Delivering Effective Training: 5 Tips for Sales Leaders & Subject Matter Experts

How much time and energy do you spend in your organization delivering virtual sessions trying to train employees on new sales processes, policies and customer engagement strategies only to have nobody actually learn anything?

How often have you experienced:

  • Minimal or no change in knowledge or application?
  • The need for re-training?
  • Costly mistakes as result?

In our current pandemic, remote work, the need to share knowledge and change behaviours as well as learn new skills has all become very important for team and organizational success. To ensure we can collaborate and connect internally and with clients, we are dependent on virtual platforms such as WebEx, Zoom, MS Teams or Google Meet. This is not a problem in itself – these are great tools. The question is – are we using them correctly?

Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) by definition are highly invested in their content. They deliver great presentations, but they are not trainers.

To be successful, SMEs need to acquire some fundamental learning and development (L&D) principles and practices. There is a difference between a presentation and training, and yet after delivering workshops for 20+ years, in over 40 countries, across 6 continents we are still surprised at how often “training” initiatives end up being nothing more than long PowerPoint presentations. This approach is not only costly, because it doesn’t deliver a return on investment, it also doesn’t engage learners and they aren’t motivated to change their behaviours.

In order to increase sales performance, employees must be able to acquire the right information, from the right people, at the right time in order to exceed customer needs. This requires a rapid transition between ‘knowing’ and ‘doing’ to be able to meet sales targets.

Three key challenges exist in effectively transferring skills versus knowledge.

  1. Often SMEs, Sales Leaders and Mentors aren’t familiar with how to effectively design and deliver learning that will drive behavioural change. Instead they focus on their expertise and deliver one-way presentations or lectures. This doesn’t engage employees and more importantly performance doesn’t always improve.
  2. Due to the impact of COVID-19, sales organizations scrambled to convert their classroom sales training into virtual workshops…and it’s not as easy as it looks. The content often needs to be redesigned to allow sales professionals the opportunity to practice, role-play and receive coaching on their performance. This can be achieved virtually, but it requires a detailed review of the program to ensure the right activities are incorporated, leveraging technology and with sufficient time allocated.
  3. Organizations have invested heavily in content that sits on a Learning Management System and leaders and employee alike don’t leverage the content. This investment in knowledge assets is wasted because Sales Leaders and SMEs don’t incorporate existing content into their training and therefore don’t enhance the learning experience by adding their own expertise.

What can we do?

  1. Conduct a mini needs assessment.
       a)   Get to know your participants ahead of time and understand who they are.
       b)   What is their role?
       c)   What do they need to know to help them be more successful?
    Put yourself in the shoes of your audience. This will help you to choose the right method, timing, and content for your audience. All Subject Matter Experts can easily to fall into the trap of sharing everything they know about a topic. After all, it’s their expertise, their passion and represents their hard work. But learners don’t care how much SMEs know; they care about how it’s going to help them in their role. High impact training needs to include what’s relevant to the audience and leave everything else out.
  2. Recognize there is a difference between transferring knowledge and transferring learning. Knowing something and being able to apply and demonstrate new knowledge and skills are two entirely different things. When SMEs “tell” they transfer knowledge, when they “engage” they create learning. Learning styles and generational differences tell us that to learn we need to be involved, to participate, to discuss ideas with each other and share our opinions and to be able to practice and apply the knowledge and then gain immediate feedback.
    SMEs and Sales Leaders can create blended learning solutions by leveraging existing content and incorporating case studies, scenarios, role-plays and videos based on their expertise to be bring the content to life for employees. This ensures the learning is relevant and application focused.
  3. Acknowledge that adults come with their own ideas, opinions and experiences. Adults don’t like to be told what to do or talked at. Whether you are introducing a new sales process, or a new product, it’s not about telling employees what they need to know, it’s about engaging employees in dialogue. Your audience needs to be heard, they need to have a say and be able to share their experiences and opinions. This means that using virtual platforms must include time for discussions, questions and application activities.
  4. Ensure learning is relevant to their role, practical and immediately applicable. Sales professionals by nature are goal oriented and want to win. Learning that isn’t highly relevant to their role or applicable to help them close more deals, will be less engaging to them. When creating learning sessions be sure to include activities, examples and stories that apply the concepts to real world examples. Too often, sales processes are presented as what to do versus how to do it. Create opportunities for learners to connect what they are learning to their individual role sand identify how the knowledge being provided will help them be more high performing and achieve greater success.
  5. Be creative! It’s possible to be creative, even when delivering virtual training. In fact, you can engage employees to come up with fun, interactive ways to apply learning.
  • Share a video, demonstration or have them record their own video clips
  • Have them present what they think are the most important points for their customers
  • Use online gaming tools such as Kahoot or Jack Box Games to inject some fun
  • Have learners compare an old policy with the new version, identifying the differences and highlighting the benefits
  • You can engage learners to share stories about how the learning could help solve an existing customer problem

The possibilities are endless. The goal is to create activities that allow your participants to apply the learning and be highly involved in the experience. New in career and younger employees will expect highly interactive learning sessions and will be eager to contribute ideas for how to make the learning even more fun.

We can all agree that learning is important, especially as we focus on maintaining employee engagement, motivation and performance in a virtual environment as we navigate through this pandemic. It is critical to spend our time, energy and money wisely on learning sessions that will deliver results to the business.

Implementing the 5 tips provided will elevate your training sessions to a new level and will result in much more engaged learners that are empowered to change their behaviors and increase sales performance.

Giselle Kovary
President, n-gen People Performance
Managing Partner, Global Training Transformation

Susan Armstrong
Managing Partner, Global Training Transformation


Giselle Kovary

As president and co-founder of n-gen People Performance Inc., Giselle is dedicated to building strategies and programs that target, motivate and engage a multigenerational workforce. She is a sought after resource to industry leaders, having worked with 18 of the top Fortune 500 companies. Over 60,000 people globally have experienced an n-gen workshop or presentation. She has devoted more than fifteen years to researching the impact that generational differences have on organizational performance. Giselle has co-authored two books: Loyalty Unplugged: How to Get, Keep & Grow All Four Generations and Upgrade Now: 9 Advanced Leadership Skills. She has a Master’s degree in communication studies from the University of Windsor.

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