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Why Continuous Learning is critical to navigating in VUCA times

Updated: Mar 22, 2023

VUCA disables past experiences renders them ineffective.Volatility is a state that shows how the present is constantly likely to change. It is defined as a "tendency to change quickly and unpredictably". Complexity is a perfect compliment to it as it signifies the multiple factors that are participants in the present state. More the number of variables in the mix, more the complexity.

Uncertainty depicts an emergent state, which is difficult to predict. As Merriam Webster dictionary states- "Uncertainty may range from a falling short of certainty to an almost complete lack of conviction or knowledge especially about an outcome or result."

This complete lack of knowledge is the difficulty that every Leader has to overcome when they are facing a VUCA situation.

Ambiguity points to the possibility of more than one state/situation/reason/possibility being correct.

This begs the question, how can a business Leader guide a business with adroitness under these Circumstances

What is different for the Sales Folks?

Well, a lot of things. First, the buying process itself has got more complicated. There are more people involved in the buying process now than ever before. Researchers have estimated that on average 5+ people get involved in the buying process of any important, valuable or complex purchase now. Imagine understanding the perspectives of each of them and satisfying their requirements in order to obtain an agreement on a positive decision to purchase

Second, risk aversion has increased. In other words, senior people in the Organisation are extremely aware of the risks and pitfalls that a high-value and complex solution brings to the table and how it could affect the Organisation, and them in turn. The Cost of taking the Decision has to be significantly reduced so that it is well below the cost of not taking a Decision.

Third, "life is short" as they say. So, money on the table that is visible today is far better than any gains that may accrue over. along period of time. So, Purchasers are chasing instant benefits that can be showcased rather than sacrificing that for long term gains.

Next, Purchasers are looking for data on how your solution is better than your competitors. Long gone are the days of well-meaning and broad promises that a solution will 'save money'. They want to see how you have arrived at the conclusion and what advantages your product or service has over everyone else.

Fifth, increasingly, the Purchasers are unsure of the 'end-state' of the solution when they start searching for a solution. With all the rapid changes taking place in Technology and the dramatic pace at which these changes percolate down to every aspect of life and work, very often the solution evolves as the discussions unfold.

So, What does it mean for the Sales professionals?

The Sales professionals need to recognise that it is not "business as usual" any more. The world is in the midst of dramatic change and we will have to change our ways of work accordingly.

The old question "What is keeping you awake at night?" may not be a valid question to the Clients any more.Why? Because Client Purchase Managers are not only more equipped to search for and evaluate better solutions, they are more empowered with Data due the research that they do thanks to data being available on the Net. It is estimated that on an average about 57% of the solution is researched even before the Client Purchasers meet the Supplier Sales Reps.

The first thing that this brings forth is the need for the Sales professionals to constantly Learn. Ability to learn on the fly is the most important asset in todays world. Learning can be done both formally and informally.

Informal on the job learning is an important part of an executive's learning process. It may contribute as much as half of all things that a Sales Professional picks up while on the job.

The danger to this is that she will imbibe the running practices of the Team or the Organisation. To the extent where those practices are not the most desirable or effective or do not represent a "Best Practice" what will be learnt or absorbed will be sub-optimal practices. However, the converse is also true- the Sales professional will be benefitted tremendously by picking up learnings that represent the best or most effective practices.

The cardinal principle here is that Learnings will have to be absorbed with a dose of critical thought. The professional must be able to subject whatever she is learning to critical questioning in order to see if that process or way of doing things is the most effective or even an optimal way of doing it.

And what are the ways of arriving there? One, through Feedback loops at every stage and secondly by examining the data of the results obtained.

The other more formal way of Learning is by going through a formally designed Learning process. Well designed learning journeys do yield good results. Again, what is important to understand is if the person undergoing the training is able to apply critical thought to the learning process. Subjecting what you learn to a questioning process helps one absorb learning more effectively.

Equally important is the possibility of applying what you have learned to actual work. That helps one bridge the Learning-Doing gap and helps in understanding the applicability of the theoretical construct.

Specific forms of learning like Simulations are a major help as they integrate Theory and Practice. A simulated, case based methodology helps by enabling the Sales Professional to put into practice what they have learnt in theory and to understand its impact.

Other forms like Role Plays with carefully scripted Roles are a great way too. One important way in which it helps is by giving the learner a chance to practice the specific dialogues to sharpen their skills. Since communication, including exploration, plays a very important role in today's Sales process this can be a very important one.

In conclusion, it must be noted that Learning Agility is the critical factor in differentiating one Sales professional from another. People who have Learning Agility are able to connect the dots, are able to elevate the conversation with the Client and ensure Sales closure in an effective way.

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