The case for off-the-shelf sales training
  • sales
  • Blog post

The case for off-the-shelf sales training

A 2012 CSO report on sales training ROI contained an interesting footnote. The report compared the effectiveness of different approaches to sales training, and concluded (among other findings, which are summarized here and here) that “commercial” (that is, off-the-shelf) sales training content is more effective than content created internally.

Of course, that’s good news for us here at Rapid Learning Institute, since we’re in the business of creating and selling commercial sales training.

Now that I’ve got the disclosure and disclaimers out of the way, let’s consider two arguments in favor of off-the-shelf sales training. One is economic, and the other is pedagogic.

The economic case is simple. According to ATD, it requires between 93 and 365 hours to create one hour of e-learning. When this expense is spread across a large customer base, the cost-per-user goes way, way down. Often, of course, in-house training costs are baked into an organization’s operating budget, making them less visible and harder to track, while off-the-shelf training often appears as a line item on a budget. But most training professionals wouldn’t dispute the idea that the cost of acquiring off-the-shelf e-learning content from any vendor — not just Rapid Learning Institute — will be far less than creating it from scratch.

How can generic be better?
But that still leaves the issue of relevance. How can commercial content — which is necessarily created for a broad cross-section of salespeople in a variety of industries — be as effective as content that’s been custom-tailored to the unique selling challenges facing your reps?

That’s where pedagogy comes in.

Countless studies show that learning is more effective when it incorporates “desirable difficulties” — that is, when learners have to work a little harder. The extra effort makes learners process the information more deeply, so they understand it better and retain it longer. When information is spoon-fed, learners feel like they’re learning a lot, but the learning doesn’t stick. Easy come, easy go.

When sales reps engage with off-the-shelf learning, it’s true that the fit might not be perfect. The underlying principles of sales are universal, but reps may have to struggle a little to figure out how the information applies to their industry, products and customers. That’s a good thing. When they have to work at bridging that gap, their brains are engaging at a deeper level.

On the other hand, when organizations create content specifically designed for their own salespeople, the trainers themselves are doing all the mental heavy lifting. Reps may appreciate the effort, and give the training high marks for relevance. But they might have learned more if they’d had to work a little harder.

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