Sales reinforcement is a necessary, but frequently overlooked part of any sales development program. The best reinforcement programs provide continuous support, ensure that reps can apply their new skills and knowledge on the job, and use data-driven methodologies to proactively identify gaps and address them. However, to build a great sales reinforcement program, you must first understand what it is you want to reinforce.  Sounds simple, but with a little forethought and planning, you’ll be on your way to achieving maximum ROI on your sales training investments.

Explore 10 principles that will help you boost knowledge retention, improve on-the-job performance and deliver maximum user engagement:

Outline the program objectives. The core goals of any program should be carefully identified upfront – whether its about helping reps struggling with new product or competitive messaging, or prioritizing a focus on core selling skills. Ensuring that the program’s content and success metrics are well aligned will make all the difference when it comes time to measure and report results.

Prioritize mobile access. Time-starved reps need to be able to access content while on the go – no matter where they are, from any device. A mobile-first reinforcement program makes it easy and convenient for reps to participate, does not cut into selling time and is proven to drive adoption rates of 90 percent or better.

Prepare effective content. When reps are bombarded with too many training resources, they tend to screen them out, viewing efforts toward knowledge retention as just more corporate noise without real value. Remember, the goal is reinforcement, so focus on the most critical concepts, presented simply, for the best results. Clear and succinct content will go a long way, especially for mobile-enabled reps.

Communicate in advance. Key stakeholders of a reinforcement program include sales executives, managers and reps. Issuing effective, advance communications – whether live, or via email or other online channels such as a sales portal – ensures that the actions required are understood, and on-the-ground support can be offered to drive adoption.

Include explanations. With Q&A-based challenges, including explanatory text with each answer submission, regardless of whether the rep responded correctly or not, will be more effective than simply restating the question. A thoughtful, robust explanation, including embedded links and references to supporting resources if available, maximizes the learning experience for the team.

Leverage rich media. The most effective solutions support multiple image types, as well as streaming audio and video. This is also a great opportunity to repurpose content used in other training applications, such as PowerPoint slides, graphs or charts to help reinforce key messages and concepts.

Use embedded social tools. Similar to other collaborative apps, the best reinforcement solutions allow reps to share feedback, challenge or cheer on their peers. By encouraging a healthy dialogue, and taking advantage of opportunities to address confusion that might slow down the team, organizations can keep reps engaged and the program on track.

Make data sets as rich as possible. Best-in-class solutions will support custom “tagging” of both users and content that can significantly enrich post-campaign reporting and analytics. Consider participant tags such as geography/region, division, reporting structure, role/job type, or tenure with the company. Content presented may also be tagged by unique type (for example, pricing, competitors, product knowledge, brand messaging, objection handling, etc.) to enable segmentation and analysis that helps identify strengths as well as areas for improvement within the sales force. Use reporting results to demonstrate training effectiveness, and to provide insights into the capabilities, trends and knowledge gaps of the teams. However, be sensitive to how this data is distributed and used. If the performance results are used for punitive purposes, engagement and the quality of the feedback will decline precipitously.

Take advantage of recognition and reward opportunities. Sales reps are a uniquely competitive bunch, and for many, the only thing better than winning is being recognized for their success. Reinforcement solutions that include game elements, such as leader boards, to stimulate their tribal tendencies, as well as a creative reward structure will motivate the team and keep them coming back for more.

Experiment! Even small changes to the approach can dramatically improve engagement and retention. Complement your programs with analytics and simple, browser-based authoring tools that will give you the flexibility required, including the ability to update live course content and questions on the fly.

In terms of what to reinforce, a good rule of thumb is to imagine what the head of a very large sales force would tell their reps if they had three minutes of their undivided attention every other day. With that in mind, together with a well-defined business goal, companies can ensure their sales team have what it takes to drive the business forward.  And, by structuring sales reinforcement programs to include the above principles, focusing on the skills and competencies that matter most, companies will find they are able to better shape rep behavior, keep productivity levels consistently high, and gain a greater ROI on their sales development investments.