5 Ways Online Sales Training Can Fail (And What You Can Do About It)

Since the birth of the Web, proponents have dreamed of the perfect “virtual classroom,” where geographic and financial barriers to learning are no more. Sadly, online training in general—and online sales training in particular—too often fall short. Here are five danger signs, and some good ways to avert them.

The phrase “online training,” like its predecessor “computer-based training” can mean different things to different people. To some, it’s putting a WebEx or PowerPoint recording on YouTube. To others, it’s hosting a full-blown LMS—complete with online quizzes and compliance metrics. In any case, the dangers of failure are surprisingly similar to those inherent in all forms of training: live, online, or hybrid.

1. Lack of Objectives

There are plenty of inspirational sources for good salesmanship. From Daniel Pink’s excellent book To Sell Is Human to the myriad of great articles and blogs, good advice is everywhere. But aspirational TED Talks are not the same as measurable training objectives.

Yes, it helps if the trainer is a great public speaker with good ideas, but without clear objectives and milestones, the value of the training will plummet as soon as the user leaves. For online sales training, this can be fatal.

When looking for a good training program, make sure the lessons are tied to specific sales activities—and how to master them. For example, instead of just a broad, theoretical lecture on handling customer objections, create concise sales enablement skill-based modules, like “How to Block Objections,” and include video reinforcement assignments for team members to practice what they learn, receive a rating on their performance, and get feedback from the coach or fellow team members.

For online, video-based sales training courses, keep the learning objective simple and, above all, measurable.

2. Dense, Passive Content

As we’ve said many times in these posts, long videos with little or no interactivity are unlikely to produce good training results. It’s like the “death-by-PowerPoint” syndrome we all know. When online trainees are passively watching a video, their interest will wane. The longer they watch, the less they’ll learn.

So, keep your sales training videos as short as the topic requires. Add in-video questions, and invite students to insert comments and responses. If a topic is complex, combine short, snappy segments into a longer, more interesting course—either with video editing software or with Viddler’s seamless playlist feature. Wherever possible, use your team members’ webcam or mobile videos as part of the training experience.

To avoid a passive, boring experience, make online video training truly interactive.

3. Viewing Training as an Event—not as a Process

Whether training occurs live or online, it will be far more successful if it’s integrated into everyday business activities. If it’s only a “special occasion,” then you are far less likely to see the featured skills transferred into on-the-job performance, as training and development expert Steve Vannoy put it almost 10 years ago.

With online training, the surest way to fall into this trap is by limiting your training to scheduled webinars. These virtual events are not as expensive as their live counterparts—and they can be helpful in some cases. However, they often limit the long-term effectiveness of your training. Instead, use your online training presence to supplement and enhance your trainees’ on-the-job reality. Keep your courses concise, relevant, and (above all) available on demand.

Salespeople are already functioning in a connected, mobile device-based world. Good training is a process that works in that environment.

4. Lack of Evaluation and Feedback

One-way lecturing from an expert may be good for that expert’s ego, but there’s often little real training going on. Each trainee needs expert evaluation and feedback—preferably on an individual basis. If you haven’t already read Michael St. John’s post on sales coaching (part one of a series), please do so now. The coaching model is by far the most effective means of improving a sales team’s performance.

Of course, the online sales training environment itself must allow for evaluation, feedback, and other good coaching practices. (Answering online questions is not, by itself, sufficient.)

5. Lack of Practice Opportunity

Like the answer to the famous Carnegie Hall joke, sales training won’t be effective unless the trainees can “practice, practice, practice.” A depressing 85 to 90 percent of sales training fails after 120 days because sales training is not reinforced, according to research reported by Training Industry.

Unfortunately, few online video training environments offer this capability. Whether it utilizes webcam recordings or mobile video, a good system must give instructors a simple way to assign practice exercises, rate practice performance, and provide coaching feedback.

Yes, there are ways online sales training can fail, but it doesn’t have to be so. With skilled coaching and a powerful training platform, success is attainable.

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