Why Does Sales Training Fail to Move the Needle?


Across all disciplines, American companies are spending over $164 billion on corporate training, with sales being one of the top areas seeing budgetary growth. That’s great news, because continuing education and coaching has been cited as one of the most important factors when employees evaluate career opportunities. And yet, Imparta has curated some very sobering statistics.

  • Up to 80% of new skills are lost within 1 week of training if not used - ASTD
  • Up to 85% of sales training fails to deliver a positive ROI – HR Chally
  • 87% of new skills are lost within a month of the training – Xerox

So, if billions of dollars are being spent on sales training in the US alone, and it’s not working… Yikes. There’s a major disconnect, isn’t there?

We’ve worked with companies at all stages of sales training development, and we’ve seen many reasons why the training wasn’t working. Here are some of those reasons.

It ultimately doesn’t drive changes in behavior.

That’s the real reason for training, right? To help someone do something new, different or better than before? Sometimes it’s a matter of clearly defining the training objective, but it also needs to be conducted in a way that drives and measures actual behavioral change.

It’s boring.

Uninteresting content produces very low retention rates. If students mentally check out because they are bored, they won’t remember a thing.

It’s too long.

Attention spans are getting shorter every day. Some studies suggest that learners experience a lapse in attention every few minutes. So why does training go on for hours, if not days? Considering salespeople have even more distractions than ever before, training needs to be adapted to their current environment. 

It covers too much material.

The human brain can only process and store so much new information in one sitting. If too much knowledge is crammed into one training session, only a small percentage of it will be retained.

It’s irrelevant or outdated.

If content isn’t useful, why would anyone make an effort to remember it? And yet, so much learning content is out-of-date because of the perceived cost of updating it. What’s the cost of conducting training that isn’t working?

There’s no follow-up.

Are trainers touching base with students periodically after training is complete? Are sales managers supporting the training effort by doing the same? Persistent follow-up helps reinforcement and compliance.

There’s no interactivity or simulations to provide real-life application.

Poet John Gay’s famous quote, “Tell me and I forget. Show me and I remember. Involve me and I understand,” couldn’t be more true. Many concepts simply can’t be put into proper context in traditional, classroom-style training sessions.

There’s no buy-in from leadership.

A classic chicken-or-egg scenario: does leadership not support training efforts because they don’t drive measurable results? Or does training not drive measurable results because leadership doesn’t support it? It’s often a combination of both.

Information isn’t needed on a daily basis.

The old adage “use it or lose it” certainly applies to professional knowledge, and when an employee doesn’t quite remember something learned in the past, they will either guess or avoid the topic altogether, neither of which are what you, as a manager, want your employees to do.

Why does ineffective sales training continue to exist?

That’s a good question. We think a global overhaul is indeed underway, but major shifts always run into a few bumps, such as:

  • Lack of budget approval
  • Lack of technology adoption
  • Lack of awareness or understanding that training isn’t working, or what to do about it
  • Lack of buy-in from key stakeholders

If you're interested, check out ExpandShare's eLearning Services to see how your program can be an epic success.

Will Holland