Better Sales Training with "In-Context" Reinforcement

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Here’s a simple truth when it comes to educating your sales force: Sales training is broken.

I know that’s a bold assertion, so let me explain why the traditional style of regular sales training—quarterly, multiday sales kickoff meetings—is ineffective, and how you can fix it. Bringing together sales, sales enablement, and product marketing once a quarter is great for alignment, learning through sharing, and team building. But by itself, it’s a horrible way to learn. Here’s why:

  • Most product information presented is very detail oriented.
  • Most presentations are, quite frankly, boring.
  • The information presented isn’t personal until sales reps have to put it in practice.
  • Most new information is forgotten within days if not reinforced.

One of my favorite stats about learning can be found in the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve, which states that about 72 percent of everything learned will be forgotten within two days if not reinforced through repetition.

We know, based on Highpoint’s own survey, that training is the highest priority for sales enablement teams to help sales organizations be more effective. This raises the question: If training is a priority, but 72 percent of everything learned is forgotten almost immediately, how can organizations successfully arm their sales teams with the knowledge they need and have it stick?

Reinforce With Relevant Self-Guided Learning

Here are a few simple approaches to help make regular sales training more effective:

Reinforce with blended learning. Providing—and having sales leadership mandate and measure—options for follow-up training is critical. Experiment with a variety of vehicles including quick videos of key concepts, gamification, and peer-led “key takeaway” notes. Making these efforts bite-sized will help ensure that sales actually participates.

Conduct role-playing exercises. For new sales processes and presentations, the best way for reps to learn is to practice the new material for a sales manager. This applied form of practice is great for retention because it helps the rep figure out the nuances of the presentation and provides sales managers with an opportunity to coach.


Deliver with sales tools and collateral. Providing the training material in the same venue as the rep’s sales content makes it easier to access. It also creates a “hand-in-glove” scenario where the training on how to make the presentation is right next to the respective content.

Improve training content and delivery. It’s not easy, but the more training professionals and expert presenters can work with the product managers and sales leaders to improve the quality and delivery of the training material, the more interesting and memorable it will be.

Delivery training relevant to sales’ needs. For sales reps to care about training, it needs to be relevant to getting their jobs done. When a sales reps are about to pitch a new product or are offering it for the first time, they suddenly become very interested in learning what they can about the product, the value it provides, competitive offerings, and how to present it most effectively. So provide this information when they need it, based on product, industry, customer information, or selling stage.

In-Context E-Learning Makes It Easy to Reinforce Training

In-context training has been very successful with Highpoint’s clients. The key is to provide training content in context to their selling situation. The parameters that define the selling situation are dependent on each organization’s go-to-market segments and sales processes, but can include sales stage, size of company, industry, product line, geography, or really anything tracked within the customer relationship management (CRM) system. By aligning training to the immediate selling situation, it becomes more relevant and “real.”

I know what you're thinking... “But getting sales to do any training is hard!”


Yes, that’s true, and we want them focused on selling. That’s why it’s important to make the content bite-sized and relevant. Content that works well includes short training videos (five minutes or less), short battle-cards, key-facts documents, and condensed playbooks.

Modern Sales Enablement Delivers In-Context Training Content

So how do you actually go about doing this? The fastest and easiest way is to implement a modern sales enablement solution that provides in-context training capabilities, including:

  • delivering training content in-context to the selling situation
  • delivering training content alongside—or within the same system—as sales content, including the CRM solution or the sales enablement platform itself
  • recommending training content based on relevance to a seller’s opportunities
  • providing full analytics on content usage and performance in relation to sales efforts. 

The Highspot and ATD webcast In-Context Training, Development, Content, and Intel Sales Needs to Succeed (recording now available) provides more detail on how to implement in-context training, so I encourage you to check it out.

To learn more about modern sales enablement solutions, read “The Definitive Guide to Sales Enablement” to understand feature capabilities, best practices, and relevant solution providers.



About the Author

Jeff is the VP of Marketing at Highspot and an 18 year veteran of sales enablement activities through roles in both marketing and sales. Jeff's current mission is to elevate the role of the Sales Enablement to a critical business function charged with driving radical improvement in sales effectiveness.

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