Charlotte PowellCharlotte PowellMarch 7, 2019


As we get into spring – a time of rebirth and renewal – now is a perfect time to reconsider and re-evaluate our decisions.

Specifically, it’s a great time of year to determine how to spend your sales training budget to give you the maximum return. This is a real challenge for many businesses struggling to get results from their sales training programme, let alone prove ROI.

What’s going wrong with sales training?

The cold hard reality is that we forget up to 50 percent of what we’ve been taught within an hour of receiving the information. That figure rises to 90 percent within a week. With those kinds of statistics, it’s no wonder people are unsure how best to spend their training dollars.

We ran a couple of informal polls on Twitter to find out what’s going on out there. The results were pretty disheartening:

  • 82 percent of respondents do not receive regular sales training
  • Respondents reported that engagement is the biggest obstacle to sales training, with relevance coming a fairly close second
  • When asked about the impact sales training has had on their business, a third of respondents said they couldn’t tell

Why is sales training worth the investment?

The purpose of sales training is to increase sales skills. The better your sales skills, the more deals you close. Good sales training can improve your net sales by 50 percent per employee. Employees who receive regular, high-quality training are more likely to stay in their jobs, and good salespeople who stay in their jobs average a 30 percent increase in deal size each year – all good reasons to implement a sales training programme. Onto the next big decision, then: what kind of sales training works best?

Types of sales training: pros and cons

There are three main ways to deliver sales training:

  • Face-to-face: typically in a classroom setting
  • Online, facilitator-led: e.g. live webinars with chat
  • Online, self-facilitated: e.g. access webinar recordings and other materials

When considering what’s best for your business, you have to take into account the size of your budget, whether you’ll be able to get your salespeople in the right place at the right time for sales training, and how much time they can spare.

It’s also relevant to consider the type of skill you’re trying to improve. Soft skills are better taught by a person, while hard skills – such as using a particular software – can often be improved through practice online.

In-person sales training

In another of our Twitter polls, 60 percent of respondents expressed a preference for in-person sales training. That’s not surprising since, for most of us, face-to-face learning has been the norm throughout our education.

When it’s done well, the facilitator holds our attention, follows the direction of our interests, and answers our questions there and then. It’s a mode of delivery that enables specific training both on areas of weakness and areas of interest. Facilitators can see when they are losing the audience and change their approach to increase engagement.

In-person training also enables a variety of teaching practices. It doesn’t have to be someone standing at the front of the room lecturing on sales processes – it can be much more dynamic. Role-play, workshop, real sales calls – all of these can be achieved in the space of a day.

The downsides of face-to-face learning are that it’s more expensive, it requires your sales team to be in one place at one time and it tends to take a day or two out of their busy schedules. For some businesses, this makes in-person training impractical.

Online, facilitator-led

To solve this problem, the majority of training companies will offer a facilitator-led online programme made up of one or more webinars with phone and email support. The advantage of this is that you get the facilitator without the huge expense of hiring a venue, taking salespeople out of the field, and putting them up in a fancy hotel.

Instead, you take an hour or two a week for learning, which the salesperson can access from their desk or even their sofa. If the facilitator is good and the service is comprehensive, the provider should still be able to offer a personalised programme that helps identify and remedy specific weaknesses in your sales team.

Obviously, these programmes come in a variety of lengths, so you could have a one-off webinar on a particular topic or you could have a month-long series that tackles the subject in more depth or covers more than one topic. In between, you should expect some kind of homework and the opportunity for one-on-one time with the facilitator, whether over email or via the phone.

The disadvantage? Have you ever sat in on a webinar, idly browsing the internet or answering emails when you’re meant to be focused on a slide deck? That’s the biggest disadvantage – digital distraction. As a facilitator, there’s no way of knowing if you’ve got your participants’ full attention.

Online, self-facilitated

If you have a minimal budget and want maximum flexibility, self-facilitated online training is for you. Employees can access it at any time, anywhere. And though it doesn’t have the benefit of tailored training content or a facilitator on-hand to coach you through it, you shouldn’t think of it as bottom-of-the-barrel training. There is some great training content out there – some of it even free.

One of the best things about self-facilitated online content is that you don’t need to wait for your company to set up a sales training programme for you — you can seek it out for yourself.

Of course, the downside is that these courses often don’t provide anyone to answer your questions – or if they do, it’s an additional service at an extra charge. It’s also harder to engage with online content where there’s no one leading you through the material and spurring you on.

Mix and match methods for the best results

If you have the budget, you will probably find that a mix of all three methods is the best solution. In-person training – for example, at your annual sales kick-off – gets everybody fired up and on board with the new programme. Facilitator-led online training continues this learning and helps explore areas of weakness as you progress through the year. Self-facilitated online training can be used as a top-up, to add new skills (particularly hard skills) or to satisfy individual requirements for further learning. Of course, it’s about more than the method of delivery.

Effective sales training requires engaging content that is geared towards your needs – but that’s a whole other topic for another day.

Follow-up and reinforcement

Whichever training mode you choose, you will always suffer from those dispiriting Forgetting Curve stats mentioned at the beginning of this piece – 50 percent forgotten in an hour, 90 percent in a week – unless you put in the work to follow-up and reinforce what has been learnt.

Talk to your sales training provider about what kind of reinforcement they offer. The best providers will offer a complete programme that includes pre-work, training, and follow-up to ensure you see the return you are looking for.


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