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3 Ways to Improve Sales Rep Training and Performance

To be successful, sales teams must invest in their sales representatives. Here's what you need to know about providing incentives, training, and education.

8 min read

According to the Association for Talent Development (ATD) American companies spend upwards of $20 billion per year on sales training. Contrast that with the mind-boggling statistic from a recent SiriusDecisions survey that 71% of sales representatives blame their inability to close deals on their lack of knowledge. So where does the disconnect lie between training and sales rep success, and who is responsible for improving sales rep training and performance?

The current thinking and practices of many sales organizations has led them to a place where key product and sales methodology knowledge isn’t being transferred and retained by sales representatives. As a result, both training dollars and sales performance are suffering.

To help, here are solutions to three common sales training and sales coaching problems you can implement to add a much needed boost to your sales performance and training effectiveness.

1. For Training, Once isn’t Enough

ATD reports that continuous sales training results in 50 percent higher net sales per employee.

The Problem: One-and-done Training

Many organizations train sales reps in an initial bootcamp and one-time knowledge dump during on-boarding and ramp. Newly-hired sales reps are hit with sales processes, methodology, product knowledge, and a brief introduction to a foreign set of sales enabling technologies before they're released to the sales floor. Six to nine months later when performance is evaluated, they are struggling, unsuccessful, and a little bit jaded.

Here's where the problem arises: who is truly to blame for the poor performance—the rep or inadequate training? Was the under-performing rep a bad hire or were they not given the continuous sales training needed?

The Solution: Continuous, On-going Education

Your initial on-boarding training is a great first step to ramping and preparing newly-hired reps for the sales floor. However, reps should receive on-going education, including product refreshes and continued skills trainings.

In addition, each sales reps joins your sales team with a different skillset, level of experience, and career goals. It's important for managers to understand each individual rep's goals and provide additional education opportunities to move reps further in their career paths, such as conferences, courses, etc.

Not to mention, one of the top reasons sales reps leave a company is inadequate training. Therefore, providing individual career development and continuous education is extremely important. Especially when it costs, on average, approximately three times a rep's salary to replace them.

2. The Way Humans Learn Has Changed

The average attention span is down from 12 seconds in the year 2000 to eight seconds, according to Source Global Research.

The Problem: Attention Spans are Shortening

Research has shown that the average adult attention span is short, really short—and getting shorter. Researchers have theorized that the weak attention spans may be a side effect of evolving to a digital world with mobile internet. 

To be honest, this information isn't entirely surprising. Additional studies shows that individuals touch their phones 2,617 times a day, and 87% of Millennials say that their smart phone never leaves their side. This attention span dynamic is in diametric contrast to long-form learning such as the classroom, which makes sitting in long-winded training sessions ineffective. Hence, there is a big need for sales leaders to improve training and performance to fit in better with changing attention spans.

The Solution: Digitalize and Break up Training Time

Because attention spans are shortening, it's important to adapt training accordingly. Break learning up into small, easily-digestible chunks with breaks in between that allow reps to refresh, get up and move around, and process the information being given to them. 

Take advantage of the ubiquity of mobile devices and deliver content via Micro and Nano learning videos. Micro learning is defined by different people in different ways, but a simple way to think about it to aim for learning materials in sets of five—five-minute videos, five-page booklets/workbooks, etc. Nano learning is even shorter. Consider two-minute video (or shorter) and something simple like an infographic.

3. Repetition Increases Retention

After a single day, we retain about 33.7% of what we learned.

The Problem: It Takes More Than Once to Retain Info

With short attention spans, it's no surprise that people forget, and they forget rapidly. The learning community has long known that if content is not reinforced than it is rapidly forgotten. The classic “forgetting curve” illustrates that in a single day up to 66 percent of what you teach your reps during new hire training, sales kickoff meetings, product training, and sales methodology is forgotten by the trainees. 

This goes hand-in-hand with the need to train reps continuously. One iteration of sales training will be ultimately be forgotten—quickly. The more times reps hear information and refreshers they receive, the more they will retain it, which is key for sales reps succeeding.

The Solution: Refresh, Reiterate, Repeat

From day one as a new hire, throughout the course of their sales career, your sales representatives need consistent and customized coaching. By providing regular reinforcement in consumable bite size pieces, managers can offset the forgetting curve, accelerate new hires to become full quota-bearing reps, and significantly drive the performance of experienced sales representatives.

Rethink how you are on-boarding, coaching, and training your sales force today. Many organizations are falling prey to the three problems above and are realizing sub-par performance from their training investments and sales representative performance. By recognizing and addressing the problems you can flip the script and start seeing improved and inspired performance from your sales force.

Ensuring Training Results in Sales Rep Success

To ensure sales reps succeed, they need proper training. It's ultimately up to sales leadership and enablement teams to improve sales rep training and performance. The first step is nailing down processes to provide continuous education.

Then sales leadership must analyze rep performance against training to better understand it's effectiveness. This gives deeper visibility into where there are gaps in education, allowing sales enablement and leadership to course correct, adjust training, and improve overall performance.

Learn more tips for improving sales planning and effectiveness in our Complete Sales Planning Handbook.