By Jan Sramek
Better training has long held the
promise of being the magic ingredient for improving sales force effectiveness
in the pharmaceutical industry. Despite the obvious potential, however, few
companies have been able to reap the full benefits - and for good reasons.
Sales training presents a unique set of challenges that have historically made
designing a successful program difficult. With the rise of new technologies (e.g.
adaptive learning) and devices (smartphones and tablets), could the tide
finally be changing?
Challenges with Training Sales Reps
As companies around the world
have learned, training sales reps is unlike any other type of training that corporations
tend to run. In particular, methods and styles that work for the general
employee population often fail entirely when used for training sales reps.
Let's start by looking at some of the reasons for why this happens.
1. Providing courses that work. Sales people are outcome-driven: If they
don't feel that the training works and will lead to more sales or commissions,
they won't have the motivation to complete the training. This is less the case
for other types of roles where staff are more willing to give training the
benefit of the doubt when it comes to its eventual use.
2. Calculating ROI on sales training. Similarly, sales managers are driven
by results, i.e. impact of learning on sales. Without analytical tools that
collect data and turn it into information and insights, calculating ROI on
sales training is difficult, and hence few sales managers get excited about
sending reps for further training.
3. Supporting training across platforms, even for individual reps.
Depending on the opportunity, sales reps may need to complete their training
from their laptops, tablets or smartphones. And of course, they expect that
such courses should sync between all three. Few technologies have been able to
make this compatibility truly work so far.
4. Fitting training into sales reps schedules. Sales reps have busy schedules
driven by their focus on closing the next deal. Convincing them to fit in
another training session tends to be a challenge, particularly if the session
can only be completed together and cannot be broken down into smaller parts.
5. Updating courses to reflect latest market intelligence and product developments.
For some companies, product and solution ranges change frequently. For others,
incoming intelligence on competition and market developments is now almost
constant. This requires frequent updates to training materials; this has
historically been hard to do in a cost effective and scalable way.
Changing in Learning Technologies?
Historically, e-learning has been
seen as "PowerPoint slides with questions" training. To put it
differently, the old generation of learning software has used technology as a
"content distribution tool" rather than an actual
"Shipping textbooks over the
Internet" might be faster and cheaper than doing it on paper, but
fundamentally, it's still the same learning method, and not a particularly
effective or user friendly one at that.
It is this design flaw and focus
on presentation of content rather than actual active learning facilitated by
leveraging the true potential of technology that has caused most of the
problems with existing e-learning. It doesn't work, the user experience is
poor, it doesn't produce any meaningful data, only works on some computers and not
mobile phones or smartphones, courses are expensive to create and maintain,
The tide is turning, however, as
two technological inventions in particular have evolved from visionary ideas
into tangible, commercially viable products: adaptive learning and semantic
course authoring. Let's start by introducing both.
Adaptive learning is an
educational method which uses computers as interactive teaching devices.
Computers adapt the presentation of educational material according to students’
learning needs, as indicated by their responses to questions and tasks.
A good adaptive learning platform
will independently model the knowledge of each concept for each person who
takes the course. Often, this will also include a model for how they forget
over time. This then allows the platform to dynamically, continuously adapt the
material and assessment to each individual learner. Such continuous teaching/testing
loop thus creates a fully tailored learning path through the content for each
learner, reflecting their prior knowledge and learning speed.
Semantic courses are a related,
complementary invention that replaces the former presentational paradigm. Under
the old, fundamentally different model, e-learning was used as a way of
distributing "PowerPoint slides with questions.” Semantic courses, on the other
hand, are primarily concerned with the underlying content. They explicitly encode
and codify what we are trying to teach (the domain and its relationships) and
what evidence is required to believe that the student has learned it (what you
Together, adaptive learning and
semantic courses turn e-learning from a way to put some content in front of
people’s eyes into a process of getting knowledge and skills into people’s
As global enterprises with large
sales forces, particularly in industries such as pharma and healthcare, start
deploying these new technologies, ROI on training sales reps online is likely
to increase significantly in a short period of time, driven by the following improvements:
1. Learning experience that leads to permanent knowledge and skill improvement.
By dynamically adapting material to each learner and ensuring correct repetition and
reinforcement, the next generation of
learning tools will ensure that sales reps see a return on the time they're
2. Analytics and dashboards that enable ROI calculations. By capturing
thousands of learning data points with fine precision, the new products will provide tools that sales
organisations need to understand,
assess and optimize ROI on learning initiatives.
3. Offer courses without fixed length or required timing. Adaptive
learning courses automatically provide on-demand learning style. This permits
sales reps to learn in chunks of any size and come back whenever they like,
allowing them to stop at any time and fit bite-sized learning into their
4. Provide complete device and platform independence. By the nature of
their design, unlike the previous generation of learning software, semantic courses support all platforms
(Windows, Android, Mac OS/ iOS) and devices (computers, tablets, smartphones)
from a single platform, without the need to install any native apps. This dramatically widens the audience and reduces
5. Empower marketing and sales support to build courses faster and more
easily. In addition to their benefits for analytics and learning
experience, semantic courses also allow faster, easier course creation. This will permit companies
to leverage their existing expertise
by broadening the range of subject matter experts who can autonomously build courses.
What Will This
Mean for How Companies Use e-Learning?
First, the products will become
more effective, efficient and finally provide a great user experience. This
will in turn improve the reputation of e-learning amongst staff and change its
perception from "PowerPoint slides with questions" to an effective
learning method that people enjoy using.
Secondly, as the developments
above take place, the ROI on next generation learning technologies will become
compelling. In addition, advanced analytics, visualisations, and dashboards
will help senior management finally understand in depth and detail how learning
happens across the company. When they are combined, higher ROI and easier
analysis of results likely will lead to increased investments in online
Jan Sramek is
the CEO & Co-founder of Erudify, www.erudify.com, a software company that provides an enterprise learning
platform. He raduated with a First in
Mathematics and Economics from LSE and Trinity College, Cambridge. Before
founding Erudify, he was a proprietary trader at Goldman Sachs in London.