Sales Training Virtually

Squeezing an eight-hour classroom session into a 60-minute Web session can be challenging, especially when training salespeople. Here are some of the most important factors to consider when designing virtual learning specifically for the sales role.

Your average salesperson is different. I began a recent article with that idea. In it, I wrote of how the natural strengths and desires that led them into sales in the first place sometimes may become a challenge in the training classroom. This is even more apparent when you look at virtual learning. It takes all these personality dynamics and condenses them down, like taking an eight-hour training day and squeezing it into a 60-minute Web session.

Here are some of the most important factors to consider when designing virtual learning specifically for the sales role.

Every training needs an element of buy-in. Adults must believe that what they are learning will be helpful for them personally (not just their organization) or they won’t open their minds to learn. This is especially true with salespeople. Most are independent thinkers and independent workers. They also are measured and judged on results like almost no other role in the organization. How is this training going to help them achieve those results? With virtual learning, this is even more important. It must be direct. There isn’t the luxury of time to convince them. Wow them with expected results! Remember to use a sales technique—show both logical and emotional rewards.

Get, and keep, their attention. Another challenge in creating and delivering virtual training (and this certainly applies to all types) is to keep their attention. Salespeople, on average, can live in a world of organized chaos. Multi-tasking is not only the norm, it is required. You need to keep them away from e-mails, phone calls, and office distractions. Salespeople are going to see the client and potential client as the No. 1 priority. It is to their advantage to shut off all these other communications during training, but how many of them really do, and how do you know if they are listening or multi-tasking?

Engagement is the key. First of all, any training has to be exciting enough to hold their attention. The same old sales training they have heard repeatedly is not going to win them over. Secondly, interactivity cannot be used just for onsite training. It is much more important in the virtual world. But how do we accomplish that? With chat boxes? There are many other great ways to accomplish true engagement with salespeople.

Salespeople are usually social creatures. Group activities used for learning checks, role-playing, or exchange of ideas work well. To use these effectively, you must break the session size down into even smaller numbers of participants. Web sessions must remain small for the most efficient learning. Then breakouts within those sessions should be even smaller. You can have a designated presenter from each come back to the larger group to recap findings.

Tools to maximize the experience. Let’s talk technology. Video is a wonderful tool for virtual learning, and many trainers are using it. Of course, this only works well in the smaller groups I mentioned. There are some great tools that allow a salesperson’s creativity to come into play. Whiteboard tools are good for this, especially with brainstorming. If you are still using traditional Web meeting platforms, take a look at some other options. Look for ones that provide whiteboards, videos, brainstorming tools, and polling. Also, there is something to be said for having fun during a training session and if that means giving the attendees the ability to draw on the presentation—and other participants—so be it!

I deliberately left off mention of self-paced online learning tools. There is just so much information out there about that. There is a place for this type of learning, but I believe it must be alternated with facilitator-led sessions. You just don’t get the emotional engagement with self-paced training like you do with training that involves social interaction of some sort. This is especially important when training salespeople.

Don’t forget the forgetting curve. One area companies typically fall short on when it comes to virtual learning is the reinforcement piece. They see a need, create a training based on that, and never follow up to ensure the learning is not lost. Reinforcement is critical; otherwise the training becomes a casualty of lost investment. Reinforcement can consist of a combination of measurement (learning checks, shopping services), refresher training (follow-up sessions, manager-led during meetings), and coaching (outside professional and directed to individual, group coaching sessions, or internal manager-led).

Sales teams can be the most valuable groups to an organization for training results. However, their uniqueness must be considered when designing and facilitating training—especially virtual training. When you get it right, the enthusiasm of your participants will be all the evidence you need, and the results will soon follow.

Amber Fox is the national director of Sales at Signature Worldwide, Inc., a Dublin, OH-based company offering a wide range of customized customer service and sales training. For more information, call 800.398.0518 or visit You also can connect with Signature on Twitter @SignatureWorld and on Facebook. 

Lorri Freifeld
Lorri Freifeld is the editor/publisher of Training magazine. She writes on a number of topics, including talent management, training technology, and leadership development. She spearheads two awards programs: the Training APEX Awards and Emerging Training Leaders. A writer/editor for the last 30 years, she has held editing positions at a variety of publications and holds a Master’s degree in journalism from New York University.