• Throughout history, the human brain has restructured itself to process information to align with the environment it operates in
  • Sales reps can’t be expected to learn simply through concentration – they must engage intermittently with content and technology
  • Organizations should examine training and content delivery systems to determine if a new approach is required

It’s known as “the Knowledge” – an unforgiving and grueling set of more than 25,000 streets and landmarks in London that every taxicab driver must memorize and obtain certification on. The rigor and process required to master the material is so intense that in recent years, scientists have been able to observe fundamental changes in brain structure between drivers of black cabs and the general population – the spatial reasoning ability of these drivers, regardless of their age, tends to be quite high.

As sales enablement increases in popularity, along with the software solutions that support it, I asked myself, “Why is this happening now?” Sales is an old profession – the fundamental idea of engaging and understanding buyers to progress and close deals isn’t new. Yet more than ever, after a period of disengagement, B2B organizations are realizing that they need to invest more heavily in training and content delivery for their sales reps to ensure they’re prepared for buyer conversations. Why is the “old way” no longer good enough?

First, I thought back to the taxicab drivers and where each of their – and each rep’s – abilities are ultimately controlled: the brain. Two books I read recently highlight how we used to process and retain information, and how the Internet and mobile technology is changing how people process information today:

  • Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything. The author of this book, Joshua Foer, underwent a yearlong quest to study and compete in the USA Memory Championship – an event that tests mental athletes in games like “Speed Cards,” in which participants memorize a single pack of 52 playing cards in the shortest possible time, and “Names and Faces,” in which participants have 15 minutes to memorize and recall 117 color photos of different people and their associated first and last names. To achieve success, Foer constructed elaborate visual guides in his mind called “memory palaces” – a practice popular in classical Greece – and wore sensory deprivation goggles and earmuffs to eliminate distraction and help him encode the information more effectively. He ended up winning the championship in 2006.
  • The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. In this book, author Nicholas Carr examines how the brain has changed its processing of information in an Internet-driven world. He argues that the Internet – with its hyperlinks and endlessly available avenues of information at our fingertips – has made retaining knowledge and encoding what we read into long-term memory very difficult. He cites at least three studies that show a direct correlation between reduced reading comprehension and the number of hyperlinks in a document. Focus and concentration on material is required for critical information to bridge the brain’s gap between short- and long-term memory. In the age of distraction, that gap is increasingly interrupted before long-term encoding can occur.

So, in sales, why is quick, mobile delivery of content and training so popular now? Sure, buyers have changed and expect more than they used to, but sellers have as well. Sellers today process information differently – they scan quickly rather than focus intently (honestly, how many of you have read every word of this article up to this point?), and their attention spans are far shorter. Our new training and content delivery mechanisms reflect this new reality: Putting today’s sellers into long, passive training sessions and expecting them to concentrate isn’t a feasible outcome. Our brains today are wired differently – we can no longer rely on people to leverage memory palaces or keep intricate details of a sale or portfolio offerings encoded in their mind. The right training and content for sales reps needs to be immediate, relevant and short to beat reduced attention spans.

For now, sensory deprivation devices and decks of cards remain unlikely methods for training sales reps, so organizations should remain focused on developing their training and messaging delivery in an easily digestible format that integrates seamlessly with sales reps’ workflows. If you’re a client, SiriusDecisions analysts from the Sales Enablement Strategies service are happy to help your organization weigh the learning and asset management solutions needed to deliver the right training and content to the sales team. And if you’re heading to SiriusDecisions 2017 Summit this week, be sure to check out the presentation “Long-Term Competency in a Short-Term World: Building Skills That Last” to learn how to insert learning and skills development into the daily routine of sales reps in a meaningful, lasting way.