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ATD Blog

5 Tips to Make Your Transition to Live Online Sales Training Easier

Thursday, May 28, 2020

The work world has shifted from regular offices to working at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For sales organizations, this means moving everything to virtual, including training.

Ten years ago, I led a major development project at SRG to create virtual instructor-led versions of our sales training programs. Our team of instructional designers worked for months and dedicated thousands of hours to this initiative.

After testing and customer feedback, we developed engaging online sales training programs for salespeople who have notoriously short attention spans. Since then, we have delivered thousands of live online sessions.

Here are five tips that will help ease the transition to virtual learning.

1. Live Online Training Is Not a Webinar

The framework most of us have for live online experiences is a marketing webinar that offers little in the way of group engagement. In the best case scenario, a typical webinar may have two to three chat questions and a poll.

To create engaging virtual training, you must continuously manage the attention of your participants. That means using various interactions: chats, polls, individual exercises, breakout room activities, role plays, and group discussions. Engaging the participants in some type of activity or discussion every three to five minutes is optimum.

One question clients often ask is what’s the ideal group size for a live online training session?

For marketing webinars, more is better. Not so for online training. My advice is eight to 12 participants per session. If you have more than that, it becomes difficult for the facilitator to engage the group.


Your goal is behavior change, and best way for that to happen is with a small group participating in an interactive learning experience. On the other hand, if your group size is too small, some of your interactions may fall flat.

2. Facilitator Mindset

Another challenge is training facilitators on how to deliver live online training. Most facilitators are grounded in the traditional classroom model and conducting online training can be disorienting for them.

For instance, they can’t read facial expressions and other audience cues, and it’s impossible to enforce standard training rules like having participants turn off their phones. Also, many facilitators aren’t comfortable with having their webcams on during online sessions, even though this practice typically increases engagement.

So, remember that facilitating live online sessions will require new skills and facilitation techniques. Knowing who your participants are in advance and frequently calling them out by name helps with the engagement and connection with the facilitator.


3. Session Length

If you’re considering running a short session (under 60 minutes), don’t underestimate how much time is wasted logging-in and conducting a quick ice breaker. On the other hand, if your session is too long, screen fatigue will set in.

At SRG, we found that 90 to 120 minutes per session are optimal and allow you to cover even complex topics in a few sessions. Ensure you build in exercises and short breaks if the sessions are longer than 60 minutes.

4. Technology

If you don’t have a lot of experience using a live online training platform, don’t worry. Today, most platforms are robust, stable, and easy to use. This a far cry from 10 years ago when hard-to-use systems would frequently crash, bringing sessions to a grinding halt. Train your facilitators and give them ample practice opportunities in your virtual training platform.

Also, dedicate time at the start of the first training session to orienting participants to the platform and the various ways they will interact in the session. Don’t assume they know anything about the virtual training environment.

5. Great Content

Finally, excellent training starts with great content, regardless of delivery modality. Spend the majority of your time developing relevant content then optimizing it for each virtual session, as opposed to trying just to teach a traditional classroom program online. While it is possible to accomplish the same learning objectives, your design will need to adapt for online delivery.

In today’s new workplace reality, more sales training will be conducted virtually. Making this transition can seem intimidating, but remember that the ultimate goal of live online training is the same as traditional classroom training: behavior change that drives better sales results.

About the Author

David Jacoby is a managing partner at the Sales Readiness Group, an industry leading sales training company that helps Fortune 500 companies develop and deliver customized sales and sales management training programs. David is a thought leader in instructional design and the use of innovative technologies to deliver online sales training programs. Previously, he was a principal at Linear Partners, a sales consulting firm focused on providing sales effectiveness and development solutions to emerging growth companies. He writes frequently on the topics of selling skills, sales management, sales coaching and sales training. Follow David on Twitter: @DIjacoby  

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