Sales Training: Why You May be Struggling to Deliver
By John Moore, The Collaborator
Are you struggling to deliver training that leads to positive, measurable outcomes?
You are not alone.
Most training fails to deliver long-term impact.
The reasons vary, but when you boil them down to the core issues, the problems are often due to a lack of understanding around how people learn.
Before we explore that point in more detail, we need to take a step back in time to the origins of sales training to understand where we are today.
The origins of sales training
Chief Learning Officer (CLO), in an article from 2007 on the evolution of sales training, noted “When we look back at the early days of sales training, we begin to realize, as legendary sales trainer Zig Ziglar so aptly describes it, the purpose of sales training is to teach people how to persuade. As long ago as the 1870s, there was formal sales training.”
The CLO article I refer to does a fantastic job walking through much of the early days of Sales Training, and I will not attempt to further expound on sales training history.
The essential points from the article are, however, that:
- Sales training has been around for more than 150 years.
- It began more as sales coaching than training.
- It has not changed a whole lot, even with technology that primarily replicates what has been done manually before.
Its early focus on persuasion came from a belief that sellers needed to lead buyers to their solutions. The sellers, not the buyers, were in charge of the transaction, and that meant any trick of persuasion was acceptable as long as they got the sale.
Sales training today
While sellers are no longer in charge and have not been for a long time, much sales training is delivered as if they still are in charge.
We talk about objection handling as if it is a battle between buyer and seller.
We focus more on working within poorly constructed sales funnels, an incomplete and inaccurate map for describing the complexity of the modern B2B buying journey that spans countless decision-makers, both internal and external to the business. This journey is much better represented by a series of concentric circles than a straight line from point A to point B.
The delivery methods have also not changed dramatically from the earliest days of these professions.
From in-person conversations to cassette tapes to computer screens, much of what is delivered today is unidirectional at the seller and often requires sellers to react back, asynchronously, through quizzes and bots.
Most of what is delivered lectures the seller, failing to engage their interest or their brain’s learning centers in any way other than a passive one – that does not work.
Sales training tomorrow
The future of sales training must evolve along several dimensions, which we will explore through this article’s remainder.
- It must work within the constraints of how humans learn and remember.
- It must support how modern buyers buy.
- It must reflect the need for collaborative models required for sales teams
How do humans learn and remember?
Oh, Ebbinghaus, I hardly remember you.
You knew I was going to reference Hermann Ebbinghaus. His work in the late 19th century on memory led to the famous forgetting curve – you do know what that is.
For those that have forgotten, let me borrow a summary from Learning Solutions Magazine that did an excellent job of summarizing this years ago:
“Research on the forgetting curve (Figure 1) shows that within one hour, people will have forgotten an average of 50 percent of the information you presented. Within 24 hours, they have forgotten an average of 70 percent of new information, and within a week, forgetting claims an average of 90 percent of it.”
Ebbinghaus, so often referenced yet so rarely understood.
His research pointed to the importance of spaced repetition and reinforcement. If you want people to remember essential information, you must deliver it multiple times, in numerous ways, at crucial times around the memory drop-off points.
Regularly reinforce knowledge
Before you take the time to deliver training to your sales team, put forth a plan to reinforce the critical aspects of what the team is learning.
- Ideas include:
Send daily reminders focused on one specific aspect to reinforce that aspect of the training
- Add quarterly certifications to check that learning stuck
Richard Feynman, Physicist, and Student
Richard Feynman, American Physicist from the 20th century, was recognized for his ability to study and truly learn and understand various topics. The Feynman Learning Technique, well explained by the folks at Farnum St, has these core principles:
- Pretend to teach a concept you want to learn about to a student in the sixth grade.
- Identify gaps in your explanation. Go back to the source material to understand it better.
- Organize and simplify.
This approach builds upon the spaced repetition that Ebbinghaus demonstrated was important but further recognizes that learning is not about rote memorization and the ability to spit back others’ words.
Actual insight occurs when we can share insights, in our own words, in as simple terms as possible.
Teach-backs are powerful
After the initial training is delivered, pair up learners and have them come back together in a day or two to teach the information in their own words. Join these sessions to confirm that the information being taught back is accurate and delivered in the seller’s own words.
Knowledge when you need it
The final piece of the learning puzzle to consider is this:
Even with the tried and tested reinforcement, simplification, and gap analysis methods, people will still forget.
This fundamental truth is why it is critical for sales training to move beyond a focus on just training and coaching but to ensure that information, insight, and coaching is available at the moment of need in the context of your work.
Sales Training is moving forward to more active coaching forms to focus on just-in-time (JIT) delivery methods.
What does this look like in practice?
Here are a couple of examples.
The invisible coach
Many of us are living on virtual calls. When you have a conversation with your prospect in the office, bring a sales buddy in with you, but leave them off-camera and out of the conversation.
This buddy, your invisible coach, can provide you guidance and coach just-in-time during the conversation.
The software helper
We all love our CRM systems. They are critical to business success but sometimes confusing and time-consuming to keep updated.
Sales Enablement tools that automate or streamline the data capture eliminate the need for additional training and learning by avoiding the problem.
Digital Adoption Platforms take a different path, providing help within the CRM or other system, providing contextual support as you reach the moment of need.
Sales training is challenging to deliver in a measurable, effective manner.
To do it well, we need to get back to the basics of understanding both what people need to know, how they best learn, and when and where they need to leverage that information.
In this article, we focused primarily on how people learn and share tips on leveraging the information effectively.
To learn more about how Bigtincan solutions can help you achieve these goals, and more, stop by today.
VP Enablement, Bigtincan
John Moore is The Collaborator. He is living Enablement as a practitioner at Bigtincan and as a leader. He’s seen the confusion and frustration that many practitioners live with. From working in other areas of the business, he’s also seen the genuine need for the capabilities that enablement provides. As The Collaborator, John is focused on delivering value to enablement practitioners and leaders. Everything revolves around this mission.