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How can Sales Simulations help make classroom training more relevant and engaging for tech-savvy learners?

Dave and I met for a cup of coffee last week, a ritual we were happy to hold on to since I left my previous job to join Ignite. We always enjoyed our conversations that usually centered around our work. Dave seemed pre-occupied this week, and I understood that most of it was because, for the entire next week, he and his colleagues were going through their annual sales training. I was curious to know if they still had classroom training and he said, “Yeah, but it isn’t the actual classroom training that bothers me. It’s all the PowerPoint slides and the sitting that drives me crazy. The content itself is good.”

Like most sales people I know, Dave is high energy in his approach to most things in life. He is fast-paced, always thinking about new ideas and discussing current trends. For him, these prescriptive classroom sessions are torture. He usually left de-motivated. What was meant to make him sharper at his job was actually killing his enthusiasm for it.

When sales and learning executives see bored or uninvolved learners coupled with poor outcomes from classroom sessions, they immediately start questioning the relevance and their investment in training tech-savvy millennial learners. Over the years, I have had numerous discussions with the leadership of Fortune 500 companies and have debated the concept of replacing the classroom with technology based training programs that could potentially engage their learners on a different level. It is a valid point. After all, the ubiquity of technology has influenced how we work, play and learn. However, does replacing the classroom guarantee more engagement, relevance and better outcomes? In a time where new learners have grown up in the technological age and their preferred method of communication is through their devices, a face-to-face application program is a necessity in the development of their skills, which are paramount in a B2B selling environment.

I firmly believe that technology is an enabler. It can be leveraged to make learning initiatives more interesting and engaging. It is an exceptional medium for knowledge transfer. The right use of technology can prepare and excite people for the classroom session. It can also be utilized to reinforce the learnings long after the session is over. Results can then be tracked and assessed for further refinement.

While there are plenty of classroom techniques these days, an experience-based learning approach (i.e. sales simulations) seems to be the most impactful for new age learners. Sales simulations in a classroom environment make training a relevant approach for reps and sales leaders alike. They can take learners closer to the on-the-job skills and experiences that drive the results organizations are striving to achieve. The beauty is that they are created to develop and reinforce any skill; call execution, presentation or negotiation skills, in addition to strategy development. All of it mimicking their true selling environment.

As competition intensifies and the need to become more effective on the job becomes critical, we see sales simulations becoming a preferred approach for building and reinforcing the skills teams need to foster a variety of competencies. Simulations are intensely ‘social experiences’ where learning happens by interacting with peers, facilitators and sales leaders. The process is highly successful when the first segment is devoted to knowledge transfer or refreshing a previously learned skill. The second part of the engagement is focused on the application of these skills in a simulated, face-to-face, real world scenario. In the latter, the learners are often encouraged to focus on the essential skills, take risks, develop strategy and learn from their mistakes. The environment is designed to be a safe place where learners can express themselves, hone their style, and in the process, explore their growth path. For salespeople like Dave, the process reflects reality in a way other programs can’t and gives him a real-life learning experience that connects him to the entire training process. Participants see the merit of human intervention in sales simulations in a classroom set-up compared to a technology based simulation module that they could take on their mobile phones during their commute or at the coffee shop. In simulations, there are no right, wrong or prescriptive approaches; however, there are unsuccessful outcomes. They encourage new and strategic thinking and approaches to familiar situations.

While the cutting-edge technologies such as Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, and Mixed Reality can be used to develop sales training programs based on experiential-learning principles, the need for classroom training is critical for realistic application of skills. Sales training designers should focus on using technology to augment the impact of classroom training and use methods like sales simulations to help learners build lasting connections with their peers, managers, and the entire training curriculum. The key is to give them a classroom experience that resembles real life and allows them to leverage that experience when they are in front of their toughest customers and in the most challenging sales situations.

You can also click here to download our white paper on the use of sales simulations.

This article is written by Steve Stewart and first appeared on LinkedIn.