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How to Fix Common Problems with Sales Training Transfer

sales training transfer 2

richardsonsalestrainingAugust 28, 2013Blog

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I find it interesting that so many in our profession (and our company leaders) want to talk about how to determine sales training ROI (or Return on Expectations), but don’t want to focus on how to get the learning from courses actually used in the workplace.

To me, that’s like wanting to determine the effects of fire on wood and putting your wood in sunlight, hoping it bursts into flames so you can study it. It’s folly. Without transfer, you won’t impact business outcomes and you won’t deliver a return, however you measure it.

A Recent Reminder of Sales Training Transfer Obstacles

I attended the Dallas ASTD Southwest Learning Summit recently and was in the audience for Steve Lee’s presentation on incorporating gamification principles in scenario-based elearning. It was a strong presentation and Allen Interactions is doing a lot of great work, as are many of the leading elearning/content development companies.

A lot of things that Steve shared made sense and were impressive, but one thing really resonated with me, as an indication of our problems with sales training transfer.

Describing what one company learned as a result of their experience, he said (paraphrased):

“They [the learners] did okay in training, but thought they knew better on the job.”

In other words, the participants learned the content (knowledge) and could demonstrate judgment to select the right actions in the right scenarios. In terms of teaching the content, the training was effective. Level 2 learning occurred. (We could debate whether you can accomplish true skill transfer with most elearning, when you’re providing answers from which to select, but these students were placed in scenarios and needed to apply judgment about what to do next and choose the right path.) Some of the learning was purposefully heuristic, based on trial and error, but that’s a good learning design and approach for knowledge acquisition.

The problem lies in the statement, “…[they] thought they knew better on the job.” Even though participants understood the content and achieved the learning objectives of the training, they did not consistently transfer that learning to the workplace, because they thought their way would work better.

Why is that?

Well, there are multiple possible reasons for this and it’s something that we, as learning professionals and sales performance leaders, really need to understand. Why don’t our participants and employees use what they learned in training, on the job? The list is long, but here are the top categories, in my experience.

The Enemies of Sales Training Transfer

  1. Failing to Address Attitude: Often, we fail to address attitude and shape motivation. To use a phrase that’s clichéd but accurate in this case, we didn’t “win their hearts and minds” and convince learners that they should change their current behaviors. (For more about this, see: Sales Training Programs: Putting the A back in KSA.)
  2. Ignoring Retention: Memory faded. Retention of unused or unreinforced content is unlikely. I’m not going to quote the bogus retention stats that are tossed around so frequently in our profession, but I will offer something from our mobile reinforcement partner: The Science Behind Qstream. Note the research references at the end.
  3. Lack of Coaching:  Retaining the knowledge and judgment is the first step, but coaching on how (and how well) to apply skills in a workplace setting, is critical to both training transfer and successful ongoing application. (See Using Tailored Post-Program Sales Coaching to Get Results from Sales Training for recommendations.)
  4. Environmental Factors Block Change: Often there are blocks to behavior change, such as lack of clarity or problems with role definition, expectations, feedback, reward systems, organization design, lack of accountability systems and more.
  5. No Change Plans: And often, we default to “Hope Mode” when we cannot sell the need for change plans internally, or aren’t sure how to create and execute effective change management or change leadership plans.

Culture Still Eats Strategy for Lunch

I’ve provided links and additional reading for 4 of the above 5 factors. To further support the remaining environmental factors that can block change (negatively impacting transfer) and address why participants don’t always implement what they’re taught, here are some additional thoughts and resources.

Performance Analysis Flowchart

One excellent resource comes from Bob Mager and Peter Pipe, from their book, Analyzing Performance Problems. Mager and Pipe’s Performance Analysis Flowchart is legendary and found at various places on the internet today, but is represented officially by The Center for Effective Performance (CEP). On the flowchart, look in the sections labeled Fast Fixes, Consequences, and More Clues, to see how you might address environmental factors. This flowchart is designed for troubleshooting, especially to determine when training may or may not be the right solution, but it works wonderfully for troubleshooting transfer issues, as well.

The 16 Reasons

The second resource is a book by Ferdinand Fournies, aptly titled, Why Employees Don't Do What They're Supposed to Do and What to Do About It. The Table of Contents (displayable on Amazon by mousing over the book cover and clicking on the TOC link), says it all. The reasons Fournies lists include:

    1. They Don't Know Why They Should Do It
    2. They Don't Know How To Do It
    3. They Don't Know What They Are Supposed To Do
    4. They Think Your Way Will Not Work
    5. They Think Their Way Is Better
    6. They Think Something Else Is More Important
    7. There Is No Positive Consequence to Them for Doing It
    8. They Think They Are Doing It
    9. They Are Rewarded for Not Doing It
    10. They Are Punished for Doing What They Are Supposed To Do
    11. They Anticipate a Negative Consequence for Doing It
    12. There Is No Negative Consequence to Them for Poor Performance
    13. Obstacles Beyond Their Control
    14. Their Personal Limits Prevent Them from Performing
    15. Personal Problems
    16. No One Could Do It
As with Mager and Pipe’s flowchart, not all of Fournies’ factors are environmental, but you can see that. It’s primarily numbers 7 through 13 that are environmental factors (and possibly number 16, based on where the unrealistic expectations originate).

Put Learning & Training Transfer Before Results & Returns

As sales training or sales leaders, we don’t always own all of the environmental factors, but we must address them as best we can in our organizations. I hope that the Five Enemies of Sales Training Transfer listed above and the additional resources for identifying and addressing environmental (and other) factors, offer helpful guidance and support, for ensuring your employees use the knowledge and skills you provided in training. As I said in the beginning of this post, you certainly won’t be affecting business outcomes or delivering a return, without transfer. I’d enjoy hearing your experiences with sales training transfer and any obstacles with the things I’ve mentioned here (or others). I’ll end with some related reading, as always.

If we can help you sort through what’s happening at your organization and discuss ways you can increase retention and transfer, reach out and let us know.

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