As we begin a new year, do you feel the ground shifting under your feet?

I do. And I believe that 2016 will be a watershed year for sales training. Specifically, I think sales trainers need to be thinking about five key trends that will drive sales training in the coming year:

1. It will increasingly become context-sensitive. Perhaps you’re old enough to remember when application software like Word and Excel came with thick printed-and-bound training manuals. Ultimately, they were supplanted by “context-sensitive” help screens, where you got just the information you needed when you needed it. Among our customers here at Rapid Learning Institute, we’re seeing a similar approach evolving for sales training. Instead of getting a lot of training all at once and all in one place (which may or may not be relevant to the particular challenges a salesperson is facing), reps are being coached on specific skills in context — getting just the information they need right now. Some worry that this approach can leave salespeople with knowledge gaps, but that doesn’t seem to be the case in sales any more than in software. Eventually, you get all the pieces — and you get them in a way that’s likely to make them more useful, and therefore more memorable.

2. Less will be more. This concept goes hand in hand with the previous one. As training is delivered in the moment of need, it can and must be delivered in brief bursts. That’s been our approach since the beginning, but we are seeing the trend accelerate. We used to believe that “brief” meant eight to ten minutes. Research into our own user base has convinced us that the sweet spot is closer to five to eight minutes. And we’ve even experimented with a sales training series where each concept is boiled down to just a minute or so (you can check them out for free here).

3. We’ll need it more than ever. Sales trainers take heart: Just because training is getting shorter doesn’t mean it’s going away. A radically shifting economy, a profound shift in workforce demographics and the emergence of new sales models all suggest that sales training is going to be a critical factor in the growth of companies in 2016. We can’t rely on doing sales the same old way.

4. The scorecard for training will change. In our conversations with sales managers and C-level executives, we’re seeing a new and more savvy approach to measuring the results of sales training. Instead of simplistic and/or largely meaningless metrics (Did our sales increase? Did sales reps like the training? What’s my training ROI?), executives are looking at execution and adoption metrics: Are people using the training? Are reps applying the right behaviors? Is training having an impact on sales culture?

5. CEOs will finally get it. For all the reasons listed above, I believe that CEOs will increasingly see sales training as a key driver of institutional success. You can only squeeze so much shareholder value out of cost-cutting measures. Shareholders and stakeholders will judge success by a company’s organic growth. And you can’t create growth without a world-class, well trained sales force.

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