How can companies motivate their sales employees to take work-related training aimed at developing their skill sets? “Make them write reviews about their learning experience,” advises Dominik Mahr of Maastricht University’s School of Business and Economics in a research paper published in the March 2018 issue of the Journal of Marketing.
The article, “The Effect of Review Writing on Learning Engagement in Channel Partner Relationship Management”, was co-authored with Mahr’s fellow researchers Elizabeth Aguirre, Ko de Ruyter, Dhruv Grewal, Jan Pelser and Martin Wetzels.
Traditional incentives fail to persuade ‘reluctant learners’
Based on a study conducted in collaboration with a Fortune 100 information technology company, the authors identified new and cost-effective ways to strengthen learning motivation and engagement among salespeople in so-called channel partner organisations, such as software resellers or IT implementers. “We discovered that when channel partner employees were prompted to write a review of a learning module that they had attended, they were better able to reflect on the relevance of their learning experience. This, in turn, made them more inclined to take on additional learning activities,” explains Mahr.
Companies have observed that traditional incentives for learning activities, such as performance points or gift vouchers, although costly, often do not work. Besides, such extrinsic incentives are easily matched by competitors. “Many people do not see the value of these training programmes; these salespeople were the focus of our study,” Mahr says.
In a bid to address those “reluctant learners”, the researchers aimed to answer the question: “How can firms make channel partners’ learning motivation become more intrinsic?”
Giving ratings and reviews make employees more likely to take another course
Mahr and his colleagues asked the research participants to reflect on past learning experiences. “We asked them to reflect on their training courses in two ways, either by writing a short review or rating it on a simple and straightforward scale from 1 to 10. We found out that those who wrote a review reflected more deeply on their learning process and results, and were subsequently more interested in taking additional learning modules.”
“Our finding was actually based on a very simple idea,” Mahr notes. “Let people understand the value of learning by writing about it. We were able to show that self-reflection and review writing as a feedback mechanism had a positive impact on the writers themselves and made them want to learn more. What is crucial is using the right instructions when asking for the feedback. Subtle changes in the instructions can make all the difference. ”
Peer-to-peer: framing feedback as a way to help your workmates
Another important finding of the study was that people showed a higher intrinsic motivation to learn when they were asked to have their peers and colleagues in mind, rather than the manufacturer, when writing the review. “It’s a bit of a social thing,” explains Mahr. “Thinking about their peers appeared to make participants better appreciate the relevance and the benefits of the course for themselves.”
Mahr points out that these research results can be useful in other learning environments. “In my classes at Maastricht University, for example, I could introduce self-reflective moments after each course module, to help my students to better understand the value of the programme and become more engaged in their learning process. The goal of a feedback questionnaire, designed this way, would be not so much to help me as a lecturer to improve my courses, but to make my students more engaged in their learning activity, achieve more depth in processing the content of the course, and more motivated to continue learning.”
Further research could also examine whether review writing could be beneficial in other contexts, such as consumer reviews of health or hospitality service providers. Mahr concludes: “Our findings have implications for new methods of engagement, and they also provide a cost-effective solution that managers can implement for their partner relationships.”
The Effect of Review Writing on Learning Engagement in Channel Partner Relationship Management, Elizabeth Aguirre, Dominik Mahr, Ko de Ruyter, Dhruv Grewal, Jan Pelser, and Martin Wetzels (2018) Journal of Marketing: March 2018, Vol. 82, No. 2, pp. 64-84.
Dominik Mahr is associate professor of strategic marketing and innovation management and scientific director of the Service Science Factory, School of Business and Economics, Maastricht University.
Martin Wetzels is professor of marketing and supply chain research, School of Business and Economics, Maastricht University. He also serves as theme leader of the Data-Driven Decision-Making research theme at SBE.
Text: Sueli Brodin