Many retail company leaders think they need to update their retail sales training content to improve revenue and employee output. They think, “If I give my sales associates better training, my sales numbers will go up.” But this mentality is misleading.

In our experience working with dozens of enterprise retail brands across thousands of locations, retail training problems often don’t have to do with the quality of the materials being presented, but rather the training format.

Specifically, long-form sales training does not work. Below we’ll go over exactly what long-form sales training is, why it doesn’t work, and how to fix it. Specifically, we’ll review the research-backed training methods modern brands use, including:

  • Micro-learning
  • Just-in-time learning
  • Gamification

We’ll also show you how enterprise brands are using our software — Bigtincan — to implement this in their organization.

Note: If you want to see Bigtincan’s retail sales training platform in action, book a demo today.

What Is Long-Form Retail Sales Training?

Long-form training is what most people think of when talking about retail training in general. Managers use paper handouts, a corkboard, team huddles, and series of videos on one or two computers running Windows 7 to deliver hours of training for retail sales associates. Here’s what that typically looks like:

  • Retail HQ purchases a retail sales training program or creates it, then sends it to store managers.
  • Each manager takes the training on the store-provided computer in the backroom or their office.
  • The manager calls a group huddle and presents the trainings to the team.
  • Employees remember as much of the training as they can.
  • Materials for future reference are distributed in paper handouts, or pinned to a corkboard in the breakroom.

We call this training long-form because lessons are delivered in one long session or series of sessions, followed by a test, followed by implementation. Using this model, it’s not uncommon for an associate to learn something, then have to wait days, or even weeks before applying it.

As we’ll discuss below, even the best employees will struggle to pay attention to the information in a PDF or long presentation, and even if they do, they’ll forget the information soon after without robust follow-up trainings (which typically aren’t in place).

In this kind of situation, it’s common for sales staff to forget much of the information they initially learned. Then they can’t answer customer questions, don’t remember product knowledge training or how to present new store campaigns, and customer relationships, sales, and revenue suffer.

When companies notice this problem, they will often revisit their training materials, thinking it’s the training program or content that’s at fault. But it’s not, it’s the long-form training format itself.

Problems with Long-Form Retail Sales Training

The truth is, you could hire the best sales consultants, purchase the best training videos, and deliver it all in an engaging presentation, and most retail associates would still quickly forget the information you provide.

Why? Because of a concept called the Ebbinghaus forgetting curve.

Ebbinghaus' Forgetting Curve shows that even the most effective retail sales trainings are forgotten quickly if not put into practice right away.

Image source: iSpring

Ebbinghaus’ Forgetting Curve is based on research that shows that most people forget as much as 67% of what they’ve learned even one day after hearing the new information. So despite learning helpful and necessary information, retail associates physically cannot remember everything they’re told.

To make matters worse, even if an employee has a nagging question a couple of days later and thinks, “Hey, I think there was something helpful in that training, let me go look it up,” in most retail stores they have to:

  • Hunt down the paper handout they left at home.
  • Hope the public copy is still up on the corkboard.
  • Read through several pages of information to find what they were looking for.
  • Ask the store manager and hope they remember.

Most of the time, employees just give up instead, and assume the information wasn’t that important to begin with. Now, they don’t remember the information they were told (because they’re physically incapable of doing so), there’s enough friction that they can’t look it up, and they can’t answer customer questions or sell new products as effectively.

To make matters worse, retailers launch new products and campaigns constantly, and turnover can be high, which makes it even harder to keep employees up to date.

Ultimately, the problem isn’t with the training content, it’s with the long-form format. To fix this, brands need an alternative to long-form training.

The 3 Alternatives to Long-Form Training

There are 3 learning format changes that modern retail organizations use as antidotes to the long-form sales training problem: (1) microlearning, (2) just in time learning, and (3) gamification.

1. Microlearning: Keep Lessons Bite-Sized and Boost Retention

The number one antidote to retention issues caused by Ebbinghaus’ Forgetting Curve is to pair short training sessions with opportunities to practice. This practice is called micro-learning and typically includes lessons or videos that can be consumed in 3-5 minutes or less, and are often paired with practical exercises to imprint the learned information into memory.

The easiest way to get started with micro-learning is to take existing lessons and cut them down into smaller, more manageable chunks. If you’re using a tool with easy content-authoring features like Bigtincan (explained below), you can also have store leaders quickly and easily create short snippets of training addressing commonly asked questions. This way, you have your own best performers training the rest of your employees, which helps improve everyone’s performance.

2. Just-in-Time-Learning: Give Associates Training Right when They Need It

Just-in-time learning goes hand-in-hand with micro-learning and is all about giving learners the information they need right when they need it.

For example, rather than asking an associate to sit through a training on all of the functionalities of a POS system before hitting the sales floor, for example, just-in-time training would offer a short video going over how to process a return, offer an opportunity for practice, then move on to the next step. That’s a relatively basic example, however, just-in-time learning is typically associated with mobile apps like Bigtincan that are powered by AI and machine learning (more on that in a moment).

To recap: Micro-learning is about offering smaller, more digestible chunks of training; just-in-time learning is about offering the training exactly when it’s needed.

3. Gamification: Foster Healthy Competition and Offer Employees Prizes

Finally, gamifying learning opportunities typically involves assigning point prizes to salespeople that take trainings, offering competitions between stores, and using leaderboards to keep employees engaged.

Some of our retail clients will even offer physical prizes for employees who build up enough training points.

Combine Retail Training Techniques for Best Results

Many of our clients build their core training curriculums around microlearning, just-in-time learning, and gamification, and supplement with more standard trainings such as team-huddles or long-form videos when necessary. For example, compliance training can still be done on computers in relatively long sessions, and team huddles can be used to foster camaraderie and team spirit.

Regardless of the exact mix your organization uses, adding elements of micro- and just-in-time learning will boost the efficacy of your existing training methods. Plus, all of these training methods are amplified when delivered through an app that’s optimized for retail selling, such as Bigtincan Learning.

Bigtincan Is Optimized for Modern Retail Sales Training Methods

Bigtincan takes all of the training and learning techniques above, and combines them into one learning platform that adapts to each individual learner’s needs.Example of the Bigtincan platform on a mobile device

For example, a retail employee could log in to the Bigtincan mobile app right before they log in for work, and:

  • See a notification letting them know of a new product release (just-in-time learning).
  • Watch a quick video on the product features, benefits, and how to sell it to a customer (micro-learning).
  • Get a point or check mark for completing this training and brushing up on sales know-how in the same day (gamification).

Because these trainings are shorter, and delivered right when they’re relevant, the associate will have a much better chance of retaining product knowledge and selling skills so they can serve customers and close more sales.

This is made possible with Bigtincan’s:

  • Cross-platform functionality: Bigtincan works on every device including phones, tablets, and computers.
  • Push notifications: Managers can use push notifications to keep new products and company-wide announcements in front of employees.
  • Custom-tailored UI: As part of the new hire onboarding process, we’ll help you custom-tailor the Bigtincan UI to suit your needs. You can move, add, or swap UI elements on the homepage, and even insert dynamic sections that update based on AI-powered learning recommendations for individual users.

Learn more about how Bigtincan works in the retail industry in our article, The Best Retail LMS for Enterprise Brands: How to Onboard Employees Quickly and Boost Engagement.

Continuing with the example, if a new customer were to ask about a product, even if the associate didn’t have the perfect answer offhand — maybe the customer asked about a very niche, specific product feature for example — they could do a quick search for a brochure on Bigtincan, show it to the customer, and send to them via text or email.

In this example, the retail salesperson is leveraging:

  • AI-powered full-text search: Bigtincan’s search feature uses AI to find the most recent version of a file, suggest other, helpful supplementary materials, and deliver them instantly. And, it will search the entire text of each file, not just the title to provide the most accurate results.
  • Just-in-time learning. The employee didn’t have the exact information they needed, but was able to find it instantly and answer the customer. What would have been an, “Um, I’m not sure, sorry, let me go ask the manager,” response was turned into, “Let me look that up for you right now,” — a much better customer experience.

See how employees can use Bigtincan on the move in our article: Best Mobile LMS for Sellers: An Overview of the Top 4 Platforms Available Today.

Finally, later that day, the entire team gets together for a huddle, and the manager uses the admin view to track attendance and see who’s up to date on trainings. Then, the information is funneled back to HQ for reporting and analysis, so they can improve future trainings.

This makes use of:

  • Mixed learning features: Bigtincan lets leaders track trainings and learnings that transition between off- and online, so they always have a clear picture of how team members are progressing through training.
  • Robust reporting and tracking tools: Bigtincan offers easy reports and dashboards at both the individual and store level so leaders at every level can see which trainings are working, and how employees are progressing.

Together, these features help every member of the sales team learn more quickly, access information more readily, and provide a better customer experience.

Then, with the data they collect, HQ can modify and adjust their retail sales training courses over time so they continuously get better results. Building a sales training system on a platform like Bigtincan will outperform even the best online or in-person sales training using outdated methods.

These are the same methods we’ve used to implement retail sales training at two recognizable, global retail brands: Two Global Brand Digital Retail Transformation Case Studies: Lessons & Challenges

Use Bigtincan’s White-Glove Onboarding to Modernize your Training Practice

Plus, part of an engagement with Bigtincan typically includes hands-on onboarding. This means our customer success team will help all of your employees and stores transition into the new system. We’ll guide you through digitizing your paper trainings, setting up Bigtincan on your store’s devices, and organizing and rolling out the new training system.

We’ve done this exact process for tremendous companies with more than 1000 retail locations, and tens of thousands of stores, and can do the same for your company.

Book a demo of Bigtincan to get started and see how you can update your retail sales training today.