Sales training professionals have long suffered with the frustrating reality that reps tend to forget most of the information they learn in a matter of days. What we’ve come to understand is that to claim success with any training initiative, sales reps must be able to fully encode new information into long-term memory and subsequently apply this knowledge on the job to drive the desired change.
Training guru Roy Pollock, author of the pioneering “Field Guide to the 6D’s” book series, emphasizes that training creates value only to the extent that it is transferred and applied to work in a way that improves performance. Yet, he cites research that 80 percent of the link from training to application on the job is lost, while separate research by Achieve Global suggests that only 15 percent of employees actually apply the skills they learned after the training session ends.
Add to this that sales reps’ ability to embrace new information and skills is compromised by the time lapse they experience between training and application. And that the retraining required to overcome this not only consumes additional budget and stresses resources, but can fail to materially impact the primary goal of any new sales methodology, product launch or cross-selling initiative in the first place, which is revenue growth.
C-level executives are increasingly aware of this disconnect and are emphasizing a heightened accountability for the results that their learning and development providers deliver. In turn, sales training companies know that making their training stick – so it’s not simply forgotten in the days following an event – is paramount to achieving the results they promise.
It’s no surprise then that the idea of pull-through, or the practice of sustaining learning and engagement after a training event is over and done, has become a critical element of sales training offerings today. Many training companies like Richardson, BI Worldwide, Force Management, Informa Training Partners, Aquinas Leadership and others have added knowledge reinforcement services by partnering with software companies to deliver whole-product solutions that ensure ongoing engagement with their content via push technologies, gamification and the like.
The underlying success of these programs, however, can be found in three emerging trends in learning today that not only drive long-term effectiveness, but accountability, too:
1) Data-driven insights, and the use of predictive analytics to drive more targeted coaching and proactivity in boosting skills among employee groups;
2) Brain science, and a heightened understanding of memory and retention which is changing the nature of the typical “binge and purge” training session to grasp and sustain learning; and
3) Mobility, and the ability to access employee groups through “push learning” ideal for busy sales reps on the go.
For example, when SunGard Financial Systems needed a way to improve its sales teams’ ability to cross-sell a growing portfolio of acquired products, Richardson collaborated with the company to refine the existing sales process by aligning SunGard’s selling approach with customer behaviors and messages. Richardson then pushed bite-sized versions of this to the mobile devices or laptops of client sales teams every few days following a training event, keeping core messages and skills top of mind through active recall.
Simple Q&A challenges such as these are typically based on customized situations and scenarios that help salespeople apply the best practices learned in classroom or virtual training, and take only minutes a day. This method of continuous learning over spaced intervals of time has been widely studied and used successfully in a variety of professional settings as a proven way to maximize retention of new knowledge and skills.
By employing a mobile reinforcement strategy, SunGard helped ensure reps’ ability to address questions at different stages of the buying cycle, and measured a 12 percent increase directly tied to the success of the new sales methodology.
Similarly, two major household brand-name organizations working with Aquinas Leadership Group of Cary, North Carolina, deployed knowledge reinforcement solutions using a game-based platform to assist sales organizations in achieving their revenue goals by effectively changing the way client sales reps behave, and ultimately how sales executives coach their reps to success. Early results are dramatic, registering better-than-usual user engagement levels.
The reality is that sales reps sell based on what they know, regardless of training methods or sales methodology employed by an organization. As a result, achieving greater accountability in training begins with the fundamental acknowledgement that sales reps are people, and people are complex. People, especially busy ones, possess ingrained behavior and transforming that behavior – i.e. equipping sales reps to win – doesn’t happen with a single training event or LMS module. It requires effective, sustainable learning practices that help sales reps remember, assimilate and drive their deals to close.