How a Trick You Learned in 3rd Grade Can Help You Master Sales


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At this point we’ve probably all heard the advice about cramming the night before a big test: You’re wasting your time since the human brain isn’t equipped to take on so much information at once. You would do better to relax and get a good night’s sleep.

This actually isn’t true.

There is a common misconception that cramming the night before is the wrong way to go about acing a test. According to Robert Bjork, psychology department chair at UCLA and a top expert in human learning and memory, cramming can actually be a good thing when it comes to getting a good grade. Studies show that even if a student doesn’t know the material and hasn’t appropriately spaced their studying across the semester, cramming all night may actually enable them to perform well on the exam.

But (you knew there was a “but” coming, didn’t you?) — shortly thereafter the information they were able to accurately recall for the test starts to disappear from the mind. This is because cramming only forms temporary connections in the brain — i.e., the information only gets stored in short-term memory. For attaining a depth of understanding that can carry over to other courses or areas of life, cramming is a poor strategy.

So while cramming can work for students looking to survive a single test, the question is, does it work for sales professionals? Because that’s essentially what the classic “fly-everyone-in-for-two-days-of-PowerPoint” sales training amounts to, if you think about it. And unless each of your sales engagements is a one-off (in which case you’ve got bigger problems), it’s obvious that for articulating a complex value message to a hyper-informed 21st century buyer, you’ll be dead in the water without a deep understanding of your buyer, product, and more. Therefore, as sales reps, We can’t afford to rely on cramming when it comes to the crucial information needed to inspire buyers to say “yes.”

Flashcards for reinforcement learning
© sonya etchison

Spaced Repetition – The Key to Mastery

The only effective way to truly retain and understand the information that matters most is to align our learning strategies with the way the brain works.

We know that new information entering the brain is immediately put on a path that leads to eventual disappearance if it isn’t used. Studying new information in intervals over an extended period of time — instead of doing them all at once — lets the brain know this information is important and must be retained. This reinforcement learning technique, known as “spaced repetition” learning, has been studied and utilized for many years in a variety of contexts.

Learning with flashcards is one of the most common applications that we probably all have some experience with. A widely used technique is to go through and try to answer one flashcard at a time over a specific time interval each day — creating a workflow for yourself that contains both a stack of cards you got right and a stack you got wrong. The ones you answered correctly, you put into a stack that you’ll revisit less frequently in the future, whereas the ones you answered incorrectly, you move into a stack scheduled for frequent visits.

Performing these repetitions for just a very brief period of time each day drills this information deep into memory.

The Modern Seller

In today’s digital landscape, it is essential for businesses to ensure frontline reps have superior command of the finer points of our products, as well as our buyers’ business problem so they are fully equipped to fluently articulate how our solution is the only answer to it. Therefore, in order to effectively prepare for communication with the modern buyer, many sales reps are relying on tried and true training techniques such as repetition and reinforcement learning to retain the knowledge needed to effectively compete.

This post originally appeared on the Allego blog. You can read the original post here.

Mark Magnacca
Mark Magnacca is the President and co-founder of Allego, and has spent the last 15 years helping sales leaders shorten the sales cycle and distribute their best ideas faster. Prior to co-founding Allego, Mark founded Insight Development Group, Inc., a leading Sales and Presentation training firm specializing in the Financial Services industry. As a former financial advisor, Mark brings a unique perspective to the world of consultative selling. Mark is a graduate of Babson College and resides in the Boston area.


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