ATD Blog

Sales Training Struggles to Keep Learners Engaged, Says Survey

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Only one-third (32 percent) of training professionals describe their organization’s current sales training programs as “effective,” according to a new survey from Brainshark. Nearly one-half of sales training pros (48 percent) say their organization’s sales training content isn’t engaging, and 1 in 4 say the materials created don’t match sales teams’ needs. 

For its “State of Sales Training” survey, Brainshark collected responses from more than 160 professionals responsible for sales training (training managers and coordinators, trainers, instructional designers, and so forth), at organizations of all sizes and across industries. Results pinpoint challenges, along with areas of opportunity for improving training programs. 

Current training methods 

Survey results show that the most prevalent methods of sales training for organizations today include live classroom training (80 percent), live web conferencing (65 percent), on-demand training (67 percent), video (49 percent) and social learning (28 percent). 

In addition, engaging and trackable, video is used by almost half of organizations for some aspects of sales training. And while effective, the medium itself isn’t a panacea. It’s important that best practices be followed for maximum impact and knowledge retention. For example, video length is often correlated with a learner’s ability to pay attention and retain knowledge, as well as consume information conveniently. 

According to the survey, 88 percent of training professionals agree that effective videos should be less than 20 minutes in length, with 1 in 3 favoring bite-sized content that is 5 minutes or less in length. Unfortunately,  best practices aren’t always followed. In fact, respondents reported that their organizations’ average sales training video actually runs 20 minutes long. 

Likewise, mobile learning is becoming more of a key area for sales training with nearly 1 in 3 organizations expected to invest in it in 2015. Currently, only 1 in 4 pieces of sales training content (26 percent) is accessed via mobile, according to the trainers surveyed. 


Current inhibitors to mobile sales training adoption include: 

  • content not well-formatted for mobile: 46 percent
  • content too long for mobile: 37 percent
  • interactive content doesn’t work on mobile: 30 percent
  • difficult to ensure content works across platforms: 25 percent. 

“Sales reps are just-in-time learners, and as they’re frequently in the field and on the road, mobile access is a key factor in training effectiveness,” says Brainshark President Greg Flynn. “To be successful, reps need to be able to find content at the time and place they need it, and that is frequently from their phone or tablet. Organizations looking to reach reps at the moment of need are looking to more visual, interactive mediums that deliver a great experience for the learner on any device.” 
Opportunities for improvements—and investment 

The lack of engagement indicates that across the board organizations are struggling with training content that falls flat and/or is irrelevant. Respondents cited other content-related challenges, too. On the whole, respondents report that their sales training materials are: 

  • too time-consuming to create: 50 percent
  • too hard to create: 24 percent
  • too expensive to create: 31percent
  • too hard to update: 32 percent
  • obsolete by/before delivery time: 15 percent. 

These difficulties in creating and refreshing training content are impeding necessary updates, and they highlight a startling discrepancy between what needs to get done and what’s actually getting done. For example, 38 percent of training professionals say their organization’s training content needs quarterly updates; only 19 percent think once-a-year-updates suffice. 
However, 42 percent say that, in reality, their organization’s training content gets updated once a year. This leaves organizations open to inconsistent, incorrect, and outdated messaging, and even potential compliance violations. 


Organizations also face challenges in delivering on-demand learning, including deadlines not met (25 percent) and an inability to track completion/progress (23 percent). Meanwhile, issues related to live training included: 

  • difficulties aligning schedules: 61 percent
  • reps easily distracted during training sessions: 45 percent
  • lack of coaching and reinforcement: 35 percent
  • lack of reinforcement: 36 percent
  • lack of rep engagement: 36 percent
  • the dreaded “blank stare” from learners: 33 percent. 

“Lack of learner engagement can be a serious problem, resulting in a subsequent inability by sales reps to articulate value in conversations with customers and prospects,” Brainshark CEO Joe Gustafson explains. “How do we get reps more engaged? In many cases, organizations face a content problem—not that they don’t have enough content, but that their content isn’t working. It’s important to create and deliver information that holds reps’ attention and put processes in place to ensure that content is reflective of what they need to learn.” 
Indeed, the data clearly points to a need to improve most sales training efforts. But determining where to invest resources is the question. According to survey respondents, the greatest need for investment is in ongoing training (63 percent) and coaching (62 percent). A desire for improvements to performance support materials also ranks (47 percent) and onboarding (32 percent). 

Survey results also show that in the year ahead (2015-2016), organizations will continue to make investments in on-demand (62 percent) and live (classroom/web conferencing) training methods (57 percent). Other planned areas for investment include: 

  • video: 45 percent
  • mobile learning: 32 percent
  • social learning: 26 percent
  • massive open online courses (MOOCs): 19 percent
  • gamification: 16 percent. 

“Engaging, timely content that is accessible when needed is vital to sales training and overall sales success,” says Gustafson. “The survey results highlight a great opportunity for organizations to meet this need—with stimulating sales content that’s both easy to access and consume. For organizations, this often means taking advantage of rapid content authoring and updating capabilities and ensuring just-in-time training delivery—to make sure that training works and sticks, and help reps be better prepared to close more deals.” 
For more information about the State of Sales Training survey, go to

About the Author

Ryann K. Ellis is an editor for the Association of Talent Development (ATD). She has been covering workplace learning and performance for ATD (formerly the American Society for Training & Development) since 1995. She currently sources and authors content for TD Magazine and CTDO, as well as manages ATD's Community of Practice blogs. Contact her at [email protected] 

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