One of the things I talk about often with sales leaders who are eager to maximize their team’s performance is the principle of reinforcement. All too often, we think of training for salespeople as a one-and-done initiative, as something we can check off a list once the "training" event is over and consider finished. Actually, the training we have invested in is next to worthless if it is not reinforced over time, incorporated as a personal priority, and made an ongoing topic for discussion within a personalized sales coaching plan. Reinforcement is thus one of the neglected secrets of effective sales leadership.
To understand the vital importance of reinforcement to a sales team, it helps to distinguish between two concepts that are commonly confused: impact and imprint. As leaders, we commit to training events because we want to have an impact on our team. And you know what? Just about any type of boot camp training environment will impact learning. So yes. The training event does have an impact. It does create knowledge. But is that impact enough all on its own?
Our view at Sandler is that it’s not enough. Here’s why: That learning tends to dissipate over time. Between two weeks to twenty days after the event, most of what has been learned in a high-impact learning environment will be forgotten. Why? Because there hasn't been an imprinting process.
The imprinting process is what happens when we as leaders find a way to help the team to reinforce what's been learned, either through something we do or through self-directed reinforcement, so that the knowledge is internalized and owned. Imprinting translates knowledge into action, into predictable behaviors and predictable results. The impact just creates knowledge. It's the imprinting that creates predictability.
Examples of reinforcement events that imprint knowledge help and turn that knowledge into predictable outcomes include:
Role plays. Many leaders don't see this as reinforcement, but an effective role play session focusing on what has been covered in training really can help your team members put what they have learned into action in a powerful way. Even when they stumble a bit during the role play, it's important to understand that that struggling is part of the imprinting process. They get to experiment with what they've learned in training, to take a couple of wrong turns and then correct for them, and to see for themselves, from direct experience, how the new skill might actually deliver results in their world.
Early morning team meetings. Again, you may not think of this as reinforcement, but it can be. During the morning scrums, why not do a 5-minute training update? This brief discussion reviews something important that the people covered in the recent training session. Use these miniature reinforcement sessions to show how can someone personalize and customize the content they learned during the training session.
Pre-call and post-call discussions. What questions do you ask the members of your sales team right before they go on a sales call? What questions do you ask them to debrief after the sales calls completed? Take some time to develop and refine these questions with the salesperson's recent training in mind. The questions you ask consistently before and after a sales call are powerful opportunities to reinforce key points from the training that the salesperson has completed.
In all of these reinforcement examples, and countless others, effective sales leaders help to move their team members from knowledge towards ownership. Knowledge is good, but it's not the same as repeatability. Once you and the salesperson have worked together to imprint the knowledge, you will both reap the benefits of a repeatable process.