Sales training: Can reps set aside their competitive nature?
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Sales training: Can reps set aside their competitive nature?

Salespeople aren’t known for working collaboratively with their colleagues.

Some do, of course. But most people who thrive in sales are intensely focused on their individual achievement and performance. They may like and even respect their colleagues, but at the end of the day it’s a competition and they want to win. So when it comes to group training, they’re likely to roll their eyes and start humming Kumbaya under their breath.

Well, Here’s a little secret you can pass along: Winners win by working together toward a common goal. And when it comes to training, there’s proof — in the form of a study from Stanford University.

Earlier studies have found that when people collaborate in training, they get more out of it. One reason, of course, is because team training tends have richer content. You have more viewpoints, more ideas, more opportunities to practice skills.

But apart from all that, there’s something about the social connection itself that makes training more effective — even when learners only think they’re working with a peer.

An imaginary partner
In the Stanford experiment, people were asked to solve a puzzle. They could work on it as long as they wanted, and give up at any time.

A control group worked alone. Another group was told they had a partner in another room working on the same puzzle. But they had no access to this partner. In fact, the other partner didn’t exist.

In the middle of the exercise, researchers provided a tip to the control group. The experimental group got the same tip, but were told that it came from the partner.

After getting the tip, the experimental group stuck with the task 48% longer than the control group. They were more successful at solving the puzzle. And afterwards, people in the experimental group had greater recall of the puzzle, and expressed greater engagement and enjoyment in the task.

In short, it seems that the people in the experimental group worked harder — and ultimately were more successful — because they didn’t want to let down the invisible “partner” who’d labored so hard to come up with a tip, and had been so generous in sharing it.

If you can accomplish all that with an imaginary partner, imagine how much power you could unleash when real people — who can look each other in the eye — commit to solving problems together. The reps’ motivation is no longer simply about what they can get out of the training. Now it’s also about not letting other people down. And that added social dimension will make learners more persistent and more engaged.

Source: Carr, P. B. and Walton, G. M. (2014). Cues of working together fuel intrinsic motivation. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 53, 169-184.

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