Why Does Formal Learning Fail By Itself, and What Can You Do About It?

At least a few times a day, we all run into questions we can’t readily answer, but instead of just shrugging our shoulders, we access Google or reference a YouTube video on the topic in question, and we learn what we need.

In fact, research shows that as much as 90% of professional learning is informal and experiential, done out in the world and not in a classroom. It’s intuitive and natural, and it’s what people do every day when they access Google, YouTube, Yelp, and TripAdvisor.

Yet formal learning comprises 90% of most sales onboarding and training programs–the reverse of how people learn in their daily lives. And if sales training fails, the ramifications are significant with lost deals, missed quotas, and revenue shortfalls.

Check out these five important points on why today’s formal learning is failing, and what can you do about it.

1. What about formal learning doesn’t work?

Most sales training includes a concentrated onboarding boot camp, and then infrequent sales meetings. Aside from these activities, salespeople are often on their own to learn in the field.

The challenges associated with this approach are plentiful. Research shows that “firehosed” information is not well retained, and regardless of how they’re taught, people forget 80% of what they’ve learned within 30 days without reinforcement.

But that’s not all. Another challenge is that most training programs are one-size-fits-all, without consideration of each participant’s strengths and weaknesses. Finally, there’s typically little or no support for salespeople in the field, making peer collaboration difficult–particularly when reps are separated by time and distance.

2. What’s a better approach?

Instead of the way salespeople are trained today, reimagine your sales training approach to incorporate the following modern learning principles:

  • Content is continuously produced and updated in bite-sized chunks instead of lengthy, information-packed sessions. This gives your salespeople consistently up-to-date information that’s easy to consume.
  • Initial learning is reinforced so that it’s used in the field, instead of taught once and forgotten. Reinforcement is critical to a modern learning approach; otherwise, your learning investment is wasted.
  • Informal learning is prominent within modern sales learning, just as it is in people’s daily lives.
  • Instead of a one-size-fits-all approach, learning is personalized to the needs of each learner, so salespeople focus in areas of need and don’t waste time on skills they already have.
  • Unlike most of today’s training content. modern learning content is easy to create, access, and consume on desktop and mobile devices, wherever and whenever reps need it–even without Internet access. Examples include short-form videos, podcasts, voice over PowerPoint, screen captures, etc..

When you put it all together, modern learning delivers the dynamic kind of sales learning that people consume and remember best.

3. What does informal learning look like within a modern sales learning approach? ​

Just like at home, informal learning gives salespeople fast access to the right information at the time of need, from the sources that are best suited to help them. It’s simple, intuitive, and promotes successful outcomes. Here are a few examples.

  • Peer collaboration–Bounce ideas off of each other, share expertise, and interact in asynchronous discussions–regardless of time and location
  • Insights and best practices–Share experiences in the field to help others learn from individual successes and mistakes
  • Just-in-time learning–Access resources easily when and where they’re needed to help prepare for specific sales activities. Capture the best moments from previous events for everyday access
  • Ad hoc coaching–Interact with managers and subject-matter experts at the time of need to hone a pitch or other buyer-facing activity, improving outcomes and fostering better coach/salesperson interactions

4. If informal learning is so valuable, is formal learning still necessary?

The best sales training approaches include not just informal learning, but both formal and informal. But formal learning must change in order to be successful.

For example, formal learning should be about proving knowledge–where most formal learning stops today–and the application of knowledge in the field. Salespeople need to be certified that they can deliver in front of buyers, or answer objections dynamically in a real-world setting. Why? Because you want your reps honing their craft in training, not when money is on the line.

And formal learning must be reinforced with exercises spaced over time, helping transfer knowledge from short- to long-term memory. Otherwise, training is forgotten and unused.

Finally, formal learning must be personalized for each salesperson based on responsibilities and competencies. One-size-fits-all training no longer meets the needs of today’s B2B sellers.

5. If we implement a modern sales learning approach, how does it take shape for our sales organization?

If you implement a modern learning approach that incorporates 90% informal learning–the way people learn today–your sales training will look vastly different from the traditional approach:

  • New reps will receive training content that is customized to their roles and delivered in short-form video content that’s easy to consume
  • Certifications will comprise both knowledge and the delivery of knowledge in realistic buyer settings–ensuring real-life competency attainment before salespeople hit the field
  • Reinforcement exercises will help ensure that knowledge is retained and used in sales situations
  • Easy access to Informal learning will transform how reps behave in the field, giving them anytime, anywhere access to helpful content from subject matter experts (SMEs), best-practices examples, and more. They’ll be able to easily share insights and questions with peers, and engage in ad hoc coaching sessions with managers whenever they’re needed.

Approaching learning this way delivers knowledge more effectively, ensures retention, and sets the foundation for improved sales communication and collaboration.

Regardless of what happens–new product launches, regulatory changes, new roles, new selling approaches, etc.–reps are ready to sell and succeed.

Alex Salop

Director, Product Marketing, Allego

Alex Salop, Director of Product Marketing for Allego, the modern sales learning and readiness platform that combines video training, practice, coaching, and collaboration into one app.