Industry Insight: Three Ways to Make Your Workplace Learning Stick

To effectively reinforce what sales and service professionals learn at work, organizations must insist their training and development initiatives include delivery in bite-sized chunks, a focus on coaching, and investment in sales and service managers.







Remember when you first learned to drive a car? If you were like me, you were a bit shaky the first few times you sat behind the wheel. And you probably needed constant guidance and reassurance from the parent or guardian who was brave enough to drive with you. But after a while, you got the hang of driving and started to gain more confidence as you practiced.

Your next step was Drivers Ed. This is where you learned the rules of the road in a classroom setting and drove dozens of miles with an instructor. Next, you had to pass the actual written and driving exam, and then you were finally able to drive solo.

But it didn’t end there. The more you drove, the more you learned — the stronger your skills became until driving without hesitation became second nature. Eventually you didn’t even think about how to drive safely — you just did it. The more you reinforced your skills and your knowledge, the better you became. Now continual reinforcement enables you to master the skill even further.

So why should learning at work be any different?

Reinforcement must be part of every sales and service training initiative to get the most out of them — and to truly grasp and master the investment. But without effective reinforcement, learning is easily forgotten. Consider the following:

  • Most people forget about 50 percent of what they learn within one hour of learning it.
  • Within one week, individuals only retain about 10 percent of what they originally learned.

Many organizations make a significant investment in their sales and service teams through training and development. But if training is not applied and continually reinforced, that investment becomes an encumbrance. As a result, organizations have to keep re-teaching the same skills over and over — year after year.

To effectively reinforce what sales and service professionals learn at work, organizations must insist their training and development initiatives include three vital aspects: delivery in bite-sized chunks, a focus on coaching, and an investment in sales and service managers.

Delivery matters. One of the best ways to improve retention rates for learning at work is by delivering workforce learning in bite-sized chunks so sales and service professionals can keep their skills sharp — regardless of whether they’re in the office or on the road.

Most of us have multiple devices we use throughout the day. How we learn at home should be no different than how we learn at work. We have consumer-grade expectations that are typically not being met once we enter the office.

When you deliver learning in bite-sized chunks with a user-centric design, and provide instant access to content, you meet your learners’ expectations — and drive greater retention to make your learning have a lasting impact.

Focus on coaching. Continual coaching is a key way organizations can embed a culture of learning retention rather than re-learning. Unfortunately, sales managers don’t spend enough time doing this. The 2015 Sales Management Optimization Study from CSO Insights reveals sales managers spend about 20 percent of their time coaching. It takes a major commitment to reinforce skills and methodologies, but it’s well worth the effort.

When managers coach their teams using a formal or dynamic process, it pays off in big ways. According to research from CSO Insights, managers who either have a formal or dynamic coaching program in place experience significantly higher win rates (by nearly 20 percent) and quota attainment (by nearly 10 percent) than organizations that leave coaching up to managers. The impact coaching can have on an organization’s bottom line can be significant.

Invest in sales and service managers. When you embed coaching activities into training implementation, sales managers will be equipped to coach more effectively and drive the kind of behaviors that can lead to better selling. In addition, effective training helps leaders be more efficient with pipeline and forecast management because of the consistencies it creates in organizational communication.

Investing in sales managers can impact the performance of sales teams through continual learning efforts. Making an annual investment of more than $2,500 on each sales manager leads to higher quota attainment, revenue attainment and win rates compared with organizations that make only a modest investment.

Training, when combined with good, consistent coaching that’s tightly integrated into the company’s business processes, and delivered in a way to reinforce what the workforce has learned, drives behavior change and leads to performance improvement. Coaching guides sales professionals during the journey of understanding concepts to practice to independent application to ‘muscle memory’ of what they have learned.

Good training isn’t a one-time event or an item on a to-do list. It’s teaching concepts, coaching through application, measuring, monitoring and encouraging best practices to ensure behavior change drives results.

Byron Matthews is the President and CEO of Miller Heiman Group, one of the largest sales and service training companies in the world. Built on legacy brands such as Miller Heiman, AchieveGlobal, Huthwaite, Impact Learning Systems and Channel Enablers, Miller Heiman Group is backed by more than 150 years of experience and performance. To learn more, visit