It was the winter of 1949.

A young, self-taught guitarist braved the bitter cold to gig at a little nightclub in Twist, Arkansas. Although it was a rural venue, he had only recently started recording songs and knew he could hone his skills by playing there.

To heat the club, the owners half-filled a big garbage pail with kerosene, set it in the middle of the floor, and lit the fuel. The club-goers would dance around the pail and everyone stayed warm.

But you know what?

On this particular night, as often happens in establishments of that nature, two men began to argue over a woman.

The situation escalated. The men began to fight. One of them knocked the other against the makeshift heating system, causing it to spill its contents on the floor. According to the blues singer, “it was already burning, so when it spilled, it looked like a river of fire, and everybody ran for the front door.”

Minutes after escaping to safety, the young man realized something. He'd left his prized guitar inside the burning wooden building. Without thinking, he ran back into the inferno and grabbed his beloved instrument. He made it back outside seconds before the entire building collapsed.

Here's the real kicker: The next morning, the bluesman, found out that the two men who were fighting had died in the blaze.  He also heard the name of the woman they fought over was Lucille.

As long as he lived, B.B. King called his guitars Lucille. He never met the woman. But the name was a reminder not to do risky things--like get in bar fights over women or rush into burning buildings to save a guitar.

Here's the point: If you want to remember an important lesson, you need some way to reinforce that learning experience later on.

The same holds true for your sales reps.

Let me explain...

The training & development industry’s dirty little secret

It's no secret spending on training is on the rise.

US-based companies spend approximately $20 billion a year on sales training.

Many organizations, however, wonder if their training efforts are futile.


Because participants typically forget much of what they have learned shortly after the training event and revert back to their original behaviors.


(image credit: Sales Performance International)

This is a big problem because failing to help your reps develop strong sales skills has a direct impact on company revenues.

Still not convinced?

  • In a white paper, Sales Performance International says "research indicates that without systematic, ongoing learning and reinforcement, approximately 50% of the learning content is not retained within five weeks, much less applied. Within 90 days, 84% of what was initially learned is lost."
  • SPI also says, "our research shows that only 16% of unreinforced training event content is retained after 90 days, on average. A continual learning approach raises that retention and adoption rate to more than 90% , producing much broader and more consistent application of effective sales practices, which in turn, results in much better sales results."
  • According to HireVue 87% of sales training is forgotten within 30 days.

For some people happiness may consist of good health and a bad memory. But for a sales organization, a bad memory is expensive.

Companies spend $3.4 to $4.6 billion on sales training every year with outsourced sales training providers. Yet according to Kurlan & Associates, three of four sales reps have no idea what they're doing.

How is that possible?

Once is not enough

Part of the problem is the way sales people are trained.

According to Sales Readiness Group (SRG), “research has consistently demonstrated that unless training is followed by post-training reinforcement...event-based sales training produces limited results. That’s because successfully changing specific behaviors requires a process, not a one-time event. Behaviors can’t realistically be changed in one or two days.”

In other words, the reason most sales training initiatives are a waste of money is without systematic, ongoing learning and reinforcement, your reps are unlikely to improve their selling skills.

Bottom line: the only way training events produce strong sales skills is through behavior change which only takes place with reinforcement.

Seven things to know about learning reinforcement

Here are seven things you need to know about reinforcement.

  1. The best way to reinforce training events is with scheduled and on-demand reinforcement across planned time horizons via multiple modalities.
  2. SPI recommends taking a two-tiered approach to reinforcement. Salespeople are busy. To make sure they get the most from their training resources, use both scheduled and on-demand learning.
  3. According to Kirkpatrick Partners, " reinforcement after training is a powerful required driver. This post-training support and accountability system is one of the biggest predictors of application and program success."
  4. Keith M. Eades of SPI writes, "Simply providing “blended” learning that is comprised of instructor led and eLearning courses may not improve retention and application results. An appropriate blend of controlled learning “events,” on-demand resources, “push” reinforcement, and on-the-job learning is required to meet the needs of next generation sales professionals."
  5. You should combine different learning and reinforcement delivery methods, like instructor-led training, eLearning, virtual classrooms, "pushed" content, video sales scenarios, webcast "refresher" lessons, searchable knowledge repositories, and access to forums and discussions.
  6. Other on-demand learning resources you can use to improve learning and retention, include:
    1. A centrally located knowledge repository
    2. Online forums organized around key selling competencies
    3. Recorded webinars that provide "refresher" material on specific selling skills
    4. Videos and simulations that illustrate best practices (and not so good practices).
  7. Ongoing reinforcement requires small amounts of time on a weekly basis. You can align it with prior training subject matter.
Reinforcement leads to improved retention and application. More consistent application of effective sales practices results in much better sales results. You want sustainable learning that drives behavior change which takes place over time.

What are you doing to reinforce the sales training you’ve invested in? Leave a comment and let us know, or join the conversation by tweeting to @HireVueSales

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(image credit:Anthony Sills)

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