3 Reasons Sales Training Fails

By David Kriss

3 Reasons Sales Training Fails

This is an interesting topic as it is not a new problem. In my 25+ years in this industry, the translation of training to competency seems to be allusive. A popular statistic states 50% of learning content is not retained past five weeks, and within 90 days, 84% of what was initially learned is lost.

When looking for the reasons why, I decided just to do a Google Search to see what the training vendors and experts have to say. My results delivered a varying range of causes, from 2 reasons to 7 to 12. For sure, no shortage of opinions.

After pouring through the data, there were 3 that dominated most all of the lists.


Too often people come into training with varying levels of understanding on the topic at hand. Valuable time is wasted bringing those with lesser knowledge up to speed while those with higher baseline understanding are bored and distracted by what else they could be doing (think email, social media and how to make their number this month).

As obvious as it may seem, consider some level of engaging pre-work in the form of videos and quick tests that provide a strong basic understanding of the topics in which you wish to deepen the learning.


We all have a job to do that is going to help make the organization successful. For sellers, they need to hit their number… every month! If they don’t, they lose their job. Any task being presented not in the DIRECT context of making the number has a good chance of slipping right off the radar. The dominant theme throughout my initial research was ensuring that any training activity has a direct connection to sales process and/or connection to day-to-day activities. This not only satisfies the desired behaviors of the sales rep but also serves the business’ need of accelerated deal cycles and more reliable forecasting.

For example, when delivering any sort of product training, ensure any feature function benefits are in the context of why a potential customer will care and the value it brings to them vs. going too deep on how it works.


The need for reinforcement consistently made an appearance on every one of the lists that I examined. The success of training is not about the completion of the training event but rather the practical use of the skill that is being taught. Like any new skill, it needs to be practiced. This requires direct engagement of sales management and/or subject matter experts to apply these skills when engaging buyers.

In our new product launch example, sellers may need help with proper problem and pain discovery with a potential buyer during early deal stages. Providing situational guidance from managers and experts at the moment it is needed will help reps to exercise the skills learned during training.

To learn more, check out this checklist on 7 tips for onboarding new hires.


  1. Pete on November 6, 2017 at 6:12 am

    David, Talk to one of your UK colleagues (Matt Downes) not only is he an outstanding sales executive, he was a co-founder of a sales learning and development company before joining SAVO, during his time there the company largely addressed these issues – Two clues as to how 1) you need to establish a Learning-Performance Contract between the sales manager and the sales executive (not a training contract). The contract looks back over the last 1 to 3 quarters and identifies how the executive could improve their performance specifically through developing skills / knowledge/ understanding of process. The contract also identifies what learning resources should address the need. The contract is then executed over the next 1 to three quarters. The manager then has a basis on which to coach and reinforce 2) Sales Enablement/ Sales training or whomever is responsible for improving sales performance inside the organization, involves themselves in building infrastructure and support for the sales executive to experience a seamless, validated and audited learning journey that leads to improved performance (as identified in the learning contract). Instead most are down in the weeds of finessing content and the like. There’s a quite a bit more to it than that, but if you are interested, I am sure Matt, in your London office) could tell you how he worked globally with organizations like DHL and Thomson Reuters to achieve on real traction in performance improvement can be facilitated.

  2. David Kriss on November 7, 2017 at 12:51 pm

    Thanks, Peter. Matt and I are good colleagues. He’s provided great input and perspective from his time at previous companies.

    • Matt Downes - Client Director EMEA SAVO Group on November 8, 2017 at 3:59 am

      Thanks for taking the time Pete on the blog. I absolutely agree that a combination of structured sales development through the learning journey and performance contract with ongoing reinforcement with just-in-time situational enablement will deliver the performance improvement needed. As we know there is lots more to it than just good content, process and technology to bring this together in large enterprise customers.

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