The Psychology Behind Creating a Sales Readiness Culture

Overcoming the “forgetting curve” to enable sales rep retention and application of knowledge and skills.

Each day, salespeople are increasingly challenged to remember crucial information that could make or break a deal. They need to keep updated on the latest company and competitor news, as well as any changes in the features and functionality of their products and services. This is all a precursor to applying innovative selling tactics and skills to help them reach the “moment of truth” in any customer conversation. It’s a recipe for information overload, which is likely to result in loss of productivity and effectiveness. In fact, recent studies have shown only about 37 percent of salespeople are spending their time on revenue-generating activities.

A primary method to keep salespeople from feeling overwhelmed and enable them to make a behavioral change is proper learning (versus just “training”) and effective sales coaching. These activities alone often don’t achieve desired results. The reason? Simple psychology.

In the late 19th century, German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus committed his research to understanding how memory works. Through his experiments, Ebbinghaus discovered the human brain is predisposed to a “forgetting curve”—the rate at which information retention declines over time. Notably, his research shows that training without any reinforcement results in 80 to 90 percent of information being forgotten within just one month. Without reinforcement, it’s difficult for sales teams to know what’s important to remember on an ongoing basis.

The purpose of continuous coaching and training is to ready the sales team to keep them prepared and effectively engage customers. Once a new skill or knowledge point has been obtained, details must be constantly reinforced to “convince” salespeople that the information matters. There are four primary training methods to ensure consistent recall—all which ladder up to the creation of a sales readiness culture.

1. Continuous Learning

Ebbinghaus’ research shows information presented over evenly spaced intervals, compared to all at once or at infrequent rates, is learned and remembered more easily and effectively. This practice of bite-sized, frequent learning modules is commonly known as microlearning, which is also conducive to salespeople’s busy schedules.

Microlearning ensures the most up-to-date, important information, skills, and tips they need can be quickly distributed at any moment and accessed anywhere, allowing them to remain productive and apply their new knowledge in the moment, improving retention.

2. Repetitive Practice

Everyone’s heard the phrase: “Practice makes perfect.” It’s not just an idiom—it’s rooted in fact. Research shows those who deliberately practice something tend to perform in their work or personal life better than those who don’t.

While repetition at first doesn’t sound like it would be the most mentally stimulating, repeating the same learning in different ways, such as through a quiz or role-play, can help keep things fresh while supporting the ultimate goal. Practicing new knowledge application or techniques through role-playing is particularly key when experimenting with sales pitches or presentations to actual prospects. Sales teams will be more prepared, confident, and effective in the field as a result. If you truly want sustainable gains from your training—then convert to an ongoing learning mentality. You can do this via a new way—ongoing learning as you are doing your job. It provides real-time, continuous learning and feedback to truly adjust and pivot toward outcomes, not just “check the box” for training.

3. Timely Feedback

Providing timely feedback also helps reinforce desired behaviors while preventing the formation of bad habits. By not providing feedback to a recent project or module, salespeople are at risk for falling backward on the forgetting curve. Whether in the form of coaching or one-on-one reviews, timely feedback is critical to driving sales results. In fact, according to the 2017 CSO Insights Sales Enablement Optimization Report, formal and dynamic coaching delivers the most significant performance impacts.

4. Best Practices

The CSO Insights report also emphasizes sharing best practices across sales teams as a key characteristic of the coaching process. While once a very manual process in sales teams, consisting of salespeople attending meetings or listening in on calls with someone more experienced, a more efficient method is to maintain recordings or videos of desired behaviors and messages. This allows for the information to be used as examples and helps the student recognize what success looks or sounds like.

Overall, these four methods and more can be customized and combined to create a culture of sales readiness and learning. Certain practices may work better for some teams versus others, but keep in mind that all have been proven to produce the desired behavioral changes on a consistent basis. By weaving them into your sales strategy, sales teams are less inclined to let the forgetting curve affect them, resulting in higher productivity and more wins for the business.

Patrick Lynch is the VP of enablement excellence and innovation at MindTickle. In his role, Lynch is responsible for advocating the importance of and best practices for the growing field of sales enablement. Prior to MindTickle, Lynch served in a variety of sales and leadership roles, including director and chief customer officer at analyst firm CSO Insights and managing partner at Salesbridge, a sales enablement consulting firm. He also is credited as a founding member of the Sales Enablement Society, Denver chapter, which is dedicated to elevating the role of sales enablement worldwide through engagement, communication, research, and development.

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