Why It’s Almost Impossible to Get Sellers to Remember Sales Training (and Use it the Right Way)

Feb 17, 2022

Hey, do you remember that training you went through last week? Last month? Chances are you ask anyone that question — whether they’re in sales or any other function — and the answer will be no.

It’s not news that we have a hard time remembering and applying the information we learn. You’re probably familiar with the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve, which has been around since the 1800s. And more recent research by Gartner finds that B2B sales reps forget 70% of information within one week of training, and 87% within one month. Suffice it to say that if sellers forget the information, they are not applying it in the field.

So the bad news? Sellers aren’t using all the awesome training you’ve delivered.

But the good news? There are strategies, processes, and tools that get sellers to remember sales training and use it the right way.

To understand the strategies, let’s dig into the main reasons your approach might not be working today, and what you can do to change it.

Your sales training content isn’t practiced

Except for the occasional prodigy, sellers don’t typically master skills on the first try. Just like playing an instrument or a sport, selling is a skill that must be practiced. And research shows that training retention over time increases to 75% with practice and reinforcement activities.

But typically hands-on practice isn’t consistently incorporated into sales training because it’s time consuming, difficult to scale across teams, and loathed by many sellers. “Practice” and “role-play” are trigger words for any seller who has been humiliated in front of their peers in a review exercise at a sales meeting in the past.

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Without a safe space to practice what they’ve been trained on, learn how to articulate messaging in their own words, and get feedback, sellers will either forget the new training material completely and revert back to their pre-training approach or, worse yet, practice on customers. Sellers need frequent role-play practice not only after initial onboarding, but virtually any time there is a new positioning training, product launches, or other major organizational change that affects their message.

Virtual role-plays are a great way to improve retention and ensure readiness. With modern sales enablement and training technology, sales enablement teams can easily assign prompts and scenarios for sellers to record role-play exercises on their own time and submit them for review. Immediate AI-based recommendations give sellers insight into how their role-plays perform against evaluation criteria and then reps have the opportunity to re-record before submission.

Without practice exercises that force sellers to digest training content, understand it well enough to synthesize the message in their own words, and prove their ability to apply it, your sales training won’t be remembered or used.

Your sales training content isn’t reinforced

While hands-on practice is critical, it’s only one of the ways to help sellers remember information post-session. Spaced reinforcements are another strategy that will help you move training from short-term knowledge to long-term memory.

Spaced reinforcements use a systematic approach to information retrieval and consist of two parts: the spacing effect and the testing effect. The spacing effect refers to the repetition of content over selected intervals of time. You can think of it as the opposite of cramming. We’ve all had those experiences of staying up all night to study for an exam. You might perform well on the exam, but the information is quickly forgotten. The testing effect uses a question and answer approach to encode information differently and improves retention.

Mindtickle sales enablement badges

Comprehensive sales enablement and training platforms like Mindtickle provide an easy way to create and push adaptive, scenario-based questions to sellers on their mobiles or desktops so learners can apply their knowledge to real-world situations. Using artificial intelligence, the system varies each individual seller’s path through a spaced reinforcement exercise based on their response so it focuses each user on proficiency gaps and sustains engagement until they’ve proven mastery.

Without a mechanism forcing sellers to recall key information repeatedly until it’s moved to long-term memory, whether it’s via spaced reinforcements or another approach, your sales training won’t be remembered or used.

Your sales training isn’t memorable

Don’t take this the wrong way, but another reason sellers don’t remember and use training is because your training could be boring. The forgetting curve plus today’s 8-second average attention span plus a seller’s number one priority to spend what little time they have talking to prospects and making money adds up to salespeople not paying attention to or remembering your training.

Many organizations still rely too heavily on live, instructor-led training and basic voice-over-powerpoint recordings. Nobody remembers the session where a headless voice talked on and on about a new process or marketing message, but everyone remembers the session where the instructor busted out a rap, played a fun song related to the topic, or introduced a gamified, live challenge midway through.

As one seller recently shared, “I know I have an attention span of probably five seconds, and there are a lot of shiny things out there.” So what can you do to make your training more shiny?

Some examples include:

  • Cutting longer video segments into smaller chunks
  • Incorporating graphics, videos, and music throughout the session for semantic association
  • Recording quick updates in podcast format to be consumed on the go
  • Using a variety of presenters across sessions
  • Leveraging gamification and rewards during live sessions
  • Introducing ad-hoc questions and assessments

Mindtickle customers leverage a variety of content delivery mechanisms to keep sellers engaged during training. Cole Lindbergh, sales enablement manager of revenue operations at ChowNow, prides himself on creative and interactive training content that uses a balance of business focus and silliness to boost engagement while contributing to his team’s success.

“When people are surprised and caught off guard, they are more willing to engage. If you can add a level of ‘good chaos’ to what you’re doing, I think that gets people to buy in,” he explains. “And that’s extra important right now as more and more people are working from home — that’s going to impact how people do training in the future.”

This doesn’t mean every session needs to be fun or silly, and don’t mistake this approach for clowning around. But introducing more variety into your content, and coupling it with some interactive or exciting surprises, you can ensure your training is likely to be remembered and applied.

Your sellers aren’t coached on training application in the field

Many businesses don’t know whether their training and talk tracks are being applied in the field. We’re all familiar with the adages “what they don’t know won’t hurt them” and “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” This is a mentality that sellers may naturally fall back on post-training if they know their sales leads don’t have visibility into whether they are applying new methodologies or messaging when they’re speaking to prospects.

Conversation intelligence changes that by unlocking valuable insights into real-world customer conversation and enables leaders to understand whether sellers are or aren’t applying their training and the potential impact of this on deal performance. With insights into sellers’ calls, you can help coach them on how to best apply their new training in the field the right way, right away, so they don’t revert to their old ways after one misstep. Conversation intelligence, however, is meant to create a culture of continuous coaching and collaboration, not create a Big Brother atmosphere; so while in-field spot-checking and accountability are critical to training success, be conscious of seller paranoia and be thoughtful in your approach when taking action.

Will you remember all that?

You invest too much time, sweat, and tears into your sales training for it to not be remembered and used in the field by sellers. Hopefully, with some tweaks to your approach to practice, reinforcement, content delivery, and in-field coaching, you can create training that’s remembered for years to come.

To learn more tips and to hear best practices on how Mastercard applies practice and role-plays in their organization, check out our webinar, “Putting Practice into Action: How to transform sales role-plays from forgettable games to game changers.

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