Plugging the Brain Drain

Paul Nolan

In the medical technology industry, there is no resting on your laurels. Even if you are a leading manufacturer of robotic-assisted, minimally invasive surgical platforms and your system is used in thousands of medical centers around the world, you always want your salespeople sharper, hungrier and one step ahead of the competition.

How do you ensure that your reps always have a thorough understanding of your complex products? This global company staged the usual national sales training meetings several times a year at significant cost (not to mention pulling their salespeople out of the field).

You know the type of meeting — a product features dump, a review of the sales methodology, some competitive intelligence and some stories swapped about what other reps are encountering. The reps and their managers head back to their territories loaded with information and recharged to hit their quota. And then they forget most of what they just learned.

“It’s not really anybody’s fault,” says Duncan Lennox, co-founder of Qstream, a mobile sales enablement and analytics platform that aims to solve the instant forget dilemma. “It has nothing to do with the capacity or intelligence of the learners — the reps in this case. And it has very little to do with the quality of the instruction or the material. It has everything to do with 3 million years of human evolution and how our brains actually work.”

Qstream is designed to reinforce the most important points disseminated in that national sales meeting with scenario-based questions delivered to sales reps’ mobile devices that challenge them and keep their knowledge sharp — all in three minutes a day. Lennox calls it “Jeopardy for salespeople.”

The way we teach people things — the way many companies still conduct sales training — doesn’t align with the way long-term memories are formed in the brain, Lennox says. Qstream was developed at Harvard Medical School, where research has proven the underlying theories of the software product’s framework:

•  In as little as 30 days, 79 percent of knowledge is forgotten.

•  “Spaced education” or interval reinforcement is a proven way to combat the forgetting curve.

•  Testing, or retrieval practice, is an active learning process that can dramatically improve knowledge retention when combined with immediate answer feedback.

“I wouldn’t go so far as to say we would try to replace an annual sales meeting because there is a lot of social interaction that goes on there that’s really powerful,” Lennox says. “But if we can do something in three minutes a day rather than make salespeople sit on a WebEx for 45 minutes once a week, then that’s better for everybody.”

Managers can compare data from different territories, which can produce amazing insights. Lennox says one company that was about to invest $2 million in product knowledge training changed its strategy when QStream results showed that wasn’t the problem. (It also revealed that the company’s West Coast reps performed significantly worse on quizzes, confirming management’s suspicion of a sales management problem in that territory.)

Others have followed suit. MobilePaks, a subsidiary of Portland, Ore.-based VIA, claims to help customer-facing employees maximize productivity by providing them with short bits (three-minute clips up to 30-minute clips) of knowledge when and where they need it. From product updates and competitive intelligence to how-to video clips, employees can access knowledge with two clicks from any device — as well as share approved content with customers. Marketing and sales leaders glean insights to track behavior, needs and direct feedback for better alignment.

Like Qstream, MobilePaks are available as stand-alone Web applications and can also be integrated with CRM systems such as, Oracle CRM and Microsoft Dynamics.

“A lot of companies have great content and salespeople want that information on demand,” says Chanin Balance, founder and CEO of both VIA and MobilePaks. “It empowers managers to take all the great content they’ve already created and break it up into smaller chunks that are easy for salespeople to digest and retain.”  

QStream pushes three-minute quizzes to salespeople daily that assess everything from product knowledge to how to respond in certain sales situations.

Sales software applications like MobilePaks (above) allow sales managers to make their training and collateral accessible on-demand on any mobile device via small video clips that reinforce key information.

Paul Nolan is editor of Sales & Marketing Management magazine. This article is part of a full feature story, "Why Your Sales Training Doesn't Stick" that appeared in the March/April issue. You can access the full story in the digital issue here.