The Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve states that we forget 40% of new information 24 hours after we learn it - a key factor in why sales training reinforcement is important. ATD affirms the vital role reinforcement plays, estimating the entirety of sales training can be forgotten in as little as three months without reinforcement. Considering the costs of sales training from a monetary, time, and labor standpoint, lack of reinforcement is a good way to flush that investment right down the drain.
But reinforcement simply isn’t a case of rote memorization and regurgitation. While simple information, such as the price point of your products can certainly be encoded in your long-term memory, sales is a complex, involved, fluid, ever-changing process, and that means your reinforcement efforts needs to attack retention from multiple viewpoints.
In practical terms, that involves things such as gamification, sales coaching, and leadership support. While sales training is concerned with the acquisition of new knowledge and skills, sales coaching is about the applicability of that recently learned training to ensure the rep is actually utilizing what they’ve been trained in. But coaching shouldn’t be a repetition of the training, something many sales managers conflate when they think of training and coaching.
Leadership buy-in is essential for successful training
Related to coaching, and another key leg in the tripod of sales training reinforcement success, is leadership support. Buy-in from the leadership team is critical for generating excitement, buzz, and a positive attitude in the run-up to the sales training event and during the event itself. During post-training, that same belief needs to continue – not only in the form of coaching to the expected behavioral changes, but in follow-through in implementing changes from the top on down. If the leadership team isn’t invested in making sure the changes stick and doesn’t take appropriate action to implement and reinforce the skills and knowledge taught in the training, the organization will eventually fall back into old habits. And then the training will have been a waste of time and money.
In cases that involve an implementation of universality or a change in culture, that means using the language of the company-wide training, and enforcing the edicts set down by cultural change training. Lack of follow-through in the post-training period will invariably result in a reduced rate of adoption and long-term success of the sales training. After all, if the top individuals in the company aren’t behind the training effort, why would their staff – including middle management and the rank and file – bother?
The Aberdeen Group reports using reinforcement results in an average of 20% more sales reps attaining quota. When you consider that this traditionally boosts the core, middle class of a sales team (outside of the top 20%, which will be making it regardless), it represents a huge potential return on investment in sales training for a company.
Another reason sales training reinforcement works is that it’s constantly ongoing, spaced appropriately to ensure freshness in short-term memory before the information gets codified into long-term memory. Or, to put it another way, think of the sales training event as essentially cramming for an exam the night before. Great for immediate recall the next morning – terrible for remembering the material past the semester. Sales training reinforcement, properly done, is akin to studying in small bursts and snippets periodically – constant inputting of information into the short-term memory to improve the chances of long-term imprinting. Incidentally, this is also why there’s the old age advice of getting a good night’s rest if you’ve been studying diligently in the weeks and months before – you’ve done the hard work in making sure the information sticks deep in your memory and can concentrate on being refreshed and well-rested for exam day, whereas sleeping after a last-minute cram session causes some loss of that rushed information.
Sales training is a wonderful thing for your team. It can teach new information and skills, create a universe language for understanding across teams and branches of the company (particularly for large firms), and result in increased sales. But in order for the good effects to last long term, and the changes to stick, you need to use consistent, multi-avenue reinforcement.