Is sales training dead?

22nd April 2024 |   Journal Of Sales Transformation

Is sales training dead? I recall reading a blog about the issue on LinkedIn back in 2016. Of course, it sought to refute this premise. That was then, but what of today?

Well, the sales landscape has undoubtedly moved on, driven by evolving business practice, technology, and the advance of relatively new disciplines such as sales enablement. Firstly, the traditional “all-purpose” salesperson role is being squeezed out, with transactional sales increasingly self-serve and complex sales requiring high-level business skills. At the same time, training associated with the sales profession has been evolving.

In addition to their all-important product and market training, at the top end we are increasingly seeing salespeople with post-graduate degrees at Master’s and even doctorate level. At entry level, there are specialised apprenticeship programmes and degree courses.

Forgetting Curve

Importantly, over the past two decades, we have repeatedly been told that “sheep-dip training” (standardized training administered to multiple employees in batches) is no longer appropriate. Yes, it’s relatively cheap and quick to administer, but this type of learning frequently lacks the necessary reinforcement to keep the content front of mind – in general, people tend to forget 90% of what they’ve learned within the first month after training.

German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus’s Forgetting Curve tells us that memories fade over time – actually, very quickly – with the biggest drop in retention hours after attending a class, seminar or workshop. Of course, other factors are in play too: for example, stress, tiredness, and how engaging and logical the delivery is all affect our ability to retain knowledge – the same information can be made more or less memorable, depending on how well it’s delivered.

Today, best practice focuses on continuous development and creating personalized learning paths, with approaches targeted to different generations at work. This doesn’t just involve passively receiving information; participants also need time for active reflection to assimilate it.

On top of this, the business landscape has been changed fundamentally by technology – and continues to change at pace. Since the turn of the century, many aspects of business have gone digital. More recently, the pandemic hit, and interaction went virtual. A couple of years later and AI broke through: are communications even human anymore?

So, with various new educational routes into the profession, sales enablement pretty much embedded in company systems, and AI assisting salespeople during calls (and potentially even able to open the conversation), the focus is moving towards lifelong learning delivered in innovative and user-friendly ways to enhance and refresh a constantly changing skill set.

Traditional sales training is dead. Long live continuous professional education!