Always Be… Learning?

Most people in the sales world are pretty familiar with the Glengarry Glen Ross quote ‘Always be Closing’. It really is a great clip.

Recently I asked some readers of this blog about problems facing sales organisations. If you haven’t yet answered, see how your answers compare to others below.

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As you can see, nearly everyone who replied noted that limited training was an issue so I wanted to explore the topics of learning and information retention, and thus, ‘Always be Learning‘.

There’s always something new to learn in sales. A new product/offering, shifting buying behaviours, sales technology, forecasting methodologies, objection handling, improving social selling, etc, etc. Many sales professionals dread training and the experience can be frustrating for sales management and operations when new information isn’t properly bedding down. Improving your training program can have huge benefits on your sales organisation.

Of 1,00o companies surveyed, only 9.6% rated their sales training programs as having “exceeded expectations,” while 33% just “met expectations.” The largest category was “needed improvement” at 53.6%.

CSO 2015 Sales Performance Optimization and Sales Management Optimization Study

The findings of the CSO study show training can improve quota achievement, win rates and improve the quality of solution alignment to customer needs.

Other Training Benefits

It is worth mentioning that improving sales training can also have less obvious benefits.

CSO Insights found that companies with sales training programs that exceeded expectations had the lowest annual sales rep turnover (11.9%) while companies with sales training programs that need improvement had significantly higher turnover rates (19.5%). Many studies show it costs £30k+ to replace staff, and often that figure is even higher for sales professionals.

 The only thing worse than training employees and losing them is to not train them and keep them.

Zig Ziglar

Training has also been proven to increase job satisfaction and motivation for work. In fact, happiness makes people around 12 per cent more productive according to a study by the University of Warwick.

Learning Styles

varkThere are many different types of learners, and the ‘VARK’ acronym is one such way to understand how people learn. When you combine VARK with the fact that, often, those from different generations prefer different learning styles and media, it makes it very hard to make sure your training is understood by your audience and extremely important to be varied.

Training Retention

Now, it gets even uglier. Studies show the retention of sales training content is not great. Sales Performance International estimates that half of the content ofscreen-shot-2016-09-26-at-16-07-51 a sales training course is lost in only five weeks.

The good news is that the same report shows that by regularly reinforcing information after formal training, retention rates can rise as much as 90%. Examples of sales training reinforcement pyramidinclude ongoing coaching, e-learning, automated refreshers, and running sales scenarios.

One of the most well-known pieces of research when it comes to retention is the ‘learning pyramid’ and the graph to the right shows the different rates of retention.  This model is attributed to the National Training Laboratories in Maine, USA. The methods at the top are passive learning and those with the higher rates of retention near the bottom are more participatory learning. There are, of course, more intricacies to this, but I think it makes a lot of sense.skills

Putting together the ideas of how to learn and how people retain information, the Sales Benchmark Index studied how their clients were able to adopt new skills and came up with these figures.

Clearly practicing a coaching can have a huge impact on the rate of new skill adoption.

Some Tips in Practice

If you are delivering training, the best way to ensure sales personnel retain data is to make them DO it while you are talking about it. This could be anything from working with sales management to introduce a new cadence or KPI to their 1:1 meetings with their team, or training sales reps on how to create a new quote in a CPQ system. How will you they can do it if you can’t see it? How will those learning make sure all their questions are answered unless they run into issues in a real scenario? If you are doing any sort of system training, having internet access for all training participants is a must!

Sales reps will often tell you how important it is to have an excellent sales pitch or presentation, but rarely is it something they practice. There are many ways to improve this. Running simulation exercises at regular sales meetings can be a great learning opportunity. Using a weekly sales call to rotate reps presenting a short presentation for critique can also be excellent. Creating a culture of coaching and teaching within your team can ensure everyone is always learning and never static. This method can also extend to the management community and ‘swapping’ managers for standard forecast calls is a great tactic to ensure sales managers are always asking all the right questions, by forcing them to think more objectively practicing with deals they don’t know well.


If you are starting to make changes or adopting a new training program, the following key tips can ensure your great material is both comprehended and retained:

  • have a varied and frequent approach
  • incorporate active and passive learning styles
  • create an environment where all communities can actively coach and critique each other

If you want help setting up a documentation and training program for your sales organisation, Sales Ops Help can work with you and also put you in touch with some fantastic trainers.

See other motivational and funny sales videos here

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