Learning Cycles and Certify to Fly for Sales Kickoff

In Part 1, I reviewed the idea of efficiency vs. efficacy in sales training, and many of the situations that challenging rep performance and ability. In Part 2, I covered the idea of the Learning Cycles approach to sales training, and Certify to Fly – a model for ensuring learning sticks before, during, and after your sales kickoff.

If you ask sales leaders what is on their minds in Q4, the answer is nearly universal: “How will we close the quarter?” If you ask them what else is on the horizon, the answer is again ubiquitous: “What’s the plan for sales kickoff?”

For sales leaders, sales kickoff represents the start of the new selling year and the launch of new messaging, skills, and behaviors. For reps, it is often seen as a vacation or a distraction. You can guess how CFOs feel about the cost and results. It seems that no matter how much we prepare and create excitement around the event, reps forget the new content as soon as they fly home, and very little changes.

Chances are, your kickoff today looks something like this:

Before sales kickoff, planning goes into logistics, booking flights and entertainment, and finding a venue. Sales Enablement and Marketing craft the new message and create great content. Sales Leaders prepare to introduce the message and shepherd reps toward adopting the new approach. Team development and sales skills practice are scheduled throughout the sessions. The team receives content to review before kickoff, and we assume they all will study it prior to their arrival.

When the reps arrive, we realize that very few people studied the assigned content. Throughout the kickoff, most reps are busy jumping in and out of sessions based on what they feel is important, while a small group of top performers pay close attention. Three days later, they all leave. Just a week or two after the event, reps forget what they “learned,” and little changes.

As you finalize planning for this year’s sales kickoff, take a minute to reflect on last year’s gathering and how to change the equation. While kickoffs can provide valuable interpersonal development for global teams, they often lack the structure to help reps retain information after the event.

This is where the Learning Cycles structure offers significant benefits over the normal approach.

A New Approach

Combining the Learning Cycles structure and the concept of Certify to Fly, we can progressively change our approach to kickoff and deliver better results, all without large changes to the planning process. The goal is to establish three key points across the Cycle:

  • Visibility into who interacts with the core content presented before, during, and after kickoff, and into what sticks.
  • Accountability to ensure that reps and managers actually review materials before kickoff.
  • Measurability of the progress and results of the kickoff investment.

The Learning Cycles framework already creates a structure to any event, but when applied to kickoff, it allows the Certify to Fly framework to be executed across the organization.

Execution

In the new approach, sales leadership sets a standard that all kickoff attendees must Certify to Fly. Every person has to undergo a pre-certification, attend the event, and then follow-up with formal certification and SpotCheck reinforcement exercises.

Combining this arrangement with the power of CommercialTribe’s bi-directional video platform and the Curriculum Blocks that power it allows for a new degree of engagement before, during, and after kickoff.

Instead of receiving content to read or getting on an all-hands call before kickoff, now reps can complete a light learning activity inside a video platform. This ensures that they view highly engaging content, but more importantly gives us a way to track who actually logs in before kickoff, and who does not. For the first time, sales leadership can ensure reps review the core messages, skills, and behaviors before the event.

Over the three-day event, reps and managers engage in practice, review, and role-play, building confidence in the new message by continuously using it in selling scenarios. Reps may be given notecards with a job title and challenge, and are tasked with acting out the message across real scenarios, each demanding adoption of the core principles. Whichever way you apply active learning, the process works.

This time around, reps have already reviewed the core themes of the kickoff messaging and come prepared to ask questions, interact with their peers, and stand and deliver. The key with this framework is that reps are able to participate in a “flipped classroom” model of learning, where they come together with subject matter experts to ask questions and practice. The result is more learning, tailored to each rep’s learning style.

After sales kickoff, reps fly home with an invite already in their inbox to log back into CommercialTribe for a behavioral certification. Like before, reps view, practice, and submit for feedback, but this time they have to deliver the new message or skill at a set standard. Those who pass are certified on the message, and those who struggle are offered additional chances to review and practice.

90-120 days later, reps complete SpotCheck exercises designed to determine who can still execute on the content and who needs help. Now we can push poor performers back into the learning cycle and help them regain their footing before they fail to reach quota.

The Results

By injecting visibility, accountability, and measurability into the process, leadership can see how well the team learns and executes. Visibility into practice across individual videos allows subject matter experts to quickly and easily adjust lessons. Identification of sub-standard rep learning prevents high churn rates and poor organizational performance.

In the real world, executing the Certify to Fly framework across kickoff delivers results in line with these expectations. Here are a few real examples of the principle in action at Corporate Visions and Veritas:

Corporate Visions, Inc.

When Corporate Visions needed to align reps from 4 acquisitions on 6 key Point of View messages, they used CommercialTribe and Certify to Fly for their global kickoff. In the pre-event, reps had to watch best practice examples of the whiteboarding exercise and practice their take. At the event, reps received situational battle cards to practice execution and ask questions instead of practicing on prospects. Afterward, reps entered a formal certification and had to pass on their ability to deliver the right message. Today, nearly 90% of the organization has one of each of Corporate Visions’ products in an advanced sales cycle, and pipeline value has doubled.

Veritas

At Veritas, the organization that devised the Certify to Fly model, the enablement team needed to rapidly scale a new message to the global team before kickoff. Rather than hand instructors a binder of content, they used CommercialTribe to serve up a pre-certification exercise. 135 instructors had to log into the platform, review the Gold Standard execution of the new messages and skills, and certify on it to get their plane ticket. At the event, these instructors taught their reps and practiced, allowing for questions and enhanced learning. After kickoff, the global rep team entered CommercialTribe in waves, practicing and certifying on the right execution. For the first time, the organization was able to scale a new approach to their market-facing message across the global team, and did it in just a two months.

Whether you are just starting to plan your kickoff or have already booked the venue and tickets, I’d welcome the opportunity to further share our approach to sales kickoff with you.

Learning Cycles: A Structure for Sales Training

Bringing structure to your sales training improves seller efficacy

In a follow-up to Part 1 – a profile of efficiency vs. efficacy in sales training – we suggested a framework to help bring structure to sales training.

Here, I’ll share that framework, and answer a key question: “how do you make sales training stick?” Given the ever-growing complexities of the buyer landscape, the question remains a perennial challenge and arguably the key issue facing sales leadership today.

How familiar does this situation sound? Your marketing, sales, and enablement teams launch a new product and decide a webinar is the key communication vehicle. They put a herculean effort into planning the event, build pricing, messaging, and even creating new buyer personas – only to find that reps are multi-tasking during the call. A week later, 70% of the new product messaging is lost. We’ve all seen it happen time and time again.

What happened?

Reps were only given one chance to hear the new message before being asked to take it to market. The event is episodic, only allowing reps one chance to engage, absorb, and apply the content. This all too often mirrors our approach to onboarding, upskilling, weekly sales calls, and many other learning moments.

So how do we actually go about creating training with stickiness? One method we’ve found is to create structure in the form of Learning Cycles.

Learning Cycles

Learning Cycles create opportunities for learning before and after your traditional “event” – a Sales Kickoff, weekly meeting, etc. – creating further structure in our existing commercial processes. The idea is to lift how we think about these events from an episodic, disjointed framework into one that forms part of a cycle of learning.

Learning_Cycles

These phases break down into four key steps: pre-event, the event, post-event, and reinforcement.

Pre-Event

The first part of the learning cycle is the “pre-event,” an introductory engagement, where reps and leaders are exposed to content in a way that is measurable and visible. You might already do something like this – any effort to get content in front of your team and ensure engagement.

Before a new product meeting, reps may watch example content or be asked to read the material, while also undergoing a certification exercise designed to orient reps around the content and ensure their engagement.

The primary goal of the pre-event is to ensure a level of preparation and accountability when learners walk into a formal event. It also helps create buzz and establish a knowledge baseline across the team.

Event

The next step in the Learning Cycle is the event, an opportunity for reps to come together and engage with the content in groups, in a classroom setting, or virtually – such as reps dialing into the weekly all-hands call. The goal is a high-impact blended learning solution that simply features direct engagement with the content and a chance to ask questions or get feedback.

A best practice here is to have reps actually use the content – engaging in roleplay or using battle cards to act out selling scenarios.

Post-Event

After the event, reps are asked to certify on the material presented, designed to both teach and ensure adoption. A certification needs to reinforce what reps learned at the event, giving the first set of insights into the effectiveness of the entire learning event. An effort to periodically check on skills should also be included in the process, either in person or through technology.

On-Going Reinforcement

After, 90-120 days, reps are put through another assessment to gauge their performance against measurable outcomes, such as pipeline metrics. Reps failing to meet the standard can be put back through components of the certification process, utilizing the same tools.

The Learning Cycle structure offers one of the strongest opportunities for reps to truly practice the material and internalize it – before taking it to market. To fully enable the process to work, however, we find that it needs a vehicle that is scalable, engaging, and asynchronous.

We find that the most engaging, impactful way to get content in front of reps is to use video, which a progressive 9% of sales teams already embrace to share content. Yet, video alone is not what works best. To enable practice, communication, and measurement, we need two-way video: the bi-directional video platform.

Bi_Directional_Video

The bi-direction video platform allows a coach to record a best practice video, share and assign it to the right team of reps, and create an opportunity for review and practice. Why use two-way video? Put simply, it creates the best environment for practice, which ultimately leads to the most impactful sales learning.

The content lives in one platform, it provides robust analytics into who practices, how often they practice, and what is actually sticking, resulting in increased visibility and measurability. It also offers asynchronous practice, the ability for reps and coaches can learn anywhere in the world at any time, without the need for travel or coordination.

Building a Curriculum

The Learning Cycle approach, combined with the bi-directional video platform, best enables rep engagement and adoption of the content. But how do you deploy the framework in a structured way? Curriculum building blocks.

Sales training curriculum building blocks

Curriculum building blocks are our contribution to the industry, discrete “blocks” of processes designed to achieve one goal in the learning process. These allow for different treatments for different parts of the learning process, depending on what state of the Learning Cycle you are in.

Our building blocks have different degrees of effort involved, from heavy to light, depending on the goal:

  • SpotCheck – Quickly test rep knowledge without any configuration or formal evaluation, using a short, simple video-based prompt
  • Certification – Develop training or a series of model scenarios for reps to use as a formal certification process, all within the platform
  • Watch & Respond – Light activity that introduces informational content and encourages learners to think critically about a topic
  • Sourcing – Tool to collect best practice knowledge from the field and directly within the team

Alone, these elements are powerful ways to drive education while still maintaining visibility and measurability. Paired with a framework, the Learning Cycle approach, you can create a repeatable, easily deployed learning process across your team.

When the Learning Cycle framework is used to build a curriculum around an event, and combined with specific curriculum building blocks, you produce a strategic approach to learning. All it takes is matching the stages of the learning cycle with the video-enabled tools, based on the need: behavioral certification, knowledge sharing, or retention testing. Certifications before the event, as in the Certify to Fly model, lead to activities during the event and a formal certification afterward. 90-120 days later, reps are continuing to engage and learn with SpotCheck exercises confirming understanding. Those that fail to meet the standard go back through elements of the learning cycle.

sales training spot check

The Learning Cycle provides much-needed structure to sales training to compliment our existing commercial processes. Additionally, the Learning Cycle allows sales enablement greater visibility and accountability of the learning process. The result is learning that works.

As we start to apply these combined learning cycles and curriculum building blocks, we begin to insert frequency and structure into sales training. In Part 3, we’ll share a case study of the Learning Cycles approach in a situation that may be relevant to you right now: Sales Kickoff.

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Your New Strategy for Sales Kickoff: Certify to Fly

Sales Kickoff challenges are enormous, and unfortunately all too common.

We all struggle to coordinate reps on site and verify that they review the new skills, messages, and behaviors we want them to learn. We make Herculean investments in content, travel, and entertainment that can rival the spend on a new product itself. Yet, few benefits seem to extend beyond the event.

This disconnect not only represents real dollars but undermines what we expect our reps to learn each year. At the typical Sales Kickoff, fewer than half of attendees are actually paying attention to all of the critical information shared, and nearly all will forget the content after a month. Without ways to make learning measurable and reinforced, we again risk sending our reps into an expensive, and ultimately fruitless event.

How do we reset the Sales Kickoff equation and provide ample practice and visibility into the event?

Certify to Fly.

The Certify to Fly process, coined by Veritas, serves as a general framework for how to approach a more engaging, impactful, and “sticky” learning event. What Certify to Fly does is enforce a process of learning on what was formerly a single event, and thus guarantee that learners – reps or managers – are becoming familiar with content before traveling. Certify to Fly requires your sales team to either certify in advance of the Sales Kickoff event or lose their ticket to travel.

How Does it Work?

Certify to Fly can be broken down into three general steps that utilize parts of your blended learning solution.

certify_badge Certify

The biggest change to the Sales Kickoff framework actually happens before the event – certification. Typically, we send reps and managers to the event with some degree of pre-work: a white paper and slides to review or all-hands call to dial into. Yet, once we hit “send” on the email or hang up the phone, our visibility into what the team is actually engaged with and what they take away from the content is lost.

With Certify to Fly, sales team members enter a light, message-focused certification exercise before they are given their plane ticket for Sales Kickoff. This ensures that the team reviews content before the event, and allows leadership visibility into who practices, and what they practice.

While we recommend video as the best medium to go about this certification exercise, with its easy scalability, engaging format, and ability to support practice, any form of pre-certification can offer improvements to the status quo. Simply pre-testing reps before they get their ticket can weed out who at least tried to practice from those not willing to engage.

plane Fly

In a normal Sales Kickoff, reps and managers come together for a three-day session in Florida or a trip to the corporate headquarters. With Certify to Fly, the same team only gets their tickets to fly when the pass through pre-certification, guaranteeing that they have at least observed and practiced the skills, messages, and behaviors assigned.

The event itself consists of normal team-building, roleplay, and keynote exercises, where teams can engage in the behaviors and messages that they certified on before the event. Instead of hoping that the team reviewed core materials before joining their peers, we can now ensure that everyone at the event has familiarity with the same content.

reinforce Reinforce

After the event, reps or managers come back and undergo a behavioral certification program and/or periodic skills checks. For CommercialTribe’s video platform, these occur in a video-based Certification and SpotCheck activity cycle, but any certification-based tool in your blended learning solution can deliver some degree of reinforcement. The goal is to simply check on post-event learning and offer reps a route to reflect on what they learned and integrate it into their selling.

Reinforcement ensures that learners are actually re-engaging with the skills or messages after they learn them so that reps can them effectively take it into the marketplace. The more frequently practice occurs, the more likely it is that the learner will master the topic and be able to repeat it later on. Through the 90-120 days following the event, periodic knowledge checks also help identify what lessons are sticking, and which need work.

The Certify to Fly framework can reinvent how we approach Sales Kickoff today. Share your Sales Kickoff story below, and see how Corporate Visions used Certify to Fly to introduce 6 new sales conversations into their global organization.

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