"Just to give you an idea of the enormity of the changes to the digital media landscape in the last 24 months, our "digital landscape" workshop had to explain how to sell stuff that didn't even exist two years ago."

So the biggest challenge in the digital space is the pace of change, which keeps accelerating. For salespeople to keep pace their training needs to be ongoing, with the content continuously refreshed -- all while being measured against ROI benchmarks to ensure that the sales needle moves in the right direction.

I meet salespeople who tell me how they were able to wing it in their first few years in the business. I guess it is possible that some premium content sellers with limited offerings could still do that in 2010. But in 2016 everyone is selling and up against competitors selling every form of targeted, ROI+ digital advertising. "The other guy" likely has more reach, more visitors, more measureable engagement and/or less expensive inventory —apart from every conceivable agency marketing service.

In this marketplace an untrained seller has no chance. And while every ad team has at least one "rocket scientist" (or at least a "really smart" Digital Sales Manager), learning from the smartest person on your team is never as effective as bringing in people that are specialized trainers.

Without training, the majority of media sellers this year will be at a 2013 level of understanding -- and that's only if they actually spend time training themselves. Which gets us to the essence of what training really is: Training is practice. We are training ourselves all the time.

If you occasionally pick up a new insight into digital marketing you get good at using that little bit of knowledge during sales conversations. Over time, you'll pick up more and get great at speaking with confidence, even if you barely understand what you're saying. Since that happens to so many salespeople they are misled into thinking that they don't need training.

Self-training isn't going to give a seller a competitive advantage in 2016. For one thing, every seller is trying to outsell their competitors using the same old "self-study" or the "just winging-it" method. Only the sellers who are better than their competition at aligning their offerings with advertisers' goals while properly selling against their competition, over time, bring in more of the right deals at the right budget. The best trained sellers can convert a "test" budget into a long term relationship that equally benefits the advertiser, the publisher and the salesperson.

Ongoing training is the key to having confident conversations. Last year's vocabulary won't cut it when you are having a conversation about attribution, safe environments, viewability and engagement metrics. Even if a seller studied programmatic, video and mobile two years ago, the space has changed so much that it's like we're starting all over again.

What is the key benefit to ongoing training in a world that just never stops changing?

With ongoing practice, we improve our ability to learn. We speed up the process of learning new things and start to be able to discuss new technologies, business models and strategies. But to make that training work, it must be customized.

First, it must match the seller's level of understanding, and second, it must be applied to the specific sales situations that sellers find themselves in. When it comes to digital, most sellers are embarrassed about what they don't know. As a result most organizations guess at the proper level for their staff and their training usually starts at a level that's too advanced. Unfortunately, when the training misses that mark the affected salespeople tune out.

To make training situationally specific, role-plays based on actual upcoming meetings with real customers are essential. Otherwise sellers think they "get it" and don't realize how poorly prepared they are until it's too late and the sales opportunity is lost. Without outside training, this form of role-playing rarely, if ever happens.

Let's assume that the rate of change in the digital space will continue to accelerate and, to keep up, the rate of sales training needs to keep pace. By employing purposeful and effective training, sellers can truly gain a competitive advantage that will keep them relevant.

Image courtesy of Corbis. The opinions and points of view expressed in this commentary are exclusively the views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage.com/MyersBizNet, Inc. management or associated bloggers.