One of the most common frustrations I hear about sales training is that there’s never enough time to do it right.
Sure, sales trainers can put together powerful, time-efficient training “events” that respect sales reps’ busy schedules. But thanks to some pesky 19th-century German researcher named Ebbinghaus, we all know that the event isn’t the thing. Follow up is the key to effective training. And follow up takes a lot of time.
Or does it?
Use it or lose it
Ebbinghaus’s famous “forgetting curve” — which has been validated by countless studies over the years — tells us that training without follow-up is pretty much worthless. And as we learn more about how the brain acquires and retains knowledge, we have a better idea of why that’s so.
The brain isn’t simply a passive recording device that takes in whatever information is presented to it. It’s actively processing that information, using various rules to determine what’s worth hanging onto and what can be safely forgotten.
One of those rules involves repetition. If the same stuff keeps turning up, the brain concludes that it must be important. Intuitively, that makes sense. Accountants use spreadsheets every day, which tells their brains that spreadsheet-related knowledge is really important.
Of course, some important information doesn’t come up very often. (What’s the name of that big shot at your most important account, who you only see at the holiday party?) In that case, we need to artificially increase the repetition (for example, by reciting the bigwig’s name 20 times before you get to the party).
The brain doesn’t make much distinction between repetition that happens naturally and repetition that we create artificially. The rule is still the same: If it’s repeated, it’s important.
Learn more about the science behind the Rapid Learning Institute. Check out these 2-minute videos.
Sending a signal
So from this perspective, the goal of follow up in training isn’t to re-cram forgotten knowledge back into the brain. It’s to signal to the brain that hey, this stuff is important, so you need to hang onto it.
When you look at follow-up from this perspective, you can see that it might not need to be as time consuming as you’d think. You don’t have to re-teach the same lesson over and over. You don’t have to wrangle everybody back into the training room to take their follow-up medicine. You just have to put some reminders out where learners will stumble across them in their daily lives.
Here are three simple ways you can create these reminders.
1. As you prepare the training event, go ahead and create the follow-up events at the same time. Write a series of e-mails that you’ll send out after the event. One might present a short scenario based on the learning. Another might include a quiz question or two. Yet another might revisit one or two key points. Don’t try to revisit the entire lesson — include enough to get the learner re-engaged with the concept, without asking for a big time investment.
2. If you’re a sales manager, turn day-to-day sales problems into teachable moments. Look for opportunities to apply the learning in the real world. For example, you might ask a rep, “So, how does this situation relate to the training we did last month?” Don’t supply the answer right away; it actually helps retention if the sales rep has to struggle a little to remember what it was you talked about last month.
3. During the training event, establish shared vocabulary that can later serve as shorthand to remind people of the key principles. In one of our training modules, for example, we talk about the “Yes Trap.” The idea is that salespeople who say yes to everything undermine their credibility. Sales managers can use that phrase to remind salespeople of the principle. For example, when debriefing a sales call the sales manager might ask, “Do you think you avoided the Yes Trap on this call?”
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