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Reinforcement Learning: How to Make Your Sales Training Stick

Mark Magnacca | Jul 30, 2017 264 views 1 Comment

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Effective sales training isn’t to be underestimated. As veteran sales reps, we know from past experience that the success of an organization can be made – or unmade – through the implementation of successful training programs. However, a surprising 96% of reps and managers we surveyed felt that their company’s training programs were not productive. Why is that? Are we not investing enough? Are we investing in the wrong places? The answer lies in why companies spend so much more on training for sales than for other functions.

Every employee should understand their company’s product and market. But organizations invest in sales training because top-of mind knowledge is a salesperson’s currency. Unlike other functions, sales doesn’t have the option to lean on reference material to fill knowledge gaps when a question arises. Sales needs to know it all, cold. They need to essentially perform, and be able to fluently articulate their knowledge, live, while fielding questions about it. Would you expect an actor to deliver a great performance without knowing their lines? Of course not. Without deep understanding of the product and market, sellers don’t have a chance at effectively handling customer questions and objections in this age of hyper-informed buyers. The most influential factor in today’s buying decisions is a sales rep’s ability to articulate value.

In Defense of Sales Training
Limits exist when it comes to how much information a person can absorb in a training session. We know new information entering the brain immediately starts disappearing if it is not revisited and reinforced over time. This is a widely studied phenomenon called “the forgetting curve.” As much as 50 to 80 percent of training material can be lost as soon as the day after, and up to 98 percent within 30 days.

This is why training reinforcement matters so much. Reps and managers feel like their company’s sales training program is ineffective because they’ve felt the pain of struggling to recall key information during a customer conversation. It’s not that sales training and enablement professionals have been doing anything wrong: it’s just there haven’t been viable systems to easily reinforce the training.



Reinforcement learning describes the process of driving greater knowledge retention using ongoing exercises, coaching, quizzing and drilling. You need reinforcement learning to really get an entire team of salespeople to absorb key information to a degree where they can articulate it naturally. Without it, reps are left having to make a huge recall effort during their sales pitches, which makes it impossible to listen to the customer. However, companies continue to deliver sales training using intense but infrequent bursts like yearly sales kickoffs, or through corporate learning management systems that feature little to no reinforcement learning. What gives? This crucial component’s relative absence on the sales training scene isn’t due to lack of effort or investment. It’s simply a function of how challenging it is to provide quality reinforcement learning for sales.

Genuinely reinforcing sales training requires face-to-face, interactive practice and learning. Salespeople need to practice the right way to deliver responses to a series of questions or objections. Without interactive learning, the richness of in-person communication that is vital to sales success is lost. The problem, however, is that facilitating this with geographically distributed sales forces simply costs too much. It’s impossible to schedule consistent in-person coaching for every rep without blowing a hole in the budget and having sales managers on the road 24/7.

A New Kind of Interaction
Video sales training provides reinforcement learning for sales in an efficient, cost-effective manner. Trainers and managers bypass the need for in-person meetings and ride-alongs to facilitate interactive learning for their reps — and now have recourse when the forgetting curve rears its ugly head. Studies show ROI on training quadruples when followed up by in-field coaching and reinforcement. Now these results are available without the time and expense needed to get geographically dispersed sales teams in one place.

Video sales training also complements other, traditional forms of reinforcement learning. This kind of learning can be divided in two categories, the reinforcement of scenario-based training as described above with interactive learning, and the reinforcement of fact-based training. Fact-based training teaches salespeople the building blocks to successful customer conversations, like basic product information, competitive intelligence facts, or market data. Using periodic quizzing and drilling repeated over time is a proven way to reinforce such learning. But presently, supplementing this with modern reinforcement learning using interactive video role play and other means of active practice affords much better results. Training and enablement professionals no longer have to settle for low knowledge retention.

The first wave of sales training and enablement professionals did an excellent job with the tools available. But with the advent of mobile devices with video recording capabilities, the sales training and enablement professional of the 21st century can get their organization to revenue goals faster and more profitably using modern reinforcement learning.

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One Response to Reinforcement Learning: How to Make Your Sales Training Stick

  1. Caroline Meyers August 14, 2017 at 1:41 pm (16 comments) #

    When it comes to training your sales team, you need to make sure people are retaining what they learn. Interactive learning, as can be accomplished with methods like video training, can help improve information retention.

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