Amplify10 was formerly known as Featurewave

Fireside Chat: Training and Staying Sharp with Ben Allen (Go1)

Listen in as Joe Parlett discusses how Sales Training expectations have evolved with Ben Allen of Go1. What does today's employee want and expect? How do we make training engaging so that it sticks?

Joe Parlett – Hey, folks. Joe Parlett here with Featurewave. Thank you for joining. We’re having a series of fireside chats where we have conversations with various subject matter experts, typically in the area of training, sales, sales training, sales enablement. And today I’m joined by my friend and colleague, Ben Allen. I’ll introduce Ben a little bit more formally in just a minute. Before I do, I’ll let you know a little bit about what Featurewave is. It’s an AI-driven sales co-pilot that runs in Salesforce.

Now, our guest of the day is Ben Allen, and Ben and I worked for many years together at Apttus. Ben had a variety of strategic leadership roles in sales and marketing. He was a GM as well and he’s now the Chief Marketing Officer of Go1. Ben Allen, great to see you. Thank you for joining. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about Go1 and what your role is there and responsibility at the company?

Ben Allen – Great. Thanks for having me, Joe. Go1 is the leading aggregator of learning and development content as it is a platform that plugs into whatever learning platform a company might be using for its corporate training, whether that be sales enablement or whether it be compliance training or general upskilling and reskilling. Go1 aggregates all of the content from the top publishers worldwide and provides a way for organizations to access an enormous drove of training that is so large that they are guaranteed to find something quality and relevant for their specific situation. And the magic for us is not just the vast expanse of our library, but in the way we employ technology to do the right sort of matching to ensure quality and relevance for every learner, because really matters to engage people in the mode in which they want to be engaged to make sure that the learning sticks.

So at Go1, I’m responsible for our marketing efforts and a lot of that has to do with co-marketing with our learning platform partners, but also just in evangelizing a new modern era of learning and development. So excited to be here, excited to represent Go1 and interested to get into these topics.

Joe Parlett – Yeah. Thank you, Ben. Sounds like a huge time-saver and value add for the folks that are using your platform. Training is not easy to do and it’s a labor of love and an ongoing responsibility that never ends.

Training Employees and Keeping Them Sharp

And that’s what we’re here to talk about today. Today’s topic for this chat is training employees and keeping them sharp. As I mentioned, not easy to do. Neither of these things are easy to do. Getting them onboarded, trained, enabled on your products and systems and the changes which will continue to occur over time as your business evolves, it’s not easy to do. And today’s learners, frankly, today’s employees, they’ve got different expectations, especially from the time that I was first being trained in the business world where I would sit in a classroom, lecture-style training, presenter up in front who would preach to us or lecture to us with a PowerPoint and we would sit there and take copious notes. Things have changed. You can’t really get away with that anymore with the modern-day employee. So, Ben, how have expectations changed these days? What does today’s employee want and expect? How do we go about effectively training these folks so that they will learn and want to be there?

Ben Allen –  Yeah, I think there’s a few trends that have emerged and they sort of parallel the advance of technology, but I guess it starts with the idea that a lot of training has boiled down to basically sitting in the room and being talked at. And I don’t think that anyone really at their core thinks that’s the way that they want to spend their time, but it has been one of the primary ways that training is developed and comes from academia. It comes from sitting in lecture halls and really from a one-to-many approach. As we sort of have advanced in technology and have the ability to be more personalized and to address people where they live and on the topics in which they are most passionate and some of the topics in which we need them to be trained, like compliance topics, it no longer really has to be a one-to-many approach. Technology is enabling a lot more specific training for not just the subject matter that I need to learn, but the type of industry that I’m in or the level in my career, how much time I’ve spent in a particular role, my own experience outside of work. It can be a lot more personalized. And we sort of think about it as learning having moved out of a classroom setting and more into a cafeteria setting or a social setting. I’d also say that people in the modern era expect to be engaged. They don’t expect to just be talked at. They expect to be sort of participating in the learning experience. And that means that, again, it needs to be able to be fundamentally interactive. It has to have the types of things that keep you sitting and wanting more rather than sitting there waiting for when this particular learning session is gonna be over. So the last thing I’ll mention is there is a generational divide that is becoming more apparent where moving from a world of just understanding what are the basic facts and the data I need to know to articulate the value prop from the solution that I’m selling or what our company does, there’s a much greater focus from the younger demographics now to be engaged in coaching and development and how do I advance and how do I become better?

Experiential Sales Training vs Textbook Learning

And very little of that is textbooks learning. A lot of that is experiential. A lot of that is getting repetitions, learning by doing. So it is a very different world than those classrooms that you and I sat in where we absorb information, take notes, hope to pass a test at the end of the week, and then hope that we retain some of that information when it becomes relevant 30, 60, 90 days later.

It is much more of an ongoing continuous social, but fundamentally needs to be an engaging activity as well.

Joe Parlett – Yeah. And speaking of that, when we need the material, when we need to recall the material that was presented to us or that we learned about 30, 60, 90 days later, that’s another part of the challenge as well.

And we are humans. We’re not robots. So there is a forgetting curve and it’s real and it’s fast and we lose a lot of information really fast, especially me. So trying to keep folks sharp and maybe just-in-time training and maybe we don’t teach them everything that’s in the entire library at once, but maybe in more bite-sized chunks is something that’s more digestible and realistic for them to get value from.

Facts and Memory in Sales Training

Ben Allen – Yeah, I think one of the things that I’ve noticed is much of corporate training has to do with fact consumption, whether that is facts about compliance rules and regulations or facts about the product or facts about the company that we are representing and selling. And I think an appropriate question to ask, especially in our modern technological environment, is why do I need to remember all of these facts when the internet exists and AI exists and all of these things are at our fingertips? What do I really need to learn and commit to memory?

And what we’re seeing is that it’s more about behaviors that need to be learned and sometimes these types of engagement that you want to have from an interpersonal perspective and those types of things aren’t things that you memorize and write down a note about. Those are things that either need to be experienced and practiced in real-life repetition. And then for the fact-based thing, you just need to be able to have a way to recall those things at your fingertips when and if they are necessary. I think we all in our training flood people with more information than we can expect them to remember, but we don’t get to choose what they remember. And so being very particular about what are the few things you need to know, but then what are the experiences that you can go through that will help reinforce those and give you the muscle memory so that you can always be on your toes with the ability to sort of be pivoting and audible ready, as one of the maxims in our industry goes, but able to have sort of a core of ability to execute that’s based more on your development as a person and your leadership style and all that sort of stuff, rather than just regurgitation of facts.

As the internet has done with just about every other thing, facts are commoditized and they’re not terribly unique. And so what is the uniquely human element that you can bring as something that people are very interested in and learning and developing as well?

Joe Parlett – Yeah, personal style and storytelling, certainly valuable, especially in sales. Okay, so we’re training let’s say sellers and what happens if we don’t train them in their preferred forum or format? Is there rejection, refusal to learn, forget faster? Like what are some of the things that you observe happening when this occurs?

Ben Allen – Yeah, this is something that I think probably my first or at least most meaningful memories come from, Joe.

When we were working together at Apttus, there was a year I think that we hired about a hundred salespeople in one year and that was roughly a doubling of our sales capacity. And we brought all of those people in and did a pretty robust training program. We had pre-learning work that they needed to do before they even came on board. We had a week-long bootcamp. We had follow-up trainings, webinars, all that sort of stuff.

And when you’re dealing with a large population like that, a hundred people at a time or something, you can see real-time in the room who is really loving that format and whose eyes are glazing over and who is certainly gonna fail the certification at the end of the week because they couldn’t stick with exactly how we were teaching them. And that is not necessarily correlated with who’s gonna be successful in sales because very little of what you’re doing in a sales job has to do with the types of learning that are going on in a classroom setting.

I mean, those classroom settings tend to be one-way communications. Sales is about two-way communication. And the list goes on with all of the ways in which those things are different. Ultimately, and in that role that I had that experience, it was in a sales enablement role, but when I talk to people in learning and development across the industry, that’s not unique to sales. That is just human nature. We have to address people in a way that engages them and gets them to have the energy, the buy-in, sort of the want to do it.

How to Measure Success of Sales Training

And really at a point where there’s a lot of different ways to measure how successful training has been, whether it’s quizzes or on-the-job performance or productivity enhancement, the most basic way that anyone can measure any sort of training is engagement.

Did people engage in it? While they were engaged in the training, were they lively and active or were they just waiting for it to be complete? And were they really personally invested in it?

And I think when we don’t, not just train sellers in their preferred form, when we don’t engage humans in a way in which they find invigorating, energizing, then you just, you lose them and you don’t get knowledge retention. You risk alienating them because they know what they need to be successful.

They know what they’re missing. And if all you’re doing is shoving facts down their throat in a way in which they can’t absorb it, you’re just not gonna get the impact that you would expect. I mean, I think a lot of people think of training as an exercise where people without knowledge sit in front of someone with knowledge and that person transfers the knowledge to them. But that transfer is either high fidelity or low fidelity based on a number of factors, one of them being is this the format in which I learn best?

How to Make Sales Trainings Engaging

When companies or anyone who’s trying to teach anyone anything offer a variety of formats, whether they’re audio or whether it’s just-in-time on-demand training or whether it’s a searchable library, when you’re able to offer a variety of formats, not only do you sort of get that benefit of variety that switches things up from being just pure vanilla all the time, you’re far more likely to engage people in a way, in a mode, in a format that is actually their favorite.

We hear a lot about things like, I’m an auditory learner or I’m a visual learner and whether or not those things are actually phenomena, I think we all have an experience of the types of learning that makes us fall asleep versus the types of learning where we felt like that was energizing and it’s not the same for everyone. And finding that requires you to understand where the learner is coming from, but also to meet that learner with something that will engage them and that fundamentally requires variety of formats.

Joe Parlett – Yeah, agree. Gotta meet them where they are. Gotta speak to them in their language. Makes a lot of sense. It’ll be way more impactful. All right, so let’s see here.

Keeping people sharp. As I mentioned at the top end of the discussion, things change, products change, the company changes, how we do things change, systems change.

How to Keep Your Sales Team Sharp

There’s probably a lot of overlap between bringing somebody up to speed at the outset and keeping them sharp as the company, as the business changes. How do we do that? What’s an effective way to give people the bite-size updates that they need but are critically important for them to absorb and accept and retain?

Ben Allen – Yeah, my experience and a lot of what we see at Go1 is that while people desperately want to train people on the what, meaning the facts, the who, what, where, when, all of that, it’s far more important to engage people on the how, how do I learn, how do I get the information that is most relevant, most up to date, and how do I become, for instance, as an example, more skilled at using Google as a search engine or more skilled at using ChatGPT to help me find something or to help me craft or refine an idea?

I think as I think back through just the technology landscape and what it means to keep people sharp, the bar has just gotten much higher. In old hardware cycles, whether it’s PCs or the early cell phones that were coming out, you know, new models came out maybe once a year. You’re training your sales staff on the features, benefits, functions, all that sort of stuff of a model. That information has a shelf life of about a year and then the next year you train ’em on the new model.

A New Era of Speed of Information

Now we enter an era of SaaS where your Salesforce, there’s three new releases each year or many software companies do four releases a year and each of those is gonna have its own next wave of features and benefits and things that you want to train someone on.

And what you find is that in order to keep pace, you have to just keep doing more and more and more of that impartation of facts. And you’re finding the shelf life of those facts is much shorter than it used to be because you’re coming out with more and more new features and benefits all the time. And now we’re at a point with AI and with internet and everything that continuous deployment and feature updating on real time is a thing.

And so it’s quite possible that features that are in our platform today weren’t there yesterday, and in the meantime, there may not have been a training session about what that particular feature was. And so keeping people sharp is sort of the onus on people who are needing to impart the information, people who are needing to keep people sharp is understanding how to train those people to look for the information, to find what they need, to get it on a just-in-time basis.

‘How’ versus ‘What’ in Sales Training

And that’s much more about behavioral training and sort of how to do things than the what. I think we may already be in the area where it is no longer feasible to be able to train people on the what fast enough because the rate of change is just too steep.

So if we can train them on how to engage, how to ask the right questions and the right quality of questions, same as you would do in a sales cycle, but doing the same thing internally.

How do you train people to do discovery on the information that they’ll need to know to do their job well is more important than any particular fact that you want to train them. So keeping them updated in a way actually requires you to empower that user more than it does require you to have a super set of training capabilities. How do you start to transfer the ability to find the knowledge, to find the subject matter expertise, to find whatever might be relevant for a micro-niche situation that you’re in without having to be trained on it explicitly?

That’s probably the biggest change that we’re seeing in the learning environment and we see it everywhere. There is a tendency historically in learning and development and in sales enablement to give people quizzes at the end of a training session to see how well they retain their knowledge. Not that that’s wrong, but it’s not a preferred mechanism for most people and really for not just information acquisition, but for making that part of your knowledge base, it really requires you to have an experience of that learning, to have some repetition of that learning, to have an aha moment for yourself.

And in that sense, we see people starting to move away from this historical version of training people on subject matter, quizzing them, and more putting people into real-time situations where they’ll have to think on their feet, they’ll have to consult resources that have an endless supply of facts and you’ve gotta prepare them to find the needle in the haystack that they need to answer that specific question at that moment in time.

The Importance of Personal Enablement in Sales Training

So I guess, Joe, the long answer or maybe the short answer of that, the short version of that long answer is you have to enable people to keep themselves sharp. You can’t just rely on superpower of sales enablement or superpower of learning and development to constantly be cramming facts into people’s brains.

You have to equip people to be able to be nimble and agile in the moment to find the information that they need, with a background of baseline understanding of how the whole system works together so that they can fit that new information into their mental schema so it’s not just a factoid, but it is accretive to how they are thinking about the problem in the first place.

Empowering Sales Teams with the Power of Information

But it is really, like many things in the internet era, putting more power in the hands of the people who are actually needing to use that information.

And so that’s where the bullseye is is putting the power into the hands of the people who need to be trained so that they can seek out the training, the information, the knowledge that they need at the point in time when they need it and not drown ’em in it at the point in time that they don’t need it.

Joe Parlett – Right. Yeah, makes sense. I definitely subscribe to that way of thinking, giving them just the information that they can retain.

We’re gonna forget a lot, but by hearsay, give them the tools so that when they do forget these nuggets of information, that they have an ability to navigate the system or the different systems or the company to get to the answers that they need and hopefully in a just-in-time manner because that’s what we’ve become conditioned to receive.

Nobody has patience anymore and because we have all the answers, pretty much all the answers at our fingertips and that’s what we expect in our personal lives and that’s what we’re demanding and expecting in our professional lives as well.

So we better deliver it, but it’s not easy to do. All right, final question for you.

Do you have a single best tip for the audience on ensuring sharpness for your teams, for your employees? Whether it’s sales teams, marketing teams, facilities teams, operations, marketing, you name it, any best tips?

The Importance of Making Sales Training that Sticks

Ben Allen – Yeah, this, it may sound odd coming from the CMO of a company that delivers content at scale, but I think the best tip that I would give anyone in sales enablement or learning and development or any of these sort of training functions is to stop thinking so much about the specific content and to think about other things that will make the learning stick.

Think about the format that it’s coming in, think about the forum in which it’s being delivered, think about how engaging it is.

All of this sort of, you might call it metadata about the training where the training itself is the data. You want people to consume that data. You want that data to be part of how they’re responding to questions from customers or part of their knowledge base.

But in order for that seed to germinate, the soil has to be fertile and the soil becomes fertile when you understand how to make that knowledge stick.

Survey Your Sales Team for Learning Styles

So I encourage everyone to, even if it’s just on a small scale, survey their teams about how do you prefer to learn? How do you engage? Do you want to listen to things on audio? Do you want to have asynchronous digital video content?

Sometimes saying things in words or in framing like that makes those things sound more exotic than they are, but it’s really just, do you want to listen to things? Do you want to watch things? Do you want to interact with people? Do you want to do this with a mentor or a coach? Do you want to do this in an experimental, experiential sort of environment?

Those are the types of things that if you haven’t done the pre-work of making sure that whatever you’re gonna be teaching sticks, then you may as well not go about teaching it in the first place because you’re gonna be scattering seed on dry land. You want to make sure that you have a good understanding of what it’s going to take for absorption before you start to spend all of your time and energy on what is the specific content, what’s the facts within the content, and how do I shove those facts into someone’s brain?

So really it comes down to, Joe, the same thing that is probably important in sales and important in just about every facet of communication, which is understand your audience.

Joe Parlett – Yep.

Ben Allen – Take the time to understand your audience and you’ll be far better served in getting your information to stick.

Joe Parlett – Yep. Completely agree and it makes a lot of sense. Good tip. Thank you, Ben. That pretty much wraps things up, but now, I had almost forgotten, almost, how eloquent and articulate you are, but we spent a lot of years together, so I didn’t completely forget, so, and anyways, in appreciation for your time, Ben, we want to make a donation to one of your favorite charities. Does one come to mind that we can make a donation in your name?

Ben Allen – One does come to mind. I’m not actually certain that it’s a charity, but I love the concept of Girls Who Code. I remember being one of the early adopters. I would go check out library books on how to code BASIC on our Apple II PC at home. And as I’ve seen not just the rise of computer science and the internet and all that, you know, modern technology, but also how engagement in that has evolved, number one, it does seem like certain demographics were overserved and others were underserved in doing this and also in the modern era of apps and widgets and smartphones, there’s also a risk that really deeply understanding the technology and coding and the logic that goes into all of that can be missed. So as a father of four kids, three of them girls, I think that Girls Who Code provides a phenomenal forum and opportunity for people to get access to experiences that they may not have had access to in the past and that will be fundamentally important to their impact on the world and enjoyable at the same time. So that’s my vote.

Joe Parlett – Fantastic. Very familiar with it and we will be making a donation in your name. Appreciate it, Ben.

Ben Allen – Thanks, Joe.

Joe Parlett – That’s it. Ben, that was great. I’d love to do it again. We appreciate your time.

Ben Allen – We do have more.

Joe Parlett – Yeah. We do have more discussions. You can see the site there if you want to take a look at more of these conversations. Ben, talk to you soon. Thank you, buddy.

Ben Allen – Thanks, Joe.

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