logo image

ATD Blog

How to Enable Learning Agility in Your Sales Force for High-Value Results


Tue Aug 29 2017

How to Enable Learning Agility in Your Sales Force for High-Value Results-c1e390f3a893f53a9a3d351afd9c522643afba994072c4fba86c8ea6f214dec5

The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot.

Michael Altshuler’s analogy seems to become more relevant every day. It’s especially true in sales enablement. Look around: The landscape is changing for sales teams. The decision makers they serve are faced with shifting priorities, information overload, risk aversion, and more. Is your organization’s team agile enough to break through?


Learning agility is something that wasn’t even on the radar in the business sector as little as two decades ago. What this means for sales enablement leaders is that learning agility isn’t likely something we’ve been training our team to harness. But it’s one of several key traits that every modern seller now needs to have.

Strategies for Putting Learning Agility Into Practice

Let’s delve into strategies to empower your team to better serve modern customers and create more business value. Here are four practical ways you can help build this skill within your sales force.

**Fill in Blind Spots

**Our brains are amazing interpreters and translators. When our eyes take something in, there’s ambiguity we aren’t even aware of, some missing information. Research shows that our brains take over through a process called filling in, actively covering those blind spots and interpreting what we’re seeing in ways we can understand and do something with, all in an instant. Think about split-second decisions, like the swerve that narrowly avoids a bad car accident. Or putting together a puzzle, where parts of the whole are missing and you’re figuring out what it should look like when it’s pieced together. That’s your brain filling in your blind spots, helping you to make connections with pieces of ambiguous information.

Modern sellers deal daily with ambiguity. They know that there will always be missing information. They’ll never have all the details and they need to fill in the gaps. They fill in their blinds spots by making logical assumptions. They might fill in those assumptions in any number of ways—calling on similar experience, research, or conversations with peers and leaders.


Customers and prospects are also dealing with lots of ambiguity—they’re tasked with making big strategic decisions and small tactical decisions without all the information at hand. When they experience your team as well researched and confident in their ideas and recommendations despite missing information, they’ll naturally gravitate toward your team as a differentiator.

As a sales enablement leader, your job is to teach your team to fill in the gaps, and empower them to become trusted navigators on a path that will have lots of twists and turns.

Tip: Join a team member while they present to a prospect or customer, especially a new team member. You’ll have the opportunity to help them fill in blind spots by noting where they’re strong and where they have opportunities for skill building.

Provide Continuous Feedback and Coaching

I remember one of my early performance reviews. I was less than a year into my role, and had just won a very large account that had been with a competitor for years. It took a significant amount of time and energy to earn that business, and I thought orders would be coming in right away. Well, orders started arriving about six months after the initial contract award. And while I had made strong progress in my role and even won a big contract, I didn’t make my number that first year.


When it came time for performance reviews, I was rated toward the bottom of my team, and as someone who is driven by high achievement and recognition, I was devastated—not only by the rating itself, but because I really didn’t see it coming from my leader. I thought my hard work, my passion, and my commitment would be a bigger part of the performance equation.

We need to get beyond a simplistic numbers and ratings checkbox, because today’s environment demands a whole lot more from sellers and leaders. Performance review instead should be regular conversation between a seller and leader. Modern organizations have sales leaders who are coaches above all else—their ability to coach individuals and the entire team, beyond the numbers, is what elevates performance.

It was my responsibility to proactively seek out feedback and also open myself up to receiving it and applying it.

Modern sellers don’t hide from feedback. They actively seek it out, not only from their direct leaders, but also from peers, other leaders in the organization, and from their customers.

As part of the sales enablement community, what can you do to ensure that your sales force receives continuous feedback and coaching?

Tip: As a sales enablement leader, partner with your key peers in the sales, training, and talent organizations to ensure that consistent feedback and guidance are in place.

Learn Your Patterns and Know When to Short-Circuit Them

Our behavior patterns, or our habits, are largely unconscious, and yet they’re so powerful that they make or break our success. Just as the brain has an amazing capacity to fill in details for us, it also stores all our patterns for instant recall.

The question becomes then, do patterns set the members of your sales force up for success?

The best way I found to understand patterns is the habit loop, described by author Charles Duhigg in his book The Power of Habit. This loop consists of a cue, a routine, and a reward. The cue is the catalyst, whether internal or external, that kicks off the action of the routine, and the reward is what comes at the end of routine. Do this enough times, and the loop becomes ingrained until it’s entirely subconscious. It doesn’t matter whether the habit is productive or counterproductive—they all run in the same loop.

If we need to insert a new (and productive) routine, we first have to identify our patterns and our habit loops. Some of them we’re well aware of, but many of them will need a little more digging to bring them into our awareness. When we pinpoint them, we can then consciously decide which ones are serving us and which ones need a short circuit.

Tip: Work with your sales team to analyze their selling patterns. Your outside perspective can help them to uncover their habit loops, deciding which ones should stay and which ones to short circuit.

Key Takeaways

  • Learning agility is a modern sales skill that helps us to go deeper into business problems, be more innovative, and uncover unidentified problems.

  • Filling in blind spots helps us to deal with ambiguity to confidently and successfully move things forward. Customers and prospects need your sales force to lead them through ambiguity as well.

  • Specific and continuous feedback will hone your team’s learning agility, and it’s up to the sales enablement team to ensure this is part of the sales development program.

  • Uncover your team’s patterns and pinpoint sales routines that no longer serve them; amplify the patterns that are creating success.

Want to Learn More? 

Join me October 10 for the webcast: Cultivating 5 Modern Sales Skills for a High-Value Advantage. You will learn how to apply modern selling trends to your decision making when developing sales strategy, designing skill building programs, and assessing skill gaps.

You've Reached ATD Member-only Content

Become an ATD member to continue

Already a member?Sign In


Copyright © 2024 ATD

ASTD changed its name to ATD to meet the growing needs of a dynamic, global profession.

Terms of UsePrivacy NoticeCookie Policy