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Gearing up for Growth and Achieving Sales Readiness at Scale Through Hybrid Learning Sales is a key function for companies looking to expand into untapped markets, companies have to hire and train people quickly in order to generate revenue

By Arun Subramanian

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As India's growth story is unfolding, companies operating in sectors like BFSI and retail are looking to expand beyond the urban areas. A Mckinsey study estimates that by 2030, more than 50per cent of at least 10 of India's 29 states will be urbanized. So, opportunities in these new urban areas and beyond is going to drive business growth and GDP.

With the Opportunity for Growth Comes New Challenges

Expanding beyond tier-1 cities presents new challenges for businesses. Going by industry experts, the lack of infrastructure and adequate financial awareness are perhaps the key reasons for the under penetration of rural markets.

In addition to the aforesaid, geographic spread and cultural diversity remain an obstacle to ensure "sales readiness' of the frontline workforce. In the context of lack of infrastructure, the challenge now is for organizations to remotely train a large group of people with diverse cultural influences.

Functional Challenges in Sales

Sales is a key function for companies looking to expand into untapped markets. Companies have to hire and train people quickly in order to generate revenue. Every day a salesperson is not "performance ready' is a day that the company loses revenue.

There are some significant cost elements associated with this problem.

1. Low sales productivity – Going by the reports one reads, a number of salespeople take at least 6 months before getting sales-ready. Most of them quit within that time period, leading to low sales productivity at an organizational level.

2. Opportunity Loss related to stalled market expansion which is a few multiples of lost sales productivity.

This is equivalent to changing wheels on a moving vehicle as training cannot come at the cost of current performance. Moreover, for BFSI companies, making salespeople performance-ready has additional challenges – financial products and services are not easy to explain, communicate the benefits of, and sell.

As a result, sales as a function is ridden with challenges that are not solved by many organizations; starting with a high rate of attrition, most of it infant attrition. The new recruits come with a lot of personal expectations, with the belief that they are going to have a few quick wins. The company gives them the requisite product material and mandated training, and they are deemed ready to deliver and are deployed in the field. In many instances, their reporting manager has little bandwidth to meaningfully handhold their development and therefore performance.

To make matters worse, the offline training process is not traditionally structured to give relevant and continuous inputs to the people on the ground. Which means that salespeople may struggle with simple questions like, "What should I do if someone is not taking my calls?" "How do I ask for a reference?", "How should I structure my day and field visits?", and so on.

Moreover, the pressure to perform may mean that salespeople themselves might be unwilling to take too much time away from the field to learn.

Organizations can address the costs associated with attrition and opportunity loss in a more effective manner. One, give new recruits a reason to stay and bond better with the company by investing in areas that will help them develop professionally. Two, equip them with ready-to-use inputs on a day-to-day basis to not only fast track "performance-readiness' but also enhance ongoing performance. This is the problem that we are trying to solve.

Training has to be:

  1. Cost-effective

  2. Scalable to train a large number of people

  3. Help employees learn in the flow of work

  4. Help people working remotely overcome the free-agent mindset

  5. Help salespeople work in a systematic manner

Additionally, since sales as a function is high on human quotient training needs to reflect that. In short, training also needs to be a "performance aid".

Technology Is a Useful Tool But Doesn't Have All the Answers

Going digital has provided part of the answer and it is easy to understand why. It helps organizations overcome many obstacles posed by a lack of infrastructure. A screen in the palm of one's hand can make accurate and up-to-date information accessible to anyone; anywhere, anytime. It can also be a great way to collect and analyze data on user behaviour and consumption. This analysis can help design future engagement programs as well.

However, technology brings its own challenges too. Ensuring that personnel download the app, update to the latest version, use it at the right time and in the right way are all challenges with which organizations have struggled. In other words, consumption and assimilation have remained challenges even as we see the digitization take off. This is because the challenge is not really technology. Creating an app is pretty straightforward in today's times. The real challenges lie in getting your people to relate to the process - content, language, relevance to performance context, cultural influences, etc..

The Role of Human Intervention in Making People Relate to the Learning Process

A mobile app can be a great way to disseminate accurate, up-to-date information. But, the organization and the process can become an abstract concept, one that people on the ground cannot relate to. Our goal is to provide a platform and relevant inputs that are role-specific, with sector-specific nuances, and coaching support.

Our platforms are made for India. We combine a strong engineering platform and content library - hundreds of videos in major regional languages and rich in the local context - with a human voice.

We worked with a leading financial services company to onboard and train their frontline workforce. These people were to form part of their deskless workforce, working from different parts of the country. For this, we adopted a hybrid model. While the mobile app served to distribute information and track consumption, the people on the ground were supported by mentors. These mentors regularly called the agents on the ground, not just to check on their progress but also get feedback about the content in the app, the app itself, and the difficulties they were facing in completing the assigned tasks.

Adding human voice on the other end of the line, in addition to the technology proved to be the difference. Over a period of time the agents on the ground developed a relationship with their mentors and trusted them. During the course of the 8-week interaction with a wide spectrum of users, we got some honest feedback and were able to make progress with a wider array of people. The data from the feedback was used to future modelling and fine-tuning of the program.


Today the ratio of the frontline to supervisory management is as much as 20:1 and will grow higher. With revenue targets being as they are, this places severe pressure on per unit time available towards helping a new salesperson on the ground. Thus, alternate methods of handholding and sales enablement are necessary to fast track performance readiness

Going digital is a big help but cannot help us re-create the human connect. People on the ground who are far removed from the HQ, who come from varied cultural backgrounds need to know that they have a support system that wants them to succeed. Not only that, that they have a mode of recourse in case they have grievances. While grievances can be captured through an app, it does not evoke the same feeling as "I have been listened to."

The hybrid model leverages the advantages that technology has to offer while ensuring that people who work for your organization feel connected to it by people - a name, a face, a voice. Some proportion of this blend is the recipe for succeeding beyond the urban markets.

Arun Subramanian

Co-founder & Chief of Strategic Initiatives, Enparadigm

Arun is currently driving Enparadigm into new markets & application areas. With a career spanning 3 continents, at companies like Philips, Whirlpool and Technopak consulting, Arun has a first-person understanding of challenges at both operational and strategic level.
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