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The Surrounded Learner Technique for Sales Training

Sales training can be a critical investment or a waste of time. The Surrounded Learner Technique is the key to your team's success.Sales training can be a critical investment in your team’s performance. It can also be a significant waste of time if done poorly — let’s do it well.  The Surrounded Learner Technique extends one-and-done training by surrounding the student with the information they need, increasing knowledge retention, and avoiding time wasted hunting for details once they are working.

In this article, we’ll start from the beginning and dive into:

  • What is sales training?
  • How do you deliver effective sales training?
  • Common training approaches and frameworks

What is sales training?

Sales training is the process of teaching salespeople the skills they need to sell their solutions. It may cover product knowledge, sales skills, insights on the customers you sell to, and anything else to make them more effective in their role.

Sales training is often delivered to a group of sales reps and then complimented with sales coaching.

Training, broadly, is critical for upskilling your employees.

What is upskilling?

Upskilling is the process of teaching people and teams to do their jobs better. This generally focuses on teaching new skills and deepening their knowledge of existing skills and subjects, helping them become ever more proficient.

What problems exist with standard one-and-done sales training?

We will detail each of these as we go through the Surrounded Learner Technique, but here is a quick summary of the critical mental processing challenges we face.

  • 40% of the training is forgotten within 20 minutes of the session (see Ebbinghaus information below).
  • While attention spans have not necessarily shrunk to the degree many of us believe, distraction results in us all taking longer to complete tasks and negatively impacting mental health.
  • Teaching alone can create novice-level behavioral gains, but practice leads to increases in speed and accuracy when performing tasks (consider demos, objection handling, etc..). Practice leads to expertise.
    • Practice greatly increases the likelihood that students will permanently remember new information (Anderson, 2008).
    • Practice increases student facility or automaticity (learning to apply elements of knowledge automatically, without reflection). Automaticity is usually only achieved through extensive rehearsal and repetition. Automaticity frees up students cognitive resources to handle more challenging tasks (Brown & Bennett, 2002; Moors & De Houwer, 2006).
    • When students practice solving problems, they increase their ability to transfer practiced skills to new and more complex problems. This is true in childhood (Glover, Ronning, & Bruning, 1990) and adult years (Li, Schmiedek, Huxhold, Röcke, Smith, & Lindenberger, 2008).
    • Practice helps students acquire expertise in subject matter and, therefore, it helps to distinguish novices from experts in given subjects (Ericsson, Krampe, & Clemens, 1993)
    • Cognitive gains from practice often bring about motivation for more learning (Kalchman, Moss, & Case, 2001).

How do you deliver effective sales training?

The Surrounded Learner Technique leverages a few key principles that will make your sales training more effective:

  • Reinforcement to overcome the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve
  • Delivery of training in short snippets called microlearning
  • Practice
  • In-context knowledge bites
  • A team learning culture

We will dive into each of these further.

Reinforcement to overcome the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve

What is the Ebbinghaus Forgetting curve?

In the late 1800s, a German scientist named Hermann Ebbinghaus studied how people learn and forget information. He discovered that people forget information at a predictable rate, and he developed learning concepts based on this research.

The Ebbinghaus forgetting curve is one of those learning concepts.

The curve is a graph that shows how information is forgotten over time, and it provides a timeline that training professionals should use for implementing training reinforcement.

The Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve

As you can see from the above, the average person will only remember 60% of what was taught 20 minutes after the session. And if you go out one day, most of us will only remember a quarter of the information.

Our investment in long-training sessions should be considered carefully as far too many teams deliver the training and fail to deliver the reinforcement.

Let’s discuss the reinforcement now.

See this image from eLearning Industry, showing one potential approach to combatting the curve.

This reinforcement plan, which is one potential sequence, demonstrates the importance of delivering follow-up on critical aspects of the training at crucial intervals.

  • An email that reinforces the learning is sent one day after the training.
  • On day 3, a text-based, or micro-learning, is sent to all students to reinforce a key concept once again.
  • And on day 6, a coaching or role-play session occurs to reinforce further the information learned.

Our recommendation is to deliver this reinforcement using a mix of approaches along these key points to maximize the ability of students to remember what is taught. For example:

  • Twenty minutes after the lesson, have students take a brief quiz, 3-4 questions max, on the key concepts.
  • On day 1/2, follow-up with a short video that recaps the information, no more than 3 minutes long.
  • On day 5/6, have the students demonstrate what they learned.
  • On days 14-16, resend the short video.
  • On days 25-26, have them retake the quiz.
  • On day 30, have them demonstrate again what they learned.

Delivery of training in short snippets called microlearning

Microlearning is the delivery of learning in small chunks, typically focused on discrete bits of knowledge for a short time.

Microlearning content is ideal for reinforcement — battling the forgetting curve.

Microlearning content can come in any format, but video tends to be used the most often.

When creating this type of content, create engaging, interactive content beyond keeping it brief.


Sales training is about delivering knowledge to a person to help them modify and improve behaviors that lead to targeted business results.

To incorporate this knowledge and demonstrate it, practice is critical.

Practice can be done using digital tools, role-plays, or other activities that allow students to apply what they have learned in a safe environment.

In-context knowledge bites

No matter how good you are in delivering training, people will forget — Ebbinghaus will win.

What do we mean by in-content knowledge bites or knowledge delivery?

Simply put, we mean delivering information to the sales rep (or any other member of your revenue team) at the exact time of need. Examples could include:

  • Embedding help into your CRM to explain the data to be captured.
  • Including a video example of your best SDR making a cold call directly in the software, you use for sales cadences.

See our Usetiful Guide on how to inexpensively train teams via interactive product tours as an example.


Remember that video is impactful for reinforcement — but keep it short.  Use a solution like Loom, as I demonstrate in this simple example, to share brief overviews with your team.

A team learning culture

Sales may sometimes look like an individual sport — but great revenue growth is a result of team efforts.

Raising the level of every individual requires a team learning culture — where everyone is focused on individual and team improvement.

You could incorporate this culture into your team in a number of ways, including:

  • Starting sales meetings with lessons learned from your latest cold calls, sales meetings, etc.
  • Creating a mentorship program where more experienced reps provide guidance and coaching to more junior sellers.
  • Use systems like Slack and others where the team can ask questions and crowdsource answers and ideas.

An Example of The Surrounded Learner Technique

Let’s use a simple series of graphics to look at life with, and without, The Surrounded Learner Technique.  We will show in the colums below how Kim performs MEDDIC qualification without The Surrounded Learner Technique, and then with it.

Kim is a new account executive at the company who has been taught MEDDIC for the very first time during her sales onboarding.

Kim leaves the training and, within 20 minutes, only remembers around 60% of what she learned.

As Kim graduates from onboarding, roughly 30 days later, she only remembers about a quarter of what she heard.

She has not internalized that 25% and will perform qualification slowly and poorly.

Kim will continue to improve over time, but, for the near term:

  • She will hunt for any information she can find on MEDDIC, and do so everytime she runs qualification.
  • Her qualification will be poor — she will reject far too many solid leads while passing through far too many poor ones.

The Results without The Surrounded Learner Technique

  • Kim is unable to have as many sales conversations each day as is required to reach quota.
  • Kim qualifies the wrong leads, leading to fewer in the pipeline and less revenue each quarter.

Both Kim and her boss are looking for new jobs next quarter.

Kim is a new account executive at the company who has been taught MEDDIC for the first time.

Kim is a new account executive at the company who has been taught MEDDIC for the very first time during her sales onboarding.

Kim leaves the training and is immediately given a short quiz and asked to explain how the company uses MEDDIC. She now remembers nearly everything she learned.

Throughout the onboarding session, the Surrounded Learner Technique is leveraged to battle the forgetting curve at regular intervals.

The team delivered reinforcement through microlearning and role-playing (practice) sessions.

As Kim graduates from onboarding, roughly 30 days later, she remembers most of what she learned about MEDDIC, somewhere between 60-100% vs. the 25% she would have otherwise.

And the best part is she has incrased here skill level beyond that of a novice, able to more quickly run the quaification process in a manner that leads to gathering the information required.

Kim is ready to hit the sales floor.

She is not an expert but can run lead qualification on her own.

And thankfully, her manager has set her up with a mentor who, along with the manager, regularly runs role-plays and performs coaching.

In addition, tips and reminders of using the MEDDIC process are available to

Kim from the systems she works in when she runs qualification. This information may be in her CRM, Sales Cadence tool, or other.

She not only has expertise at this point, but when gaps in knowledge occur, or she simply forgets a detail, the information is at her fingertips.

The Surrounded Learner Technique Results

  • Kim has more sales conversations every day.
  • Kim qualifies the right leads, leading to more solid deals in the pipeline and more revenue each quarter.

Both Kim and her boss are looking good for bonuses and promotions.

The Surrounded Learner Technique does not use any new ideas.  These are all concepts that have been available for a long time, and often used separately without a coordinated effort.

That means the technique will be relatively easy for you to begin leveraging immediately.

Sales Training Checklist for Surrounded Learner Technique

Battling the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve got a lot easier — use our checklist.

Battling the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve with our sales training checklist

Other Common training approaches and frameworks

The good news is The Surrounded Learner Technique can work with any standard learning approach or framework.

Let’s discuss the common learning frameworks.

There are many learning models you could use for your training delivery. The most popular is the Kirkpatrick Training Evaluation Model, which we have covered in detail on our site.

Other learning models include:

  • ADDIE: Analyze, Design, Develop, Implement, Evaluate
  • SAM: Survey, Analysis, Methodology
  • Andragogy: Adult Learning Theory
  • Gagne’s Nine Events of Instruction

Each model has its own set of advantages and disadvantages.

While we recommend the Kirkpatrick model, the most important thing is to choose a model and execute it to demonstrate the training is changing behavior and leading to the desired business outcomes.

Potential Sales Training Topics

You should have no shortage of sales training topics. Here are a few ideas for you to consider.

  • Product training
  • Industry and market trends
  • Terminology
  • Sales process
  • Lead Qualification
  • Cold calling
  • Objection handling
  • Goal Setting
  • Forecasting
  • Sales Tool Usage
  • Account Management
  • Closing Techniques
  • Competition

Do you have other sales training topics we should include?

What about our leaders? Sales Manager Training Needs

Sales manager training must focus on helping them become great sales coaches and people managers.

A sales manager training program should, therefore, cover the following:

  • Learn how to provide sales coaching
  • Study the appropriate ways to deliver feedback
  • Goal setting for teams
  • Task delegation and oversight

Popular Sales Training Program

Regardless of your qualifications, bringing in a third-party consultant often makes good sense.

We took some time to identify the top Sales Training Programs for you now.

What programs should we include?

What information would you like us to provide about each program to help you make the right decision?

Sales Training Technologies

Many sales training solutions are on the market today, but only one fully supports the technique – e4enable.  e4enable pulls together all other solutions, processes, and people to deliver on the approach, and we encourage everyone to check it out.

Example Sales Training Project

This example comes from our Free Trust Enablement Job Seeker Program, contributed by Thao Vy Lengo

Click on the image to see the presentation for this program and the rest of the schedule.


Final Thoughts

The Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve is guaranteed to make your training go to waste — unless you battle it intentionally. 

As you put The Surrounded Learner Technique into action, let us know the impact on your organization.

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