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A seller completes a self-study training course in her office.

Rethinking Self-Study for Sales Enablement

blog author
Written by Mary Flaherty
Vice President, Research and Thought Leadership

Sales enablement teams regularly struggle to provide sellers with the skills and tools needed to get results like building pipelines, closing sales, growing accounts, and increasing win rates.

It's a challenge to ensure sales training achieves desired outcomes, whether sales enablement is a team of one or many. Training programs must be developed, facilitators prepped, and programs delivered. Ongoing reinforcement and support must be supplied so learning sticks and sellers apply what they’ve learned to get results. And all this upskilling needs to be repeated when new sellers join the team.

One training approach pursued by some sales organizations to develop its sellers—with varying degrees of success—is self-study, which can be used both to onboard new hires and boost the sales skills of existing teams. Unfortunately, for too many teams, leaving sellers to learn at their own pace and on their own time fails.

Yet, some teams see great success with this method. Indeed, in our work with hundreds of sales organizations and thousands of sellers, we’ve seen first-hand the power of self-study to continuously ramp up an organization’s sales team for ongoing success.

In this article, I share a few reasons sales enablement teams should take a closer look at the self-study approach to onboarding and upskilling sellers, along with the tweaks and adjustments needed to ensure self-study training is actually completed and applied in the field.

Revisiting Self-Study

Of course, self-study—a method of independent learning—itself isn’t new.

  • In ancient times, scholars and philosophers engaged in independent study to explore mathematics, philosophy, literature, and science.
  • Correspondence courses in the 19th century gained widespread popularity and extended geographic boundaries of education, with students receiving educational materials via mail, learning at their own pace, and submitting assignments remotely.
  • More recently, advancements in technology and the internet have further expanded the possibilities for self-study. Online platforms, digital libraries, educational websites, learning management systems, and massive open online courses have empowered learners to access a wealth of educational resources and pursue self-directed learning in various fields.

Still, the downsides of self-study frustrate many learners. This is because independent learning requires follow through. This critical piece of the learning puzzle dooms many a learning journey undertaken with the best of intentions. Maybe you’ve enrolled in an online course and struggled to stay motivated, complete sessions, and apply what you learned. If you know, you know.

But, as I mentioned above, there are sales organizations today whose teams are reaping the benefits of self-study. It’s a training method that’s emerged as a powerful approach for professional growth because when it's set up right, it minimizes time out of the field—by days and even weeks—and equips sellers with the knowledge and tools they can immediately apply on the job to improve their sales results.

What Are the Benefits of Independent or Self-study?

When self-study training is implemented successfully, organizations can experience the following benefits.

1. Flexibility and Convenience

Self-study through online methods and tools offers unparalleled flexibility and convenience. According to a survey conducted by LinkedIn, 58% of professionals prefer to learn at their own pace and on their own schedule.

With self-study, individuals have the freedom to choose when and where they learn, fitting it seamlessly into their busy professional lives. This flexibility empowers sellers to take control of their learning journey and ensures that they can balance their commitments.

2. Cost Effective

Traditional forms of professional development, such as conferences, workshops, and in-person training sessions can be costly for organizations. In contrast, self-study options are often more cost effective.

According to a study conducted by Brandon Hall and reported in Training Industry, elearning typically requires 40-60% less employee time compared to traditional classroom training. Additionally, self-study eliminates the need for travel expenses and venue rentals. By investing in online learning platforms and resources, organizations can significantly reduce costs while providing employees with access to a wide range of learning opportunities.

3. Diverse Learning Resources

Organizations favor online platforms for their ability to give employees access to an extensive range of courses, videos, and interactive materials covering various topics. A survey by ATD found that 99% of organizations use self-paced learning for at least some of their training. By leveraging these resources, employees can acquire new skills, deepen their knowledge, and stay abreast of industry trends.

Self-study empowers individuals to explore topics of interest, personalize their learning experience, and dig deep into areas that align with their goals no matter where they are in their career. For example, RAIN Group’s self-study sales training encompasses a wide range of sales topics for sellers, sales managers, and coaches, with available modules suitable for new sellers as well as experienced sales professionals.

Learn more. >>

4. Enhanced Retention and Application

Studies have shown that the human brain can generate approximately 700 new neurons daily in the hippocampus, a region crucial for learning and memory. However, these cells are at risk of dying off unless one actively engages in effortful learning. By consistently acquiring new knowledge, these brain cells remain active and become integrated into the brain's existing circuits. Additional studies have found that individuals who engaged in continuous learning had higher synaptic density in their brains, which is associated with improved cognitive function and memory retention.

Self-study encourages individuals to pursue continuous learning, take ownership of their learning, and engage in active learning, critical thinking, and problem-solving, which leads to a deeper understanding of the subject matter. This in turn improves the chances that knowledge will be applied in real-world scenarios, making self-study an effective tool for professional development.

5. Continuous Adaptation to Industry Changes:

Industries are evolving at an unprecedented pace, driven by technological advancements and market demands. To thrive in such dynamic environments, sales professionals must continuously upskill and adapt.

In fact, research reported by Deloitte reveals that organizations with a strong learning culture are better positioned to weather challenging environments: they’re 17% more profitable, 52% more productive, and 56% more likely to be first to market compared to other organizations.

Self-study enables individuals to stay ahead of the curve by offering timely and relevant learning opportunities. By making self-study options available, organizations foster a culture of continuous learning and empower employees to develop skills that align with emerging industry trends.

How to Successfully Use Self-Study in Sales Enablement

Five stages of the self-study process in sales enablement

Our clients have found that when self-study is combined with hands-on assignments, coaching, feedback, and reinforcement on an easily accessible tech platform, sales training is more readily applied in learners’ day-to-day work and achieves the desired results.

We recommend sales enablement teams include the following five essential phases when implementing self-study sales training.

1. Kickoff Session

Consider delivering self-study training via cohorts where learners go through the training together. To get started, organize a virtual kickoff session with all training participants, sales leaders, and managers. During the session, introduce the self-study training program, highlight its objectives, and generate excitement among the participants. Set clear expectations and create shared accountability by outlining the desired outcomes and emphasizing the importance of active participation.

2. Launch Self-Study

Release new training modules on a regular basis, such as weekly or bi-weekly, to maintain momentum and engagement. The modules are designed to be interactive and dynamic, incorporating various media formats, such as video, knowledge checks, and downloadable resources. Each module provides practical tips, tools, and real-life examples to enhance the learners' understanding and application of the materials being taught.

3. Application Assignment

After completing each training module, participants receive hands-on assignments that require them to apply the concepts and techniques learned in real sales scenarios. For instance, they might be asked to prepare a sales pitch, engage in mock sales conversations, or analyze and improve their pipeline. These assignments allow participants to practice their skills, gain confidence, and receive feedback on their performance.

4. Peer Review

We've seen first-hand and in our research that when teamwork and collaboration are emphasized, sales training is more effective. Pair each participant with an accountability partner within the sales team. Accountability partners regularly check in with each other to monitor progress and ensure that both individuals are actively engaged in the self-study training. They exchange assignments and provide constructive feedback to help each other improve. This peer review process fosters a sense of shared responsibility and encourages participants to stay committed to their learning journey.

5. Application Coaching

Assign experienced coaches to work with small groups of participants. These coaches review the training module content and assignments with the group, supply more insights and clarification, and facilitate discussions on best practices. The coaching sessions allow participants to delve deeper into the concepts, ask questions, and learn from the collective experiences of their peers. Coaches also provide guidance on how to apply the techniques learned effectively in different sales situations.

In Summary

By incorporating these five essential phases into self-study sales training programs, sales enablement teams can create a comprehensive and effective learning experience that combines knowledge acquisition, practical application, peer collaboration, and expert guidance. By doing so, sales organizations empower their teams, foster a supportive culture of continuous learning, and position themselves as agile and competitive in the ever-evolving sales landscape.

Last Updated February 21, 2024

Topics: Sales Training