How the forgetting curve works and how to fight it!
You lead enablement at a hypergrowth technology company. Your phone starts buzzing with Slack notifications late at night.
Messages from your Northeast regional sales director read, “I participated in sales calls with some of our reps this week. When Sabrina and Jim were asked how we compare to Thanos (your fiercest competitor), they both had trouble convincing buyers we were a better option. Unless our newer reps go through competitive training, we will keep losing deals to Thanos.”
As you read the messages, your mind starts racing.
Three months ago, you organized a full-day competitive bootcamp for your newest reps. You check the training participant list and see that Sabrina and Jim had attended the session.
At the end of the all-day session, you shared competitive cheat sheets and had reps record a pitch about how they would take down Thanos. With all the time and effort invested in organizing the training session, how did Sabrina and Jim forget the basics?
The limits of memory
We’ll have to go back to 1885 to answer your burning question. In this year, the Statue of Liberty arrived in New York City, Louis Pasteur kicked off modern immunization with the rabies vaccine, and German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus published his landmark book, Memory: A Contribution to Experimental Psychology.
The book was based on a series of experiments that Ebbinghaus conducted on himself. Memory has been called “the most brilliant investigation in the history of psychology” and established two concepts that remain relevant today. First, there is the Forgetting Curve (information is lost if no effort is made to retain it), and then there is the Learning Curve (experience increases proficiency at a task).
Let’s take a closer look at the Forgetting Curve. Ebbinghaus found that within 20 minutes to an hour after learning new information, about 50% of it had been forgotten. Two-thirds of the material was forgotten within 24 hours.
Why does the forgetting curve occur? Information retention depends on a variety of factors, including prior knowledge (connecting new information to previous knowledge), complexity (difficult material is often harder to remember), presentation (stories make information easier to remember), and individual capacity (some people just have an excellent memory).
Nearly 140 years after Ebbinghaus introduced the Forgetting Curve, information loss continues to negatively impact sales effectiveness. Gartner has found that reps forget 70% of the information they learn within 7 days of training and 87% within 30 days.
It's no wonder that three months after the competitive bootcamp, Sabrina had forgotten most of what they learned. Considering the time and resources required, you cannot afford to organize competitive bootcamps every month.
How do you reinforce crucial rep knowledge without breaking your back?
Combating the forgetting curve
In order to overcome the forgetting curve, you need to provide periodic reinforcement to ensure reps retain information about your solutions, buyer personas, and competitors. Here are three (conventional) ways in which enablement teams can tackle the forgetting curve:
What is it? Spaced repetition is a learning technique that improves knowledge retention over time through regular reviews. Retrieval practice allows learners to test their knowledge at regular intervals and reinforce their understanding.
How effective is it? The principle behind spaced repetition is that we forget most of what we learn unless we encounter it regularly. Through spaced repetition, learners commit information to long-term memory so that they can recall it later. Peer reviewed studies have shown that spaced repetition “is a feasible and cost-effective way to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of learning.”
How do I use it? You can create short quizzes based on different sections of your competitive bootcamp course. These quizzes can then be used periodically to test rep knowledge retention. When reps recall some material really well, you should test them more on information that they have trouble recollecting.
Why might this not work? It is challenging to get reps to attend training when they join your organization. Reps might not be willing to participate in spaced repetition unless it is mandated by the organization.
Deliberate Practice + Coaching
What is it? Deliberate practice aims to improve a specific skill by repeatedly performing certain activities. In order to hone a skill, you must be intentional about what you want to develop and how to achieve it.
How effective is it? Research has shown that deliberate practice has a positive impact on work performance. You can improve rep skill levels and competence with serious, specific, consistent efforts accompanied by coaching feedback.
How do I use it? Engage your frontline sales managers for integrating purposeful practice into the daily routines of your reps. You should provide reps a safe environment for practicing and improving their skills with realistic role play scenarios. By involving managers and high-performing peers in the assessment and feedback process, you can improve rep performance over time.
Why might this not work? Multiple stakeholders must commit to deliberate practice - reps, sales managers, and subject matter experts should provide feedback and coaching. If the leadership is on board, you’ll need to create a process and structure for deliberate practice and associated coaching.
What is it? Microlearning helps reps reinforce a single learning objective in a short burst of time using bite-sized lessons. A microlearning course usually lasts less than 10 minutes and is often interactive and engaging.
How effective is it? Unlike formal training courses that require reps to devote hours of their time, microlearning helps them learn effectively as they go about their daily tasks. Research has shown that microlearning promotes information retention, learner engagement, and improved performance.
How do I use it? Enablement teams can use a variety of interactive formats to create mini-courses, including learning drills, memory boosters, job aids, video tutorials, or short modules with quizzes.
Why might this not work? Shrinking attention spans make microlearning a great option. The challenge is the time it takes to create and manage microlearning content. Additionally, how you deliver this content to reps is crucial. You will only be successful with your microlearning initiatives if you choose the right technology.
Although spaced repetition, deliberate practice, and microlearning are great techniques for reinforcing rep learning, they all have one common challenge.
In order to learn, reps must interrupt their work and take time away from selling.
So how do we ensure that reps receive the training they need, without burdening them? Two ideas are relevant in this context:
Learning in the moment of need: People are more likely to learn in situations that demand it. It is important to consider the context of learning here. For example, if a rep is selling to a prospect in a new vertical, they are more inclined to learn the relevant training and content.
Learning in the flow of work: Is it easy for reps to access training and content when they need it? In most enablement platforms, reps are expected to open a new browser tab, search for information, and consume relevant content. In the majority of cases, it is more effective to reduce context switching by delivering information within the seller's workflow.
Enter the world of Situational Enablement.
Situational Enablement: The Key to Rep Knowledge Retention
Situational enablement focuses on delivering information to reps when and where they need it. Modern can help you reinforce the right knowledge without overwhelming your reps.
Rather than forcing reps to sit through hours of training or browse dozens of documents to find what they need, situational enablement tools use AI and machine learning to reduce information overload. Situational enablement tools drive rep effectiveness by focusing on three design principles:
- Context. Situational enablement tools understand the opportunity/deal context of your reps and provide them with relevant content recommendations to help reps ace their next buyer interaction.
- Impact. Instead of requiring reps to endure lengthy training sessions, situational enablement tools provide timely information to reps just when they need it.
- Workflow. Situational enablement tools allow reps to access the information and training they need in the tools they use every day. Rather than opening another browser tab, situational enablement tools surface information within a rep's CRM, inbox, calendar, or LinkedIn.
Using situational enablement tools, you can deliver training, knowledge, and resources to your reps at the exact moment they need it. The information reps receive on-demand are more likely to be applied and retained over time. With situational enablement, you can crush the Forgetting Curve by providing reps with the right knowledge and resources at the right time.