Sales training and “stickiness” – two phrases often heard in the same breath when talking with VPs of Sales and Sales Training Directors. The need for sales training to be “sticky” is clear – no one disputes it … but everyone also agrees it’s tough to achieve.
A majority of the work on how to go about increasing stickiness has been done under the banner of reinforcement – that is what can be done to reinforce sales skills taught in the training so those skills don’t decay. Within that discussion sales coaching often is justifiably noted as the number one strategy for getting it right.
The reinforcement discussion is all about what to do “after” sales training to increase stickiness. But what can be done when it comes to designing sales training to increase the probability of that sales skills will be retained?
Recently CSO Insights addressed this question. We borrow a couple of their ideas and added some of our own:
- Align sales training to the company’s sales goals. For example, if the company is launching a new product or focusing on closing new accounts then those topics should be the heart of the sales training program. If avoiding discounting is a key objective, then the training should be designed to address selling value. If identifying new opportunities in existing accounts is the challenge, then the focus for sales training could be on cross-selling/up-selling. Key point – If sales training is focused on a clear business objective there are a number of people and established rewards that will help make the training stick.
- Customize sales training so the sales people can easily adopt the skills. One of the reasons why sales training doesn’t stick is sales reps don’t see how to transfer what they learned in the classroom to the real world. So drag the real world into the classroom. Customize the entire sales training program around the contacts, issues, and challenges that sales reps will face when they leave the classroom. Key point – Design training experiences to exactly replicate the look of the real world. Stickiness increases if sales reps don’t have to translate what they learned in the classroom in order to apply it on the job.
- Maximize practice and feedback. You can’t learn a skill by listening to someone talk about it or by watching others perform it. If that were the case there would be a lot of armchair quarterbacks playing in the NFL. It takes a certain amount of talent, preexisting conditions and a whole lot of practice and feedback to learn any complex skill. With that thought in mind sales training ought to be designed to minimize lecture and maximize practice and feedback. Key point – If sales training is designed so that the participants spend 85% of the classroom time practicing and getting feedback, the training will have a higher “stickiness index.” This is one of the reasons why sales simulations have such a great track record for performance change.
- Use great facilitators. The old saying that “it is both the dance and the dancer” is ever so true when it comes to teaching sales. No sales training design is so good that it does not require great trainers. Key point – Stickiness can be increased if the trainer brings real world examples and the customers’ perspective into the classroom.
There is little doubt that a major training challenge for improving sales performance is how to make sure the skills learned in the classroom don’t decay. If no attention is given to this issue, it is likely the 85% of the skills will be lost within 3 months. Reinforcement – particularly sales coaching – is clearly a piece of the puzzle. However, the retention challenge can also be addressed by designing sales training so that learning is inoculated against some of the worse causal factors of skill decay.
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