Sales Training Is a Line, Not a Dot

93249-Daniel_Chalef2-512×341 by

As the leader of a fast-growing B2B sales organization, you’ve bought into the need for your sales team to be experts on the products they’re selling, your industry, and your customer’s challenges. Yours is a complex sale, requiring consensus from multiple stakeholders. They need to be challenged, educated, and supported through the sales process.

Aberdeen Group, a leading analyst firm, found that sales teams that encouraged the use of best practices, including training, doubled their participation rate. Sales rep quota attainment was 82% for those that did, versus 39% for sales teams who did not. More sales, and higher revenue.

Your sales team needs to be trained — on the markets you sell into, the different buyer personas they’re likely to see, your products, and how they solve problems. These also change over time, so your training programs will need to be updated regularly.

Is Your Sales Training Program Really Working?

So you’ve invested in expensive learning technology. You’ve convinced the CEO and the executive team that with this investment your sales team’s participation rate (% reps at quota) will skyrocket. New sales reps will take far less time to onboard and to get to revenue. Your marketing counterpart is thrilled that the sales team will be trained on the latest messaging and sales enablement content.

Your sales operations/enablement teams have developed a sophisticated training curriculum and launched the new training program at your annual sales kickoff. It’s five months in, and you’re looking for results.

But there’s a problem. Participation rates haven’t budged, and your incoming sales reps don’t appear to be onboarding any faster than prior to your program rollout. What gives?

You chat to your managers, and several sales reps. It becomes clear that while most of your new hires (and many of your existing reps) valued the training they participated in, they quickly forgot the course material.

Learning and knowledge retention exhibits an inverse square law: the further in time from learning, the less knowledge is retained.

Vantage Point, a leader in sales training, found that 60-90% of trained knowledge was lost in the first 30 days after training if not immediately and consistently reinforced.

Yes, you’d like your reps to periodically refresh their learning by revisiting the Learning Management System (LMS), but do they? From your conversations, it’s become evident that sales reps did not return to the LMS following training, and your significant investment in budget and resources has been unsuccessful.

To borrow from Mark Suster, sales training is a line, not a dot. A once-off exposure to your curriculum (a dot) is not effective. To be experts, your reps must live the knowledge you need to impart to them. Fire and forget training supported by an LMS fails to deliver. The expectation or wish that your sales reps will return to learning material time and time again is naive.

The reasons are simple. According to analyst firm, CSO Insights, sales reps spend up to two-thirds of their time not selling. Adding an additional activity into their week — one that takes time and focus, and may not immediately be relevant to the prospect they’re working to close — is doomed to be forgotten or ignored.

Sales rep learning needs to be a line: an ongoing enablement activity. To make this happen, learning needs to occur in a sales rep’s existing workflow and needs to be immediately actionable. That is, sales reps need to be immersed in highly relevant and useful material that supports them winning today’s deals.

How to Turn Things Around

Here are three actions you can take right now to increase the effectiveness of your sales reps:

  1. Break up your existing training material into bite-sized chunks and ensure they’re actionable. For example, if a sales rep is selling to a particular buyer persona, add material that speaks to the buyer’s pain points, and provide compelling content the sales rep can send to the buyer.
  2. Ask your sales teams about situations that aren’t covered by your current training program. Are you training on all the segments your sales team sells to? Do they need industry background material? Again, create short briefing notes.
  3. Operationalize all of this material. Look for — and take advantage of — opportunities to surface the material in your sales reps’ workflows. Can you surface the material in your CRM? Or other systems in daily use by sales reps? Ideally, only the most relevant and actionable material will surface when a rep is selling to a particular prospect.

The dot approach to sales training is failing sales teams. The next generation of sales enablement tools and methodologies need to take heed of what educators have known for a long time. To be the experts they need to be, sales reps must live your company’s knowledge, actively learning from each new sales engagement.

Photo by: Ika Ink

New Call-to-action
  • Very nice post Daniel! I couldn’t agree more. Sales training is definitely an event. Sales coaching is the line. Thanks for the read.

  • Umesh Tibrewal

    Daniel, this is indeed a nice post. At BuzzBoard, we experience this everyday with the thousands of reps that use our technology. We have been more successful in app engagement at places where we have provided ongoing training as opposed to a one time activity. Workshops and meet ups are key to get reps to use newer technologies.