how to deliver live online training. Most facilitators are grounded in the traditional classroom. Conducting online training is often disorienting for these facilitators at first.

They can’t read facial expressions and other audience queues, and it’s impossible to enforce standard training rules such as, “Turn your phones off!” Also, many facilitators aren’t comfortable having their webcams on during online sessions, even though this increases engagement.

So, remember that facilitating live online sessions will require new skills and facilitation techniques. Knowing who your participants are in advance and calling them out frequently by name helps with the engagement and connection with the facilitator.

3 | Session Length

If you’re considering running a short session (i.e., under 60 minutes), don’t underestimate how much time is wasted logging-in and doing a quick ice breaker. On the other hand, if your session is too long, screen fatigue will set in.

We found that 90-120 minutes per session are optimal and allow you to cover even complex topics in a few sessions. Ensure you build in exercises and also short breaks if the sessions are longer than 60 minutes.

4 | Technology

If you don’t have a lot of experience using a live online training platform, don’t worry. Today, most platforms are robust, stable, and easy to use. This a far cry from ten years ago when hard to use systems would frequently crash, bringing sessions to a grinding halt. Give your facilitators ample training and practice opportunities in your virtual training platform.

Also, dedicate time at the start of the first training session to orienting participants to the platform and various ways they will interact in the session. Don’t assume they know anything about the virtual training world. 

5 | Great content

Finally, excellent training starts with great content, regardless of delivery modality. Spend the majority of your time developing relevant content and then optimize it for online delivery.

Careful consideration should be made to optimizing the curriculum for each virtual session as opposed to trying just to teach a traditional classroom program online. It is possible to accomplish the same learning objectives, but the design and delivery will need to adapt.

In today’s new workplace reality, we will see more sales training being conducted virtually. While making this transition can seem intimidating, remember that the ultimate goal of live online training is the same as traditional classroom training: behavior change that drives better sales results. 

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About David Jacoby

As a Managing Director at Sales Readiness Group, David helps large B2B sales organizations improve sales performance. Previously, David was a Principal at Linear Partners, a sales consulting firm providing sales strategy, sales operations, talent management, and interim management services to emerging growth companies. In the past, David has served as Vice President of Business Affairs of Xylo, Inc., where he was responsible for the Company's business development, sales operations, legal affairs, and financing activities.