HomeBlog Leveraging Enablement Tools: Lessons From a Horse

Leveraging Enablement Tools: Lessons From a Horse

August 10, 2017 | By Peter Zink

  • On the surface, sales reps may seem fully trained on messaging and new skills right away
  • Sales enablement needs to look beyond the surface when leveraging coaching tools
  • Enablement tools today offer a near real-time method for training and messaging refinement

In 1904, the German board of education formed the Hans Commission – a panel of 13 people that included, among others, a cavalry officer, a veterinarian and a circus manager. They tried to answer one question: Was the horse Clever Hans a fraud? For years, Clever Hans stood in front of live audiences answering arithmetic problems by stomping his foot whenever the right number was called out. Despite a yearlong investigation, the Commission found no fraudulent activity. Three years later, psychologist Oskar Pfungst figured it out: Clever Hans wasn’t solving math problems – he was reading body language. A change in spectator demeanor telegraphed the right answer every time.

As sales enablement professionals, we often see the Clever Hans effect in action in the form of “trained” sales reps. Most reps role-play and certify on trained messaging and new skills immediately following onboarding or initiative-based training, and many organizations leave it at that, assuming satisfactory role-playing equals mastery of new skills.

However, the reality is a little different. Following a major training event, reps often try out what they’ve just learned with customers. First-line managers might even make more time available for reps to further practice new messaging and skills. After a few weeks of commitment, reps start looking for the instant benefits of newly closed business. The first few conversations either yield instant sales success (unlikely) or the same inertia they’re used to (more likely). If the training fails to meet reps’ expectations, they revert to the skills and messaging that’s “worked for them” previously.

Reps need to be fully supported during the tipping point between committing to new skills and reverting to old habits. Change is difficult, and sales enablement should leverage technology beyond onboarding and initiative-based training events to reinforce the skills and messaging reps are expected to master. Beyond the reinforcement benefits, reps should feel like they can advocate for new messaging and approaches and provide feedback on how they’re resonating with customers. Feedback mechanisms included in sales asset management platforms around particular pieces of content and the ability to comment and provide feedback on specific video segments within a coaching platform offer reps the chance to tell sales enablement and sales leaders what’s not working for them with the new training. While every organization should have clear lines of feedback to sales leaders and sales enablement regardless of available technology, many tools provide opportunities to accelerate the feedback loop and gather frank assessments outside of a face-to-face discussion.

If reps feel the technology and tools that reinforce new skills facilitate a two-way conversation, they might be willing to stick with what they’ve recently learned a little bit longer. And by better interfacing with sales reps, sales enablement can refine and tailor training that’s more effective with customers. The first iteration of training is rarely the best one – but today’s technology allows organizations to refine and iterate improvements much faster. Like the crowds who watched in awe as Hans “solved math problems,” enablement leaders cannot assume each training initiative is a success. They should find ways to use their enablement stack continuously for follow-on reinforcement and early rep feedback. To learn about the training opportunities today’s technology can provide to sales enablement, come to SiriusDecisions 2017 Technology Exchange in Austin this October!

Peter Zink

Peter is a driven research analyst for the Sales Enablement Strategies (SES) service at SiriusDecisions. As an analyst, he works with clients to implement best-in-class research and frameworks that pertain to sales enablement organizations across a wide spectrum of industries.


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