How a large healthcare company rolled out new call center training under tight deadline

This is a guest post by Martiey Miller, Sales Training Consultant at Thomson Reuters.

In November of 2016 The Harvard Business Review published an excellent article titled “Why the Problem with Learning is Unlearning.” The problem of unlearning plagues sales training departments more than most.

In January of 2016 I had just finished facilitating an exciting two day workshop designed to help our sales professionals understand how and why to have new and different conversations with customers. There were ways to research the customer’s challenges, develop a point of view, educate their customer about the business landscape and environmental changes, and provide unique capabilities to solve customer problems. The learning was designed to change the way our salespeople went to market in their customer conversations. Learners were engaged. There were high fives all around. And then came the question, “But when am I supposed to ask these 27 discovery questions to uncover my customer needs so I can demo the right product?”

My heart sank and in that moment I was reminded of what a friend of mine says. “You CAN teach an old dog new tricks. The harder part is teaching them to UNLEARN the old tricks.”

Unlearning isn’t a new challenge for anyone and there are some things that your sales training organization can do to significantly cut adoption time, unlearning time, and learning time. Here are three of the techniques that have been successful at Thomson Reuters.

Managers first. We’ve proven to ourselves time and again that in order to change sales habits we must train the managers in both the sales skills and coaching to support those skills BEFORE they go through the normal training with their team members. That’s right. Our managers go through rep training sometimes 2, 3 or 4 times. Every time a manager goes through a training program their comfort with change and ability to help their teams go up significantly.

One third/two thirds. When launching a change in sales skills, the rule of one third change/two thirds stay the same is key. In my example of the sales training above we should have clearly connected the dots between how these new customer conversations built on and improved the old fashioned “20 questions” sales interaction. Since SPIN Selling, Consultative Selling, and Needs Based Selling have been preaching the “ask questions first” approach for decades, it’s only logical that there is ingrained and embedded behavior. The human brain needs reason and a clear and logical path to move away from the status quo of comfortable customer conversations.

Organizational Capability. When sales organizations want to move their collective sales skills forward and change their customer conversations, it can’t be JUST a sales initiative. Or JUST a training initiative. Or JUST a marketing initiative. Thomson Reuters has learned the hard way that breaking down silos, presenting new information, presenting outside research and justification, building executive sponsors, and rallying across segments, marketing, and sales are all needed to get traction from new skills training and application in the field.

By putting managers first, remembering the one third/two thirds rule, and working toward organizational capability you should be able to make large steps toward solving the problem of unlearning in your sales training organization, and your organization at large.

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