Sales training lessons from MTV – happy 30th birthday!

Happy 30th birthday MTV! Who would have thought that one of the unintended outcomes of MTV would be forcing us to re-examine the way in which we design, develop, and deliver sales training.

If you think back to the pre-MTV days, music was appreciated by a single sense – hearing. Airing music videos transformed the way in which music was enjoyed from an auditory to an auditory and visual experience. Today, we not only listen and view music, we create and control what we watch and listen to.   We live in a multi-media world where music, movies, and games are available at anytime – on demand. Answers to questions are available instantaneously via the Internet.

The implications for sales training?  We need to immediately book a ticket to that new multi-media world.  Unfortunately lecturing remains the core design of too many sales training programs … with a few role plays thrown in as an attempt to make the program appear interactive. Why? The two rationales most often offered are: (1) It’s the easiest type of sales training to design and deliver, and (2) Many believe it’s the only way to ensure that everyone receiving the sales training will “learn” the same content.

Today program participants want to control what they learning and see the outcome of their actions in real time. When they make a mistake, they want to consider other approaches and try again.  To do this Practice + Feedback must be optimized. The sales training programs need to be “sticky” allowing participants to make mistakes, receive feedback, identify alternative approaches, and then try again. And they want all this immediately!

Two sales training approaches are particularly effective at achieving this change in how we learn. First – gaming technology which is a training intervention that is visually exciting, provides immediate feedback, and allows time to be compressed.

Second, many companies are embracing sales simulations.  With sales training simulations, sales teams experience the actual sales challenges they face every day, thereby, ramping up the learning curve rather than putting the total onus on the sales people.   In sales simulations participants take significant responsibility for learning – collaborating with others; identifying and executing alternative approaches based on feedback; and experiencing a substantial portion of the sales process because time can be compressed.  This type of learning experience is particularly important now because companies are experiencing a time of transformational change when only a few sales people can, by themselves, adjust and adapt to the “new reality”. 

And the “stickiness” challenge … how can sales simulations have significant impact?  Some companies provide the high impact by combining training in sales call execution skills and sales strategy into a single sales training program.  This approach recognizes that in the real-world they are inherently intertwined – the best sales strategy cannot succeed when poorly executed and vice-versa. Others view sales simulations as a training design uniquely suited to focus on addressing strategic business challenges – where the sales training is aligned to business goals. 

In general sales simulations allow companies to help their sales teams adjust and adapt their existing skills sets to rapidly buying environments, yet maintain the common sales language in which they already have invested.   

So, as we continue designing sales training programs, let’s tip our hat to MTV – and the sales training lessons we’ve learned as it turns 30.

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©2011 Sales Horizons, LLC

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About Janet Spirer

For more than 30 years Dr. Richard Ruff and Dr. Janet Spirer - the founders of Sales Horizons - have worked with the Fortune 1000 - such as UPS, Canon USA, Smith & Nephew, Boston Scientific, Owens & Minor, Textron - to design and develop sales training programs. Janet has followed two different, yet complimentary paths. First, as a B-School Professor she taught marketing, sales, and business strategy courses. She also managed a consulting practice focusing on sales productivity and marketing – working with a variety of clients ranging from Xerox to IBM. She translated those experiences into a book – “Parlez-Vous Business” – that helps sales people develop the business savvy to sell successfully. Since co-founding Sales Momentum® in 2000 with Richard Dr. Spirer received her Ph.D. from The Ohio State University, an M.P.A. from The University of Texas at Austin, and a B.A. in Economics from Brooklyn College. She holds the appointment of Professor Emeritus at Marymount University.
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