359: Inside Sales Training, with Ian Jones

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Time is the biggest obstacle when it comes to inside sales training programs, but we can look at proven sales training best practices to help make sure that your team is set up for real success.

We hop the pond to talk to the newest Vendastian: Ian Jones, the VP of Sales Training and Enablement at Vendasta. Ian brings his vast knowledge to the listeners on what it takes to build an inside sales training program. His approach is widely adopted in the learning development of the 70/20/10 model. We dig into the forgetting curve and what information sticks in a 24-hour period, why it’s important to walk through the journey with new hires and what it takes for them to become a sales rep, and how crucial it is to apply consistent training company-wide. This means having a repeatable and scalable training model. You can’t scale suck.

Ian is an experienced sales leader with a track record of delivering transformation and change across a wide range of functions, including Sales, Operations, Training and Enablement, and Digital. He acquired his broad range of experience and knowledge working in a variety of industries over the past 20 years, including insurance, finance and banking, consultancy, media, and tech. Ian has a passion for people development and has led the development and implementation of a number of significant sales talent development programs for frontline sellers and sales leadership. To prove that he practices the personal development mantra that he preaches, Ian is constantly looking for opportunities to develop himself. In recent years, he completed an Executive MBA at The University of Cranfield and became a member of the Chartered Management Institute in the UK.

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George: I’m pretty excited to bring this next episode of the “Conquer Local Podcast” podcast to all of the raging conquerors out there. I met someone here a few months ago. His name’s Ian Jones, and you’re going to hear a lot from Mr. Jones as he has joined us at Vendasta as our VP of Sales Training and Enablement. He comes to us after a long and storied career with a publishing group in the United Kingdom called Argent. And Mr. Jones was responsible for scaling sales organizations in excess of 300 frontline sellers. And in the first interviews, when we started to meet Ian and understand more about him, it was like, “We’ve got to figure out a way to work with this gent.” And I’ve had the privilege of working with him pretty much every day for the past six months or so as we’ve been building out internal sales training protocol for new hires, for existing teams, figuring out how to take struggling reps and get them back to hitting quota, sending them back to an academy. We’ve talked about all of those items and been working diligently to come up with a great training protocol, not only for our inside teams but also for our channel partners and for conquerors like you. So, as I mentioned, you’ll be hearing more from Mr. Jones, not just in this episode, which is upcoming, but in the weeks and months to come as well through the Conquer Local Academy. Mr. Ian Jones, the VP of Sales Training and Enablement at Vendasta, will be our guest next on the “Conquer Local Podcast”.

George: It’s another edition of the “Conquer Local Podcast.” And every once in awhile, I get to bring you some of the goodness that are the colleagues that I have the privilege of working with on a day-to-day basis at Vendasta Technologies. And today, Mr. Ian Jones is joining us. And six months ago, I couldn’t have said colleague because you weren’t at the company, but we’ve been able to attract Mr. Jones and his family to move all the way to Canada from England. And Mr. Jones, welcome to the podcast. I’m excited to introduce you to our audience.

Ian: Thank you, George. I’m excited to be here. I’m excited to be a new member of the Vendasta Family.

George: So Vice President at Sales Training and Enablement, before you joined the rocket ship, give us a little bit of background as to what you were doing.

Ian: Yeah, sure. I’ve spent 20 years in a variety of roles in sales. They’ve always been in the direct sales space both as frontline salesperson early on in my career and then in a variety of management and leadership roles, but I’ve also spent about 30% of my time in people development roles, training, and enablement and I’ve flitted back and to across frontline sales and training and enablement more than once. And I think that’s given me an interesting perspective on what’s required to support sales activity and drive high-performing sales teams. And that’s what I hope to bring to the party at Vendasta.

Inside Sales Training

George: One of the things that I’m a big believer in is you can’t scale suck. And by putting together a good foundation and building a program where not just one rep, not just the top performer could be successful, but all reps could be successful, really is the key to scaling a high-performance sales organization. In your experience, what are some of the big bottlenecks that could happen when you’re trying to build out that scalable sales model?

Ian: Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. One of the things that I’ve seen time and time again is organizations struggling to transition from that cottage industry approach to building sales capability and supporting the onboarding and development of new hires to really having a systematic, consistent, thorough approach that takes all of the best practices from across the organization and applies them consistently. So that’s a regular bottleneck that I’ve experienced. It’s not an easy transition to make. Sales leaders and managers are notorious for hiring and developing in their own mold. And often, we find that training and development or learning and development, as we refer to it here in the UK, often sits within human resources or people operations and struggles on occasion to get traction with those sales leaders. So building robust and meaningful relationships with the sales force, with the sales guild and particularly the leaders, and having the respect of the sales force and the sales leaders as those that are tasked with building capability is crucial.

George: You’ve scaled organizations in excess of 300 salespeople going through a training Academy and you’ve been doing that for a number of years. So I was excited to get you on the broadcast today to share some of those learnings you’ve been teaching me over the last couple of months on some of these programs. The one thing that I really liked was you heard the episode around being the four levels of competency, and then you built a training program… No, I don’t think that’s actually how it went, but we just recently did that episode on the four levels of competency, and it’s one of the big things that you believe as you start to build a training program for a salesperson. Give us your lens on those four levels of competency.

Ian: Yeah, absolutely. So I’m a big believer in learning and development, training, and development interventions being underpinned by some theory. And one of the theories that I have used time and time again is the competency ladder or the competency framework, the four stages of competency. And I think it’s so wonderfully simple framework that allows both the learners and those responsible for delivering the learning and making the learning a reality. It’s a wonderfully simple framework within which you can contextualize that learning journey, the stages, or the steps that the individual is going to go on. And so you’ve rightly said, I brought this with me to Vendasta and the onboarding in the induction program that we’ve been working on with our new sales professionals. This is one of the core theories that underpin the approach that we take to learning and development and building competent and effective salespeople. And we actually run a session with the guys. I’m running it tomorrow with the latest cohort of inductees. The title of the session is Learning to Learn. And we take them through the fundamental principles that underpin the approach, the strategies that we take to learning so that they can comprehend and understand the process that they’re going to go through and why we do some of the things that we do. And in my experience, in my opinion, when a learner understands, has pre-warning of the journey that they’re going to go on, the steps that they’re going to go through, how they’re going to feel as they move from that completely unconscious incompetence where they simply don’t know what they don’t know all the way through to this level of mastery or unconscious competence which is the thing that we’re striving for. Once we can explain to them the journey they’re gonna go on and how it’s gonna feel, I think they’re much more willing to embrace the learning interventions that we put in front of them.

Learn how to Learn

George: You said something very interesting, and its understanding of the subject is ready to learn how to learn. And I know over your career, cause you and I’ve talked about this and I know I felt that this pain, you stand up in front of a group of folks, you deliver a masterful training program, and then they pick up on some of that, or they don’t. And usually it’s the latter. You have realized over the years that there needs to be this level of repetition to truly make that competency stick so that it just becomes something that you just unconsciously do. Where did this come from, this idea of this repetition, and what level of repetition are we talking about in order to really make that learning stick?

Ian: Yeah, I don’t mind sharing that at all. It’s very generous of you to say I’ve realized, but I’m really just standing on the shoulders of those that have gone before me here, George. The theory that I subscribed to and learned about during my time in consultancy while I was working for an organization here in the UK called Silent Edge. The theory is based on the work of a German psychologist called Hermann Ebbinghaus. The work’s over 100 years old now, but he’s famous for the forgetting curve. The model that he proposed from his research is often referred to as the forgetting curve. And he did a huge amount of research over a 20 year period from about 1890 to 1910 about how people acquire information and then the degradation of that information over time. And he actually concluded that as much as 50%, 50 to 60% of the information that you acquire in a learning intervention can be lost within a 24 hour period. But he also did a lot of research into how do we stop that degradation? How do we reverse it? And came up with an optimal frequency of additional learning interventions, repetition to try and reinforce and underpin the knowledge that was transferred in that very first session. And his research concluded that with as few as five or six repetition sessions over a three-month period, you can achieve levels of retention in excess of 95%. So again, this is another one of the theories that we use in everything that we do when we build these learning journeys. It’s to make use of this research that was done and has been proven over 100 years and to make sure that the repetition that we put into the learning interventions, the learning journeys that we build for our staff, is optimized to make the learning as efficient as possible. We don’t wanna have to repeat something 10 times if five times will achieve 95% plus levels of retention. And again, this is something we teach our new recruits. So tomorrow, I’ll be taking the latest cohorts of new Ventasians and sales professionals through this model and explaining to them that although you may feel repetition is boring sometimes, it’s crucial to acquiring and retaining that knowledge.

George: Well and learning management systems and the ability to go back and learn at your own pace, that’s really the norm now that we have rather than you’ve just got the instructor and if you don’t get it during that session, you’re not gonna get it. We do have the ability to do repetition with technology, which helps. The exciting thing that I wanna share with our audience is that Ian’s brilliance when it comes to sales training and enablement is not just for the internal team at Vendasta, although that is a robust enough challenge as it is, it also is the ultimate goal that we have to take that material and provide it to our channel partners and maybe even some of that material could be provided to their customers as well. Because I think we all have the same issues when it comes to understanding digital marketing funnel, understanding demand generation, understanding… You name it. It’s not just the internal teams. It also is our channel partners and then their customers that can be utilizing this knowledge. So it’s gonna be a much, much broader scope, and you will be seeing a lot of it inside the academy and the community as we continue to move this forward. What do you think is one of the biggest challenges, Ian, when you’ve over the years you’ve been coming into these organizations? What’s one of the biggest challenges in building that systematic training and onboarding approach?

Ian: Well, that’s a good question. There are so many, and I think a lot of them depend on the organization. A common one for me is time, okay? Investing in people’s personal development and their training is a time-consuming task. And it’s not why they’ve been employed. They’ve been employed to do a specific task or fulfill a specific need for the organization and its customers. And if we bring it back to sales, we want our salespeople ramped and achieving quarters as quickly as possible. So for me, one of the big challenges is how do I convince leadership within an organization, leadership within a sales function, that the investment that’s required, the time that we need to take this new hire or even this existing salesperson away from their day job is going to pay dividends. And a big way of doing that is by helping them understand the process we put these guys through. I like to think of learning as a process, and the process that we put these recruits through, all these external learners through, is based on sound theory and that the learning journey is as efficient as it possibly can be. You’ve mentioned technology being a huge facilitator, and I couldn’t agree more. Long gone are the days where we need to lock somebody in a room for four weeks, for eight hours a day, and the transfer of knowledge is from one human being to another. There are creative ways in which we can leverage technology to ensure that the sequencing of the repetition, for example, is delivered in the most efficient and optimal frequency to mean that the downtime away from the day job is as low as it possibly can be.

The 70-20-10 Model

George: Tell me about the 70-20-10 math that you run when it comes to building these programs. I think our listeners will really appreciate the science behind it.

Ian: Yeah, of course. 70-20-10 has been around for a good number of years, and you only need to Google it and do a little bit of reading to see that it’s very widely adopted in the learning and development world these days. In fact, I saw one claim recently. I think it was on a LinkedIn article that said between 80 and 90% of the 500 biggest organizations globally have the 70-20-10 model sitting at the core of their learning and development strategy. The numbers themselves represent the proportion of time that a learner will spend performing particular types of activities or learning interventions to move towards the level of competence. So the 10 references, what you would call traditional learning, classroom-based learning, the consumption of content, the reading of books. But its development through structured courses and programs. And only 10% of the time should be spent on that type of intervention. The 20 is learning through others. Communal learning or peer-to-peer learning, where you work with colleagues and peers to develop your capability. And then 70% of learning should come through experience, experiential learning, and self-development where the learner really takes responsibility themselves and is often applying the theoretical that has been acquired at the 10% of learning and refining their ability to apply it and use it.

George: Well, there’s the 70-20-10 as only Mr. Ian Jones can tell it. And it definitely makes sense when you break it down that way. I find it interesting that you are calling out what I believe to be one of the big misses when it comes to onboarding an inductee. And I would love to get… Call, I know you will. Call me out if you don’t agree. But it’s this idea of… Well, we’re just gonna take Suzie, and she can just shadow Colleen for the next two months, and she will become Colleen. It’s the time wasted in that shadowing because it really depends upon the person that’s the shadow, and it depends upon what’s going on in their funnel and their pipeline. Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t spend time with a rep that’s doing it, but it shouldn’t be the only thing that’s part of training.

Ian: I totally agree, George. And that sort of shadowing time, that would definitely come into the 20% for me and should make up no more than 20% of the learning experience that new hire has. One of the big problems with this approach, in my opinion, is the… Well, I’ll reference two, actually. The first is the lack of theory, sound learning theory that will tend to go into that type of development program because the person, the expert that’s being shadowed, simply doesn’t have the knowledge and understanding of the principles of learning to be able to convey the information, the learning objectives in the most efficient and effective manner. The other one for me is that I often refer to sales as being a blend of science and art. The scientific elements are the bits that are repeatable and definable best practices. There are certain things that we know simply need to be within the makeup of an effective salesperson. And it really doesn’t matter what industry, product, or service you take to market. The ability to build rapport, the ability to prep for a meeting, and set the scene early on in a meeting. There are definable best practices that we can take and train efficiently and effectively. And for me, they’re just a couple of the many elements that I consider to be the science of selling. Then you’ve got the art, the bit that is unique in each sales interaction, in each salesperson because it’s based on the soft skills, the experience that that individual has and the way that they communicate, the nuances of the way that they’re communicating. And for me, an effective onboarding experience with regards to sales is really focusing on the models and the tools and the frameworks, the scientific element of the what, and then supporting each one of those inductees or those new hires to be able to apply them in their own way, in a way that they’re comfortable. Because for me, that’s the shortest route to success and optimal sales performance.

In Closing

George: We could go on and on and on, but I’m getting the signal that our time is up. Mr. Ian Jones, Vice President of Training and Enablement at Vendasta Technologies, it’s been a privilege working with you over the last few months, and I’m looking forward to what we might be able to accomplish here as we move forward. And thank you for taking a few minutes out of your time and joining us on the “Conquer Local Podcast.”

Ian: Likewise, George, looking forward to it.

George: Mr. Ian Jones, VP of Sales Training and Enablement and the four levels of competence. So interesting. We just covered that in an episode a little while ago. And Ian has it as one of his key components of any curriculum. And then that idea of the forgetting curve, it actually makes a lot of sense. Have you ever attended a session, webinar, listened to a podcast, half an hour later, you can’t even remember a quarter of it because maybe you were on LinkedIn scrolling or trying to multitask, which most people can’t do very well. Having that idea of a level of repetition that is based on science so that your organization has a much better chance of retaining, boy, wouldn’t that be great? Ian covers that inside this episode. And then this idea of 70-20-10. And when I first… He put that up on a slide, and I’m like, “Oh, thank God somebody who gets it.” We can’t just always have that shadowing motion. And if we don’t layer in theory underneath, shadowing doesn’t work because usually with shadowing comes a whole bunch of colloquial phrases and acronyms and things that you would have to have the underlying curriculum to understand. So you need the theory. Yes, you definitely need the shadowing. The 70-20-10 is a really important piece to this. Learning through others, the traditional learning through the books, and then just getting in there and experiencing it and taking responsibility to get to some of those key learnings is a… It’s gonna be a game-changer for organizations that adopt this type of learning system. And then that idea of building a system and building a process and then measuring it and see if it’s giving you the results, truly putting a training methodology in place. It is something that I’ve long wanted to do. And definitely now, we have the competency in our organization with Mr. Jones to make that happen. Hope that you found today’s episode to be as enlightening as I found Ian’s information to be months back when he first shared it with me, Mr. Ian Jones, VP of Training and Enablement, this week on the “Conquer Local Podcast,” you can continue the conversation with Ian or any of our guests in the “Conquer Local Community.” And inside the community, we can carry on topics, you can reach out to any of our guests, and you can also leave suggestions for season 4, which is just around the corner. In 2021, we will start into our 4th season, and we’re looking for ideas, concepts, things that you would like us to interrogate, maybe even guests that you would like us to reach out to, to bring onto the show. We’re looking forward to hearing from you as we start to plan for 2021 and season 4 of the “Conquer Local Podcast.” On behalf of Brent, our sound engineer in the Sound Lounge, and Producer Colleen, my name is George Leith. I’ll see you when I see you.

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