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Spaced Learning: The Long Game of Effective Sales Training

It’s well-documented that spaced learning is much more effective for training delivery than condensed, seminar-style training events. That shouldn’t come as a surprise; just as human beings can’t effectively drink from a fire hose, learning in overwhelming bursts is rarely effective. This principle is why language-teaching apps give you a little bit to do each day, rather than asking you to sit in on a week-long class. It’s why you remember the characters’ names and plot lines when you watch a TV show once a week, rather than binge-watching.

In this article, I’ll share some perspectives that may be helpful if you’ve ever questioned whether a longer-duration training implementation can work for your team.

Addressing Common Concerns

While most everyone can understand that spaced learning is better for absorption and retention of learning topics, the realities of spreading sales training out over the course of several months can feel like a daunting commitment for enablement and sales leaders.

We encounter this concern often when companies are considering some of our lengthier sales skill development programs designed for spaced learning. After all, it’s difficult to know that your team can stick with something for 3 or 6 months, or sometimes more. The good news is that companies who decide to pursue this style of delivery soon realize that their teams stick with it quite well. They also discover that sellers are much better at retaining and applying the newly learned skills and concepts.

Spaced Learning for Sales Skills: How it Works

Spaced learning is a powerful strategy that boosts learning by spreading lessons and retrieval opportunities out over time. It’s hardly new; Hermann Ebbinghaus discovered what he called the forgetting curve nearly 150 years ago, and conversely introduced the importance of spaced learning to counter it.

When new knowledge is presented one time, and particularly in a condensed format, humans are prone to forgetting it quickly. You may have even known about Ebbinghaus and his forgetting curve already… but you might not remember. And that’s exactly his point.

Forgetting Curve of Live Training

How has most sales training been delivered for the past 100 years? You guessed it. Half-day, full-day, or multi-day seminars, all with valuable content just waiting to be forgotten.

Why has it always been done this way? Logistics and convenience mostly. Traditionally, sales teams were outside-based and covered a geography in which they usually lived. In order to train a team like this, you’d need to drive or fly them into a central location and hammer out the training while everyone was together.

Successful Retention Through Spaced Learning

Thanks to modern technology, training doesn’t need to be delivered this way. And, as a result, many companies have come to discover how well-executed and reinforced training can deliver a much stronger impact than one-and-done workshops. The spaced learning idea is that you take in new topics one at a time, then apply what you’ve learned for a period of time before taking in the next new topic. When taught this way, learners end up remembering what they’ve learned, and stack each additional topic on top of the ones they’ve learned so far.

Keep Weekly Commitments Small

We’ve had sales leaders equate our spaced learning plan for one of our longer programs, Modern Sales Foundations (MSF), to a marathon. That’s not a great analogy, actually. Marathons are long races where you’re pushing yourself to your limits every moment of the duration. My MSF co-author, Mike Kunkle, offers a better analogy for a spaced learning implementation: it’s like a short walk each week.

We recommend deploying a program like MSF one module each week, which requires less than an hour of self-paced time from each salesperson. Doing so doesn’t pull sellers away from customer and prospect conversations much, if at all, and doesn’t put too much information in front of them to the degree that they wouldn’t be remembering what they’ve learned.

Impacts from Day One

Interestingly, some leaders who are considering a spaced learning program for their sales team question whether they can wait several months, or even upwards of a year, for the program to finish so that they can see impact. We get the urgency; the reason you want to invest in training your sales team is so that you can improve performance… and do so as soon as possible.

The good news here is that spaced learning doesn’t prevent that. See, skill development is a process and not a check-the-box activity. While typical HR and compliance training is all about completion, training on sales skills is all about applying the information. As such, there is nothing preventing a seller from grabbing on to a new concept the first day or week of their training and having it make a huge difference in their performance right away.

We’ve heard numerous stories from sellers taking our training that they applied a key concept they learned in the first weeks of their training and it resulted in getting into the door at a key prospect, landing a huge deal, or significantly expanding a key account.

There is no magic in the certificate a seller receives at the end of training; the value comes from learning, remembering, applying, and mastering key concepts that move the needle in sales performance.

Play the Long Game for Long-Term Results

Cultivating your team’s sales skills is a process, not a quick fix. It can’t be achieved in a single day of training; it requires a sustained, strategic approach.

If you think hard about it, you probably don’t care much where your team can be a week from now. You care about how much better they can be six months from now, a year from now, and beyond. By adopting spaced learning, you are investing in a culture of continuous improvement that benefits not just individual salespeople, but the entire organization.

Embrace this reality, space skill development topics out a little each week and give them room to take root. By doing so, you’ll be able to achieve true behavior change and the return on investment that comes with it.

Image Credit: Adobe Stock | Cecilie Arcurs/peopleimages.com
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