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Spacing, Testing, and Feedback: Essential Ingredients to Sustain Sales Training Impact

Today’s BLOG is written by Richardson’s partner, Duncan Lennox, CEO of Qstream: When you invest in training your sales reps, you expect them to learn the new information, use the new skills, and adopt the new behaviors. However, as I outlined in my previous post, most people quickly forget what they learn in a matter of days.

How, then, can you improve your sales reps’ ability to recall and, as a result, also improve the ROI of your sales training and move closer to the goals you set out to achieve through the training?

The Ron Popeil mantra of “set it and forget it” won’t work. You can’t train and then move on to the next task on your agenda. You’ll recall that even the highly intelligent and disciplined students at Harvard Medical School are not immune to the Forgetting Curve. You have to follow through and ensure that what you taught takes root and gets used.

To help sales and training managers follow through and assist sales reps in recalling and living out their training, we helped Richardson create Richardson QuickCheckTM to reinforce skills and knowledge in a manner that aligns with a selling professional’s busy lifestyle.

The Spacing Effect + The Testing Effect = A Winning Combination

How does it work? It is based on two psychology principles:

  • The Spacing Effect — If we repeat the same piece of information over regularly spaced intervals of time (in our case, every two to three weeks), it changes how that information is encoded in our brains, and thus we will remember it better.
  • The Testing Effect — If we actually ask you a question rather than simply telling you what we want you to know, you will remember it better as well. There is good psychological research to support this. The question acts as a hook for your memory and also makes it easier to retrieve.

Both principles have been baked into the system. Upon completing training, sales reps are asked a few questions regarding the training they received daily or every other day.

How It Works

The system is simple, fast, and in real time so that it works within the sales rep’s schedule. Users are prompted to spend approximately three minutes every other day answering a couple of questions on topics related to their recent training. They can do it on their smartphones (iPhone, Android, or Blackberry), as well as on their iPad or laptop.

It typically starts with a notification, such as an e-mail. The notification will show you your question for the day along with a simple answer button to click on. As soon as you click on it, it immediately takes you straight to the question. No messing around, no logging in, and no usernames and passwords — straight to your question. You read the question, pick whichever one you believe is the correct answer, and then receive immediate feedback on your results.

Proven Results: Extending Recall and Changing Behaviors

Out of the more than 17 published randomized control trials that we’ve conducted at Harvard Medical School, we’ve been able to prove many things —most importantly that our technique is effective. We can increase retention from the typical 30 to 90 days after training to two years by using Qstream. That’s two years beyond when the learning intervention finishes because we’re changing how information is encoded in the brain.

We’ve also shown that we can change ingrained behavior. Some of our studies have focused on reprogramming physicians to change the way they’ve done a particular procedure for many years (sometimes decades) to a new, preferred way. If you can successfully alter the behavior of these highly skilled and habit-forming doctors, then surely you can do so with your sales force.

To put it in very concrete terms, based on our studies, at day 30 sales reps remember about four times as much material after a Qstream reinforcement than without it. That’s a significant difference.

Providing Immediate Feedback: Answers, Explanations, and Peer Results

Our process and technique have been continuously tested and refined over several years. We show you in aggregate how others within your peer group did when they answered the same question, which we found to have a number of benefits. For one, it really engages people because one of the big problems with e-learning is that it feels like a very anonymous and isolated experience like you’re the only person in the world taking this course. The ability to compare your responses to those of your peers reminds you that you’re not alone.

Another subtle yet significant benefit is allowing users to see what answers others chose. Selecting the wrong answer can be demotivating in a typical testing scenario, but we want users to know that other people got this wrong, too, and that it’s okay. In fact, we don’t even care whether you got it right or wrong the first time out. It’s just a hook to help teach you because the key is the explanation where you actually see the right answer and the reasoning for it. Thus, the better your explanation of the correct answer, the more you will be able to make the point and reinforce the information with your sales reps. You will not only be able to say why B was the correct answer but also why you might have chosen one of the others.

Remember in my previous post how I used the analogy of the ability to remember top-40 radio hits from decades ago? Those songs (the equivalent of our questions and answers) were typically three minutes long (the same as our process), were played several times a day (applying the Spacing Effect), and ultimately were etched into your brain over time (which is the goal of your training).

In the next post in this series, I’ll outline in greater detail how the process works and how sales managers and trainers can use the data from the tool to engage their sales reps and create a lasting experience from the training.

About the Author

Richardson is a global sales training and performance improvement company. Our goal is to transform every buyer experience by empowering sellers with critical skills so they can create value to buyers and drive meaningful conversations. Our methodology combines a market proven sales and coaching curriculum with an innovative and customizable approach to learning that ensures your sales teams learn, master, and apply those behaviors where and when it matters most — in front of your customers. It’s our job to anticipate change in your industry so that your sales team can focus on fostering long-term relationships, becoming indispensable partners for their buyers.

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