One of the historic attractions of being a field-based employee is the freedom of being ‘out on the road’, running your working life as you choose. Training directives from head office, or the HR manager, can be an unwelcome distraction from the main business of following leads, building client relationships and closing deals.

But the knock-on effect of Covid has meant the need to pick up new, remote-working skills and applications fast. The usual lead times for training staff in new systems have drastically shortened.

I haven’t got time to train!

Sales teams have traditionally been resistant to spending time away from their clients. Saying that ‘you can’t afford time ‘out of the loop’ with your customers is a great get-out clause. And sales teams can be a tough crowd to win over.

If you’re clearly providing them with new tools or skills that will help them achieve goals (and bonuses) that’s good. If it’s training to support broader company goals or corporate policies, it’s a harder sell.  But not Mission Impossible. Remote training has revealed new ways to support and encourage field-based learning. Of which the key one is empathy on the part of the manager and the trainer.

Why do I need this training in the first place?

Sales teams are mission-driven, so if you’re “interrupting” their mission it better be good! From the moment they open your email, these questions will be running through their minds:

  • Who is it for?
  • What is in it for me?
  • When am I supposed to use it?
  • Where will I use it?
  • How do I use it?
  • And – Why do I need it in the first place? I’m exceeding my targets!

If all pre-course materials and email communications clearly acknowledge and answer these questions, you are likely to secure greater buy-in and break down motivational resistance.

But if your team doesn’t see how the training will help them achieve their own targets or goals, they simply won’t be motivated to do it.

Short, sharp and sweet

Using web-conferencing tools such as Teams, Zoom or Webex to deliver short, sharp 45-minute training sessions works well. What doesn’t work so well is simply replicating your pre-Covid, face-to-face, 2-day conference online. Everyone – employee and trainer alike – will lose the will to live. You simply can’t maintain energy levels and attention over this length of time and participants quickly feel uncomfortable or awkward and zone out.

Make presentations demo-based and directly relevant to the field-based target audience.

Make sure the content is context-driven so it’s about what the field-based user is actually going to do or is doing in the field.

Pick a concise clearly defined topic and deliver a short, high-impact session and you’re onto a winner.

Leave hypothetical examples at the door.

Keep their eyes on the prize

It’s very easy to be distracted when you’re on any remote call and training sessions have to work extra hard to keep audiences focused.  Fortunately, the new remote-working tools include functions that can alleviate this. The breakout room option in Zoom, for example, allows team members to work on specific topics in smaller groups and then present back to the main meeting. This feels similar to ‘working groups’ in a traditional ‘live’ training session and breaks the experience up into more manageable chunks.

Since salespeople are naturally competitive and goal-orientated, you can turn this to your advantage. Gamifying your training and introducing game mechanics such as polling, questionnaires, quizzes or leader boards harnesses that competitive drive and ups the motivation level in the virtual training room.  Ask questions, gather feedback and insist on input. Any form of virtual training has to be more of a ‘lean forward’ rather than ‘lean back’ experience, or it just won’t stick.

In the words of Benjamin Franklin: “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I remember. But involve me and I learn.”

Re-iterating and summarising learnings also reinforces this.  Bright Affect trainers use language such as “just to re-cap…” or “a key point of that for YOU is…” to keep trainees interested and improve their retention rate of information.

Why change management can help

Supporting field-based learning is about more than introducing new methods, remote working tools or software. It’s often about changing the mindset of experienced sales teams.  As Dale Peters of Bright Affect points out, this is managing people through a fundamental change to their way of working, as well as re-skilling them.

“Introducing remote working tools such as Veeva Engage Meeting to salespeople with twenty years’ experience of calling on customers face to face is not just asking but requiring a fundamental shift in working practice from valued and highly-skilled employees. No wonder it can meet with resistance and even refusal. And the rate of change has been unprecedented. Pre-Covid we might have introduced and trained people in phases over 6 months. Now, we are seeing some employers task their teams to get their heads around brand new systems in 6 days!”

People are having change ‘done to them’ at a time when many employees fear that their job may be at risk, or on the line. For a field-based force used to feeling in control of their destiny, the change to working practices can feel overwhelming.

Approaching training from a change management perspective shows understanding and consideration for embattled employees. If you are meeting a surprising level of resistance to vital training – ask yourself, is it fear that is driving this and if so, how can I reassure as well as re-skill?

Protect your people and protect your assets

Your sales team is one of your biggest assets. By training them, you’re supporting them in a time of unprecedented change, and investing in both their future and yours.