Article published in CEOWORLD Magazine by Nick Kavadellas, President and CEO at Orasi Software.
How to eliminate complexity for sales teams and increase their knowledge retention.
2020 saw sales kickoffs move from convention centers to home offices and conference tables shift to kitchen tables. And, for the immediate future anyway, it looks as if people will be working and training from home for a while to come. The impact of this sudden shift has been felt across all sectors of industry, but as those in sales can attest, the shift from live to virtual sales kickoff meetings has been seismic, especially for training instructors who are having to rethink how they train sales reps on Salesforce and other CRM solutions.
To be sure, there were those advocating for and using distance learning pre-COVID, but at that time fewer than 10 percent of professional software training was remote compared to 70 percent today. The new world order has turned the training world upside-down and seemingly overnight. Many seasoned instructors went from feeling like the king (or queen) of the forest to a deer in the headlights.
But different doesn’t mean impossible. Just because sales reps or students are tuning in from their living rooms doesn’t mean you can’t deliver an informative and engaging session online. As organizations train their sales reps on the latest Salesforce.com or other CRM enhancements, quoting processes, or accounting software, it’s vital they be able to seamlessly and consistently provide everyone with relevant content. Here’s how:
1. Tailor your material. You may have been presenting a training session successfully for years, but moving from in-person to online means you’ll need to tweak the material (and your delivery) to suit a virtual format. While presenters don’t need to completely rewrite the script, they do need to make adjustments that transfer to the small screen.
For instance, an instructor may be able to hold people’s attention for up to an hour in person, but online, people’s attention spans are shortened to approximately 15 to 20 minutes tops. That means they’ll need to plan in additional breaks or, correspondingly, break topics into 10- to 15-minute sections that add up to a concept about every hour.
With people’s attention being diverted by children, pets or the FedEx guy at the door, capturing and keeping your audience’s attention is critical, so incorporating hands-on training as part of your session is a no-brainer. Not only does hands-on training actively engage attendees, but it provides them with real-life practice opportunities and hones critical thinking skills. Hands-on practice exercises allow your sales reps to implement the new skills they’ve been taught. When they’re training on software such as Saleforce.com, for example, it’s important that they have the ability to not only watch and learn, but then immediately apply their newfound knowledge in context with an instructor to guide them.
And, because people can’t feed off the enthusiasm of the person sitting next to them (pets don’t count) at a sales kickoff, it’s even more important to use visuals and hands-on techniques to continuously engage participants. Humorous visuals, ice-breaker quizzes, diagrams, and embedded videos that help capture students’ attention while illustrating your points are critical tools to have at your disposal.
Remember, too, that there’s nothing more stultifying than a presenter who reads their slides verbatim. Too many words on a slide won’t engage participants — it will have the opposite effect. Rather than captivating them, they’re more likely to drift away, overwhelmed by information and boredom.
2. Devil is in the details. It might be tempting to settle for whatever conference technology you have on hand, but when it comes to effective virtual instruction, you’re likely to be settling for a host of inherent limitations, as well. Using conference technology you’re familiar with may be a case of the devil you know, but make sure you’re not missing out on these vital features:
– Take it to the cloud when it comes to virtual application and software training. Leveraging a cloud-based virtual training platform not only provides a realistic and reusable hands-on learning environment, but flexible cloud resources mean you’ll have the ability to scale up or down to meet demand, while also saving on costs.
– A broadcast instructor feed that allows presenters to share their screen and engage in two-way video and chat. It might seem obvious, but not all conferencing software will offer the capabilities you need, especially when conducting software training, and you may need to purchase add-on tools.
– Instructor monitoring. An over-the-shoulder remote viewing capability is essential for virtual software training as it allows instructors to see everyone’s screens in real time and determine if a participant is veering off course in a practice session. It’s the online equivalent of a teacher wandering the room and peeking over students’ shoulders.
– Allows for multiple training styles. One teaching style doesn’t fit all. Rather, participants will have varying needs and demands outside the classroom, so a tool that allows for both instructor-led and self-paced or on-demand learning will provide students additional options and increase adoption overall.
– Sensitive data means extra security. Hacking, data leakage, and ransomware are real risks so it’s critical that whatever online learning system you are using offers security features and allows you to meet compliance and regulatory constraints.
3. Trial runs are the new black. You might be tempted to have students pre-install software before class begins, but you’d be wise to resist the urge. Without being able to control student’s environments, you’ll be left wondering whether they’ve carried out the required prep work, installed the correct version, or even have adequate security solutions installed on their home devices that will keep sensitive data safe. What’s almost guaranteed, however, is that you’re likely to waste a lot of time at the start of class while students work to get up and running.
Instead, opt for a cloud-based virtual training lab, where you control the environment, and hold a virtual open house about a week before class. This trial-run gives students the opportunity to determine whether they access the system, as well as familiarize themselves with the material.
4. See it, try it, apply it: In a physical classroom, instructors can see how their students are following along: Are they nodding in understanding? Surreptitiously staring at their watch? Or, are they giving a look of mild panic, common among those who are clearly not grasping the material? But not so, online. Rather, online presentations need to offer enhanced learning experiences that allow students to put their newfound knowledge into action.
Following an “I say, I show, you do” format allows presenters to review the material and students the chance to put what they’ve just learned into practice. It might be tempting to skip in-class practice sessions, especially when you have a lot of material to cover, but when it comes to online learning you need to not only to reinforce material but to engage your students. When students work through an exercise on their own, they’re building the equivalent of muscle memory and that can increase retention by as much as 85 percent.
Feedback mechanisms, real-time collaboration with instructors, and virtual labs translate into productive and collaborative environments that can keep students engaged throughout a lengthy training session. Instead of one-sided delivery, two-way activities make the learner an active participant rather than a silent recipient.
Be sure to ask for regular feedback, too. But rather than obsessively asking if anyone has questions, incorporate online polls, chat windows, emoticons, and other similar devices — you can’t engage students too much. In fact, the more, the better.
5. Play nice in the sandbox. Sandboxes (i.e., the virtual environments students use to practice) allow students to work in their own space without impacting what others are doing. It’s especially important for software course instructors to be able to watch students in real time to see who is working through the material, who might be stuck (or distracted), and just as importantly, who is struggling. For those who are heading in the wrong direction, the ability to take over their keyboard and show them how to fix the problem is vital.
Depending on class size, instructors might want to consider a dual monitor as it makes it very clear what material is being broadcast and what’s not.
6. Rollback feature. There’s nothing worse than walking into class on Day 2 to discover that everything a class has worked on the day before has been wiped out, especially if each day’s coursework builds upon the previous day. Make sure a virtual lab allows for snapshots, or rollback points, that let students save their work from day to day. These rollback points serve the dual purpose of encouraging students to experiment with the material and make mistakes, safe in the knowledge that they can always go back to a previous point in time.
With the snapshot tool, instructors can start and stop labs at any point, saving students’ work and your money. A class might be in session for eight hours a day, but students might be in their practice labs for only three or four. Given that cloud-based tools charge for whenever a resource is running, the ability to stop a lab for several hours throughout the day is a boon.
7. Reinforce retention. Learning shouldn’t end just because class does. There are multiple ways to reinforce your program, even when training is virtual. For instance, many virtual training tools allow instructors to set up a regular cadence of pre-class and follow-up communications, including emails with links to additional resources and blog posts that reinforce learning and the student-teacher relationship.
For virtual software training, it’s also important that learners have access to their sandboxes for a period after class ends so they can continue to practice their new skills. Obviously, this needs to be weighed against the cloud fees involved in running these resources, but it’s possible, too, to move them to a lower-cost configuration, thereby allowing students to practice while also limiting your financial risk.
It’s not easy to present online, and to be sure, nothing compares to the energy of an in-person sales kickoff, but nothing worth doing has ever been easy. By following these essential steps, it’s more than possible to make online off the charts.