From Learning to Marketing, One Leader’s Worthwhile Switch

Education and learning assist everyone’s growth.

Successful marketers need to fully understand their customers. For Andrea Grodnitzky, the new chief marketing officer at Richardson Sales Training, her customers are learning leaders at some of the world’s top sales organizations.

Grodnitzky spent the prior year as Richardson’s chief learning officer. She’s been with the sales performance improvement company for almost 14 years, working with founder Linda Richardson to develop core programs and eventually lead the design and facilitation teams. As CLO, Grodnitzky took on a customer-facing role, writing thought leadership pieces and representing Richardson to existing and prospective clients. Thus, the transition to CMO came naturally.

“Our customers are both sales professionals and learning leaders,” she explained. “I’ve been working with these folks for quite some time, so it’s nice to bring that knowledge with me to this new role.”

She spoke to Chief Learning Officer about sales organizations’ learning needs and the trends shaping them.

Andrea Grodnitzky
Andrea Grodnitzky

Richardson is a 37-year-old company. How have the learning needs of sales teams changed over time?

The most dramatic changes have happened in just the past few years. First, both business buyers and consumers have changed their buying behavior due to the availability of information online and advances in mobile technology; we can now ask opinions and research products instantly. This shift means sales people must be upskilled to engage with today’s hyperinformed customers.

Second, the pace of business has sped up. In some ways, technology has helped salespeople become more efficient, but expectations from management and customers have increased as well. Learning solutions now need to fit into busier lifestyles. Companies need to prioritize skills training, and make sure that learning is bite-sized, easily-accessible and relevant.

Finally, higher buying expectations have led many companies to form extended sales teams with individuals who don’t have formal sales backgrounds. Learning leaders need to ensure they provide these teams with the right knowledge and skills.

Richardson works with many Fortune 500 and Fortune 1000 clients. Are there any training strategies common to these companies that contribute to their success?

There are certainly a variety of approaches, but there are some common themes we see in our most successful clients:

  1. They decide what success looks like before they begin. They identify the key performance indicators that matter to them, and then partner with firms like us to create the right measurement approach. They also look at their progress along the way to inform their continued investment and adjust to learner needs.
  2. They have strong buy-in from leadership, in words and actions. Strong organizations orchestrate senior leader buy-in and ongoing engagement as part of their plans, making sure leaders themselves understand the importance of their investment and role in training initiatives.
  3. They ensure that learning is contextual and relevant. Sales professionals don’t like spending time on activities they don’t perceive as important. Successful organizations connect the dots on how their programs will help them meet targets by utilizing case studies and real-life scenarios.

Sustaining sales behaviors taught during training is one of Richardson’s key goals. What mistakes do organizations often make reinforcing learning in the field?

Sales managers are an important investment area; their support is critical for any learning initiative to succeed. But learning leaders often take for granted that managers know how to observe and coach. For example, a manager may understand the importance of a strong opening with a customer, but their coaching will be watered down if they haven’t been taught the observable behaviors to watch for.

Organizations also need to train managers on how to coach effectively. Most managers are former sales professionals, but the skills that helped them succeed in sales can conflict with those needed to be a great coach. A sales manager might be itching to take over a sales encounter, but they need to learn to step back, and develop their team members’ skills.

We talked about trends that have already affected sales teams, but are there any new learning trends we may see in 2017 and beyond?

We’ve spent some time listening to our clients during advisory boards and quarterly meetings, and here’s what we’re hearing:

Mobile learning: It’s no longer just nice to have. It’s been on the horizon, but not all sales organizations are quite there. Sales people live on their phones; if you want to reach them, that’s where to go.

Expectations: Learner expectations are no longer based on other training programs. Learning organizations need to take a cue from digital spaces like Facebook, YouTube and Google, where people spend most of their time.

Personalization: Engaging content meets learners exactly where they are on the learning journey. New technology and techniques allow organizations to personalize content without massive effort.

Analytics: We’re in the “show me” age. Learning leaders will see increased efforts to track and display impactful results. The key is to tell the story around the data.

Nidhi Madhavan was an editorial intern for Chief Learning Officer. Comment below or email