Does E-learning really make the grade?

E-learning sales training has become quite popular and the new trend in staff training.  With globally-dispersed teams, and decreased time, dollars and resources to spend on sales training, more and more companies are investing in versatile e-learning strategies to train their sales staff.  According to Bersin & Associates, approximately 20% of training programs now involve e-learning.

There are a wide variety of formats to choose from — self-paced audio and video webinars, podcasts, interactive simulations, or live video classrooms.   These formats are extremely convenient and flexible.  They can be easily downloaded and viewed anywhere and anytime by all their staff.  No longer do salespeople have to waste travel time, hotels and travel expenses, all to meet up at a particular location for the training.  They no longer have to come off the road or away from the phone, and be tied up in meetings all day.  They can fit the training in when convenient.

This flexibility is extremely advantageous, but is it as effective in providing solid, traditional in-person sales training?  There are many pros and cons to consider.

Some feel the personal element is lost.  Many experienced sales professionals are more comfortable in the traditional formats, doing one-on-one role-playing and scenarios.  Passively watching others, on a small screen, discussing such scenarios is not the same as personally being in the room and taking an active role.  A great example of this can be found in a study conducted by Corporate University Xchange.  They studied 4,148 online learners and in regards to retention, the e-learning drop-out rate was about 70% percent compared to only 15% for classroom training.

But for others, especially those new recruits who have grown up along side electronic technology, their comfort levels and engagement are greater.  They expect these formats and find it unusual for companies not to invest in them.  They view the traditional methods as outdated, regardless of how relevant or up-to-date the information being presented is.

Another key consideration is that not everyone learns from watching.  Some learn more effectively from doing.  For example, watching a video of a sales demo about the operation of a complex piece of equipment you are actually required to personally demo and sell yourself to customers perhaps is not the best way to learn how it works.  For proper learning in this situation, it would be more practical to be able to physically touch and operate the equipment.

Thus, the effectiveness of the e-learning format is dependent and bound by the type of product or service being sold, and the type of information being presented.  For example, a quick podcast would be best suited for market updates or a new success story.

Sales departments traditionally are big on being cohesive, tight-knit teams.  With the personal, team-building element lost when the employees undergo training solo, how does the sales department maintain or build that cohesive environment they strive for?  It is important that this is not lost, and that other forms of team-building are implemented and encouraged.

Many companies struggle with this challenge and hire specialized consultants, like SNI, to assist in developing better designed training programs.  E-learning sales training is continually evolving and being incorporated into sales departments existing training programs.  It is an important element and should be continually and carefully evaluated to determine its overall ROI, effectiveness and relevance, and not just viewed and used as a cost cutting measure.

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