A Story About Learning Retention and Sales Skills Transfer


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I received an unsolicited email today from Bob Branson, President of TACK-USA. (Disclosure: TACK-USA subscribes to ESR’s research.)

As I read through the email, one statement Bob made struck me hard regarding learning transfer strategies: “Somehow, someway, they all relied on their customers’ internal resources to follow through.” This is a component of the broader subject of change management. It’s a challenge ESR has recognized and unfortunately one that not enough sales training providers have overcome. I read through the email a few times and thought there were some important take-aways here for both sales trainers and sales leaders. Bob allowed me to share this with you. (I performed some minor editing.)

Hello Dave,

It occurred to me that you may find this story interesting.

When we were awarded the TACK license in the US several years ago, there were two things we knew we needed to do as a top priority:

  1. While we had 25 year’s experience in training and development through TMI [Bob’s former company] and a great deal of support from the international group, we had a lot to learn.
  2. We needed to develop a brand.

From our experience in brand development, we knew that we had to find one thing that we were either the best or most unique at. A brand would be built around that. Anything else we were good at would eventually grow legs and customers would find out. In the meantime, if we determined that we were not the best at something, we had to find something. Little did we know that our learning quest and brand we be one in the same.

The research began and we conducted countless brainstorming sessions with diverse groups, taking ourselves through the same process we take clients through when searching for an identity. While our selling model was good, so were our competitors. The same with our trainers, good but not the best. Quite frankly, we couldn’t come up with anything that made us the best or most unique.

Then, while conducting our learning process, I read a blog post written by [you].

You talked extensively about training stickiness and how that was an enormous, sometimes hidden, industry problem. You mentioned how few training companies there are that acknowledge learning retention, let alone skills transfer. If I recall you pointed the readers to Wilson Learning as an example of an organization that was stepping up. We researched Wilson Learning and conducted benchmarking, a practice I had years of experience doing, with the top 20 sales training companies you listed on your web site…

I knew the difference between theory and practical application. I interviewed sales reps from different sales companies and they outlined their learning transfer strategies. Some clearly had a strategy that could work. Maybe we could do something similar I thought. Then it occurred to me… they all had a fatal flaw. Somehow, someway, they all relied on their customers’ internal resources to follow through. I had seen those programs countless times, I just never noticed the problem. I knew the chances of any of those follow-up strategies making it on a sales managers important/urgent list were not good. They were doomed to be minimally effective.

That theory was driven home when a sales rep from a major training provider outlined her organization’s strategies. After explaining some impressive plans to me, I asked her the million dollar (literally) question; “Just how effective are those strategies in terms of results?” She replied, “Bob, that completely depends on my clients’ sales managers.” Translated, she said they didn’t work very well.

While conducting our research, we stumbled upon Dr. K. Anders Ericsson’s 25-year body of research relative to learning retention and skills transfers. Now we just had to develop programs containing the four essential elements of practice, feedback, reflection, and adjustment. But there was more. Those strategies all had to meet our test of simple, economical, engaging, and not relying heavily on the customer’s internal resources, or they would fail as well. Most of the strategies were eliminated from that process. It was a major, often frustrating undertaking.

I won’t bore you with all the research and events that occurred over the next several years during the development process, other than to say learning retention and skills transfer became a passion, and something we now truly believe we are the best in the world at.


Photo credit: © Matthew Collingwood – Fotolia.com

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Stein
Dave specializes in helping his clients win critical B2B sales opportunities as well as helping them hire the best sales talent.Dave is co-author of Beyond the Sales Process. He wrote the best-selling How Winners Sell in 2004.


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