L&D Disruptors Toolkit Part 1: How to sell learning internally

Jul 09, 2024 by Robert M. Burnside

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This post is part of our series on L&D disruptors, or leaders who are disrupting learning and using it in new and interesting ways––whether they work in a learning role or lead capability building for another function.

Here, we’re exploring the first of five “tools” in the learning disruptor’s toolkit: selling internally!

Check out this special sneak peek to our guide on selling internally below. You can get the rest of this guide––including our list of questions for internal stakeholders and a template for telling effective success stories––by downloading your free copy here.


Are you an L&D disruptor?

We define “L&D disruptors” as highly strategic learning leaders who use learning in creative and transformational ways. Some of them sit in the L&D function, while others sit in capability building roles across the organization. (You can take our interactive L&D disruptor quiz to find out if you’re an L&D disruptor––or on your way to becoming one.)

Whether or not they have “learning” in their title, these leaders are experts at using learning effectively to help their organizations stay competitive, solve complex business problems, and achieve their most ambitious goals.

We’ve had the privilege of working with many of these leaders throughout our ten-plus years creating learning experiences.

During this time, we’ve had the chance to see how they work up close. And we’ve noticed that L&D disruptors tend to have certain “tools” in their toolkits that help them approach their work effectively and create more impact with their learning programs.

What is the L&D Disruptors Toolkit?

This series is part of the L&D Disruptors Toolkit, where we’re sharing these tools to help learning leaders everywhere become L&D disruptors.

If you already consider yourself an L&D disruptor, we hope this series helps you continue to hone your skills and refine how you approach executing your learning programs.

And if you’re not an L&D disruptor yet, these tools should help you move along your path toward becoming one.

Why does selling internally matter for L&D leaders?

We speak to learning leaders every day, and one struggle we hear over and over is the difficulty of selling internally. These leaders may understand the power of learning and the impact it can have on their organization. But how do they translate their understanding of learning’s power into enthusiasm and buy-in from a suite of stakeholders that includes everyone from senior leaders through the learners themselves?

Selling internally is a crucial skill for L&D disruptors. If you can’t build coalitions and get buy-in across your organization, it’s going to be very difficult to achieve your goals. And the stakes are high. While the World Economic Forum anticipates that six in ten workers will require training in the next three years, many do not have access to the development opportunities they need today. In fact, in one recent survey, more than 30% of respondents reported feeling unprepared for what the future held for their job role.

So how do L&D disruptors get their organization on board with their plan for tackling capability gaps and rolling out high-impact learning to their employees?

In many of our conversations with L&D disruptors, they talk about how creating a culture of learning is one of the most important tasks on a learning leader’s plate. But this isn’t a lever you pull overnight—–rather, it’s all about slowly building your network of champions, understanding how your stakeholders approach organizational goals and priorities, and continuously telling the story of why learning matters.

Internal Selling Strategy 1: Find your learning champions.

Learning disruptors are never lone wolves. Instead, they’re cross-functional collaborators who are adept at building connections across the organization and working on teams in service of a shared vision. This network is crucial both for getting buy-in for a learning strategy and then––once a learning initiative is fully underway––driving healthy adoption and engagement.

In one example, a Senior L&D Disruptor in a Global Financial Institution, says that a core part of their role is to identify learning champions who can help drive specific organizational habits. For them, this is all about enabling people throughout the organization to have an impact on the teams and people closest to them.

“How can we leverage them within their smaller area of focus and control to promote and drive habit adoption?” They believe that if we cultivate and empower our network of champions, they can have a powerful effect on the people around them. This includes driving enthusiasm for learning within their sphere of influence, whether that means promoting a learning culture more generally, or supporting the success of a particular program.

A first step in cultivating this network is to identify who is likely to be a learning champion. Here’s a checklist to help you get started.

Identify Your Organization’s Learning Champions

  1. Go on tour. A listening tour will help you get to know leaders across the business and get a sense of their perspective on learning. You can also ask which department managers they see as learning advocates.
  2. Don’t forget the SMEs. You’ll likely engage subject matter experts to help create or refine learning content. Developing a sense of which SMEs are potential learning champions will give you a head start on smooth processes and top-notch content down the line.
  3. Put out a call. To identify the learning champions in your organization, consider taking the straightforward step of asking them to raise their hand! Rachel says she’s had success by simply asking people to self-select into this unofficial role.

Doing all this will help you widen and strengthen your learning champions network––an invaluable resource for any L&D disruptor.

This is a sneak peek of this guide to selling L&D internally. The next two strategies we explore are:

Understand your organization’s and stakeholders’ goals. Show L&D’s power through storytelling.

To get the full guide––including our list of key questions for stakeholders and a custom template for telling impactful learning success stories––download your free copy by filling out this form!

What I’m learning using AI tools

As the former CLO of a global PR firm, current Senior Learning Advisor for Nomadic, and one who’s curious about everything, I’m learning a lot about AI tools by using them.

The most important skills of the L&D disruptor––and how to build them

Discover the skills that make L&D disruptors effective and explore specific takeaways for each to help you strengthen these skills in your own work, including a list of questions to help you identify the most important learning gaps in your organization.