Sales training is a multi-billion dollar industry. The global workplace training industry reached an estimated market size of 370.3 billion U.S. dollars in 2019.1 Organizations spent an average of $2,326 per salesperson on sales training annually.2 But how successful have these training programs been? Seemingly, not very successful. Consider this. A 2018 study3 revealed that just over half (53%) of all sales organizations hit their target numbers, and this figure has been on a decline over the past five years.
A primary reason for this failure is that training is often limited to a few days of tactical learning, after which the sales reps are sent on the field. Unfortunately, 70% of learners forget what was taught within 24 hours after their training, and over 80% of what is taught is forgotten within 90 days. It is no wonder that most programs fail; it also means that organizations of all sizes, across all industries, are wasting billions of dollars on outdated training frameworks.
Training professionals the world over are familiar with the forgetting curve (Fig. 1).
Fig. 1. Ebbinghaus’ Forgetting Curve4
The forgetting curve shows how the memory of new information decays in the brain, with the fastest drop occurring after 20 minutes and the curve leveling off after a day. But here’s the good news. Research has found that well-timed and continuous reminders go a long way in reinforcing and retaining learning. In other words, memory retention comes from repeated exposure to information. This realization has led many organizations to implement a more structured training program that supports continuous learning as a way to address their sales teams’ training needs.
The continuous learning framework
The continuous learning framework focuses on three core learning phases5: acquiring new knowledge (curriculum learning), absorbing it into long-term memory with periodic reinforcement (reinforcement learning), and the ability to access high-impact refreshers at the exact time and place of need (just-in-time learning). Curriculum learning does the heavy lifting in providing the initial introduction to the mastery of a subject. It is often used to onboard new employees, roll out new products and messaging, and in annual or semi-annual e-learning courses for reps to refresh their deeper knowledge of a topic. Such learning helps the reps develop a broad understanding of a topic and fixes concepts in the short-term memory. However, the natural tendency of the mind is to discard infrequently used information, and here’s where reinforcement learning comes in: bite-sized sales training content can be refreshed for a few minutes each day or week to move concepts into the long-term memory. Finally, just-in-time learning comes into play when reps are most motivated to learn – typically right before deal time. A capsule of highly relevant, easily searchable, and readily available content is just what your reps need before meeting a prospective client.
Here are six best practices to support continuous learning:
1. Leverage video
The power of the visual medium in grabbing attention and in learning is undisputed; a recent study indicates that 69% of employees prefer to learn a new skill from video as opposed to a written document.6 Interestingly, 82% of employees also say that interactive videos hold their attention better than traditional videos.
Videos of different formats and lengths can be used to address a wide variety of training and coaching needs. Subject matter experts can use videos to introduce products to the reps. Videos of star sales reps can be used as coaching material to teach new reps about sales pitches, attitudes, conversation skills, and body language. By the same token, reps can record practice pitches for analysis by technology like artificial intelligence or by a group of peers. Short videos can be used for bite-sized learning and just-in-time learning. Short, interactive videos of customers’ frequently asked questions followed by best responses can also be used for objection handling. Videos can be used for remote role-playing, which is the next best thing to face-to-face conversations. Importantly, all these videos can be archived for instant access across time and space by reps on their mobile devices.
2. Provide just-in-time learning
Creating content for just-in-time learning involves serving bite-sized portions designed to fit well with human working memory and attention span. As a just-in-time technique, the objective of the on-demand content module is to serve the solution to a single problem at the time when the reps need it, like that 2-min YouTube video you watch to fix a leaky faucet. Such learning can also give learners the freedom to define the “pace and place” of the learning. Learners can be allowed to skip learning modules that they don’t want to take or are irrelevant to them.
Modern integrated sales enablement solutions with training capabilities come with well-designed programs that let learners explore, find, and access solutions on their own, as and when they require them, instead of having reams of training material thrust upon them at one go. This allows learners to customize their own learning experiences. Just-in-time learning would require enablement solutions to deliver the content on any device so that reps can access the content while on the go, from anywhere.
3. Include quizzes and games
Quizzes can be a fun way to activate the ‘testing effect’ by forcing reps to practice retrieving from memory the information that they have learned. By encouraging reps to recall the information, quizzes help them to better retain this information in the future. Quizzes can motivate employees to work on concepts or topics that they don’t fully understand. They can also provide reps with on-the-job confidence by indicating the topics they have already mastered. Quizzes also benefit trainers by helping them assess what the team has learned and what still needs to be taught. The fun aspect can be brought in by gamifying and incentivizing these tests.
4. Use role-playing
Role-playing is one of the most effective ways for sales reps to learn quickly. When performed with peers, role-plays can build confidence, facilitate objection handling, and instill greater empathy for the customer and his problem. Under the organizational umbrella, entire teams can be energized to spot problem areas, bring multiple viewpoints, and brainstorm solutions in groups. Newer team members can quickly grasp abstract concepts and be quickly ramped up to operational levels, all in the extremely safe environment of team members. In conjunction with videos, role-playing can also be performed remotely, allowing for continual analysis of the rep's presentation skills, body language, pitch and tone of voice, and situational awareness.
Modern sales enablement and training platforms offer simulated sales scenarios for virtual role-playing exercises and provide data to show how individual learners are performing. Based on this, trainers can design appropriate training inputs for each rep.
5. Support peer-to-peer learning
In addition to the formal sales training programs run by trainers within an organization, incorporating peer-to-peer learning can improve the sales teams' productivity. 73% of managers have noted that they experienced high ROI on peer learning investments.7 Peer learning is an effective way to utilize the resources and knowledge within a team to share best practices. Organizations can encourage colleagues to coach one another and point out people who have specific skills that others could benefit from learning. Sales reps can reach out to their peers to learn about various buyers, and the tools and resources they used in any given situation to close a deal. If reps know where to find information within the organization, they will spend less time trying to find answers on their own.
Any good sports coach will tell you that coaching and training are a matter of consistency. You can’t drum the basic techniques of a game into the team at the start of a season and expect them to perform well. The same holds for sales. Sales organizations need to implement the practice of continuous learning for their sales reps to deliver peak performance consistently. This includes just-in-time learning, role-plays, quizzes and games, short videos, and peer-to-peer learning. A good sales enablement and training platform can provide organizations with the technology and framework required for implementing a continuous learning program. It can also provide insight into the program's effectiveness through its analytical capabilities, so organizations can define individual elements of the program to ensure optimal learning.
To know how Nytro.ai can help you with continuous learning, schedule a call with us today.