Keep Your Sales Reps Engaged in Training with Storytelling
Have you ever found yourself interacting with two screens at the same time? I know a guy who once pretended like he was on a conference call but, get this, he was actually replying to emails on his cell phone. Shame! We are constantly surrounded by screens vying for our attention. I don’t think of them as screens. I think of them as powerful magnets tugging with all their might at eyeballs and ear holes.
Being half-focused in a meeting is one thing – 95% of attendees lose focus and miss parts of the meeting anyway. But what if it’s on-demand sales training you’re supposed to be watching? Imagine that your company’s leadership believes embracing a new approach to sales can boost your organization to the next level, but you’ve got to learn the methodology for the new sales approach to work. Unlike missing a few minutes of a meeting, remaining focused on those sales training videos is an extremely valuable use of time.
If video content is going to hold your focus it must provide a gravitational pull so strong that you ignore notifications from your favorite apps, streaming services, social media platforms, news, entertainment, and even competing work priorities (like emails that can wait).
At SPARXiQ, I’m the head of content development which is a fancy way of saying I’m the main writer guy. If you’re watching an episode of Modern Sales Foundations (MSF), our online sales training program, and your favorite baseball team is also playing, I see it as my responsibility to make sure our content keeps you focused on MSF, not MLB.
Rethink the Typical Approach to Online Sales Training
Legacy approaches to sales training didn’t have the challenge of competing with so many online distractions. For years, instructors and managers have delivered sales skills training with substantial amounts of information for reps to absorb in one sitting, either in person or online. Keeping an audience’s attention is pretty straightforward when everybody is in the same room. The learner can’t mute the instructor and take a call in the middle of an in-person class. It’s also pretty obvious when a participant turns off their camera and mutes themselves in the middle of a live virtual course.
So, fewer distractions, yes, but the effectiveness of live/in-person training is hit-and-miss. You’ve seen the death-by PowerPoint presentations. You’ve heard the talking-at-you lectures spouting out what to do and how to do it. With the desire and need for online delivery, those same presentations are simply being transferred to video without taking into consideration the competing screens surrounding learners, screaming for attention. Hate to break it to you but your lecture and slide show can’t compete with ESPN+ notifications.
For online video training to actually work, the instruction must capture the salesperson’s attention, stir a sense of desire in them to learn the material, and deliver rock-solid educational content that can make a real impact.
How Storytelling Enhances Instructional Design
To create that gravitational pull, we use storytelling. For MSF, we needed a story that could capture and hold viewers’ attention for an entire 26-episode series. There are many storytelling techniques one can apply to content for learning – one of my favorites is curiosity. In our MSF program, learners meet a fictional sales team in episode one. Viewers learn right away that Kevin, Gianna, and Avery lose the sales contest to the same guy every year – even after working nights and weekends to hit quota. Enough is enough! This year they’re determined to win, so they will try out a new approach.
The basic setup of that story builds curiosity in a few important ways. “What is this new approach?” “Will it work?” “Are they going to win?” The new approach is the Modern Sales Foundations sales methodology the sales team (and learners) will learn one episode at a time. Kevin, Gianna, and Avery will experience the ups and downs of applying a new methodology throughout the series. And, as to whether they are going to win? No spoilers here. You’ll have to watch the series to find out.
Story is also an antidote to the “Who cares?” factor. When you care about something, you focus on it. One of the reasons 95 percent of meeting attendees zone out is because they don’t care about the content. When you’re reading a novel and you care about the main character and their circumstance, you’re driven to find out how the story ends. If you don’t care about the main character, you’ll move on to something you do care about.
In fact, according to neuroscientist Paul Zak, your brain will force you to focus on something worthy of your attention. “Attention is a scarce neural resource because it is metabolically costly to a brain that needs to conserve resources.”
Which of the following do you think your audience will care more about, the definition of a term on slide 18 of 54 or whether the rookie, the working mom, and the old dog can pull off the seemingly impossible and finally win the competition?
Build Curiosity by Answering “Why Should They Care?”
The next time you want your audience to remain focused on you or your content, try building curiosity and answer the question “Who cares?” For instance, imagine your company wants everyone to use a calendar app to schedule meetings. You are tasked with teaching late adopters how to use the app. If you dive straight into the “how to” of the presentation, I guarantee everyone will be sleeping by the middle of step two. If you build curiosity and answer the “Who cares?” question, instead of “how to,” they’ll remain focused throughout the session. There are several creative ways to apply this technique. Here’s an example…
“How many of you love receiving meeting requests while on vacation?
‘Honey, hold my piña colada, I need to hop on a meeting really quick.’
I don’t know about you, but I don’t like it and my family really doesn’t like it. Do you mind if I show you how to guarantee you’ll never receive a meeting request ever again while you’re on vacation?”
Do you see how those four sentences answer the “who cares?” question and create curiosity? If I’m in the audience, I care because I want to protect my vacation time. And I’m curious to see how to do it. This helps you appeal to your audience. If, after that setup, you deliver your steps on how to use the calendar app, I’ll remain focused because I want to protect my vacation time. I have vested interest and know I will gain something from this information. Maybe end your presentation with, “So, ladies and gentlemen, update your calendar app and your vacations will be safe.”
Make Sales Training Worth Your Rep’s Time
If you’re responsible for providing training content to your team, recognize that attention is a commodity and you’re in an uphill battle against powerful distractions. Multi-tasking is a myth, so if you want your team to learn something new, the learning process must be engaging from the jump and hold their attention through to the end. Otherwise, they may play your content on one screen and focus on something they do care about on another.
Academically sound training that’s as engaging as the information is useful inspires sellers to complete training from start to finish. Improve the performance of your whole organization with an innovative approach to the instructional design of sales training. If you actively engage your audience in the content they’ll stay engaged and understand how they can apply it.
Provide your team with an enjoyable, Netflix-style experience for sales skill development.