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TD Magazine

When the Student Becomes the Teacher

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

"If you teach it, you learn it twice."

Great corporate training programs give employees the confidence to try out new skills and take on more responsibility. The best corporate training programs empower employees to take what they've learned and pass it on to others.


The following sales training and professional development programs show common themes: They are focused on giving employees more autonomy and responsibility in their roles; they make use of microlearning; and they encourage employees to actively participate in peer learning. That has helped the learning cascade more effectively throughout the organizations and also has increased employees' confidence in their ability to take on new challenges.

Giving employees more autonomy

When designing sales training for its account representatives, LocumTenens.com, a company that specializes in the temporary placement of physicians and other healthcare practitioners, focused on preparing reps for their next step up—to the account executive role. The company was growing quickly and needed more account executives, so the training program would not only sharpen reps' skills in their current roles, it would create a deep bench of qualified talent for the executive role.

Stakeholders across LocumTenens.com worked with the training division to identify ways account reps could assume greater responsibility—and with that, authority. The company designed the training program to prepare reps to handle more of the sales and recruiting process instead of merely sourcing leads.

One of the core elements of the training solution is "sit-ins," where reps can sit in on account executives' client meetings and ask questions afterward. They also receive additional mentoring from account executives.

That exposure to the account executive role helps reps gain both skills and confidence, which is reflected in several business metrics. The company's gross profit per head has increased by more than 20 percent since program implementation, an indication that reps have moved beyond mere lead generation and are generating profit. In another indicator of the program's success, the time to promotion for account reps to the account executive role has decreased from seven to eight months to four to five months—and newly promoted account executives are bringing more complex skills to their role.

China Telecom, which runs a large broadband internet network as well as 4G and 5G mobile communications, wanted to empower its in-store customer reps to take the lead in developing better sales campaigns. The company's brick-and-mortar stores were struggling as customers increasingly took their transactions online. The decline in foot traffic was making it difficult for frontline customer service reps to hit their sales goals, and a survey found that 78 percent of the reps considered the company's traditional sales model outdated and ineffective. However, 90 percent said they were willing and eager to learn new sales techniques.

So, the sales training division developed a curriculum that would help customer reps develop stronger in-store sales and marketing campaigns. The curriculum includes online scenario-based courses and three days of on-the-job training.

A post-training evaluation found that reps display increased confidence when using the new sales techniques. They have been conducting more promotional activities in stores and organizing more sales campaigns. Their combined sales activities led to $21.6 million in increased operating revenue. Also, reps have showed more enthusiasm in their roles, thanks to the positive feedback from managers, and have received more salary increases and promotions.

Follow up with microlearning moments

In a complete overhaul of its sales training, SAP tapped some of its sales reps to serve in a program it dubbed Learning2Go. The sales role at SAP was transforming as the company shifted its focus from on-premise corporate software programs to cloud-based software. Sales reps are increasingly called upon to help guide customers toward a digitally enabled business as quickly and cost-effectively as possible. Therefore, the company designed its new sales training program to be scalable and flexible enough to meet reps' evolving learning needs.

In addition to a virtual live classroom and Innovation Day, the program includes microlearning components that internal staff deliver. Those components address the forgetting curve by encouraging sales reps to apply practical skills at regular intervals post-training so they don't forget what they've learned.

"Participants receive two post-class emails, one week and one month after the class," says Claus Breede, global vice president of Learning2Go. "Those emails include microlearning related to the class they attended and a behavioral survey to measure the impact the class and materials have had on the participants' behavior." Breede explains that by receiving post-class microlearning, attendees show higher learning retention rates one month after the class than the ones who have not received any microlearning.


It takes a village

Peer learning and coaching from managers—especially if facilitated well—can be highly effective in promoting long-term behavior change.

New York Life, a national insurance company with sales offices across the US, found that a leadership training program built for its senior sales leaders lent itself organically to peer learning. The program cultivates the leadership skills needed for long-term organizational success through both leadership assessments and coaching.

Post-training, senior sales leaders have showed increased engagement with management teams and staff, as well as a greater ability to lead with purpose and articulate and demonstrate their values and goals. Many of the leaders have shared various components of the program with the managers and agents in their field offices; some have even formed study groups based on specific topics of interest. They have also used the training content in presentations given at local sales meetings and annual kickoff meetings.

"After completing our Field Leadership Institute program, many of our leaders have sought out ways to provide their workforce with key takeaways," notes Mike Petruccelli, corporate vice president of field management and leadership development. "The skills learned in the program were identified based on extensive interviews with our field leaders to define what leadership skills they needed most. As a result, the skills have applicability for our managers and our sales professionals in the field."

In its training program to prepare account reps for executive roles, LocumTenens.com also relied on peer learning. Putting into the practice the "If you teach it, you learn it twice" aphorism, the company engages senior account reps to coach more junior employees and interns on certain business concepts. The training program encourages that as an important development opportunity for senior reps.

"For junior associates, learning from a successful, more-tenured account rep provides them with a shortcut to success," says David McAnally, the company's vice president of sales training. "Peer-to-peer learning is essential for the emerging generation that we hire, and this method provides the best opportunity. For senior account reps, the benefit is in leadership development. Investment in a peer fosters ownership and closer associate relationships."

View the entire list of 2022 Excellence in Practice Award winners.

About the Author

Stephanie Castellano is a former writer/editor for the Association for Talent Development (ATD). She is now a freelance writer based in Gainesville, Florida.

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