The Forgetting Curve in Sales Training – by Peter McLaughlin

As humans we are notoriously poor at remembering new information, especially when presented in large quantities that doesn’t engage us.

The forgetting curve refers to the systematic degradation of memory over time. Often colloquially referred to as “use it or lose it” new information tends to go in one ear and out the other – quickly

  L&D Professionals cite Training Reinforcement as their #1 concern – 17% – Source: ATD

Like most salespeople, I’ve sat through three-day long sales training lectures. I watched in distress as piles of materials including course binders, single sheaf handouts, flash cards and the like grew in mounds on the desk in front of my seat.

The Instructor:

  1. Lectured on the ABCs of their system
  2. Read from the program materials
  3. Told war stories from the field

My backside was literally in pain from sitting so long. Any excuse to leave the room was gold to me. This is the classic model of sales training and it’s a poor method for transferring knowledge.

We learn through repetition by the act of practicing especially for skill development. This process is continuous.


  • Building Rapport
  • Active Listening
  • Decoding Body Language
  • Questioning Skills
  • Discovering the Emotion in the Sale
  • Qualification
  • Trial Closing
  • Dealing with Objections
  • Presenting and Closing
  • Post Sale Relationship Management


Asking salespeople to fully absorb these skills by reading and listening to lectures, war stories and memorizing sales processes is folly.

We must give sales personnel the ability to learn, master and apply these critical skills in a realistic and safe environment. If we don’t do this, their failure becomes our failure.

What to do?

Role-Playing when done well, offers the ability for sales people to practice new concepts and make mistakes where the cost of those mistakes is zero. This is an excellent opportunity for coaching from trainers, managers AND from fellow sales people.

  • We learn from doing and from watching what others do too.
  • We learn from debriefing what we’ve done and what we’ve seen.
  • We learn from hearing what others have to say about the same experience.


You’re doing Role-Play wrong if:

  • Your salespeople don’t like the role-playing
  • There is giggling. (This means the reality of the training has been broken.)
  • Role-Playing doesn’t markedly increase the abilities of the salespeople.

It’s time to save the backside.

Get out of the chairs and get people on their feet. Help salespeople learn the crucial sales skills that will lead to success.

Create a Remembering Curve – Practice.

Seek unconscious competence through hands on exercises including realistic role-playing. Sales training and its vital partner, coaching needs to be a continuous process. This is how we build and sustain superior sales performance.

Peter McLaughlin is the author of: Becoming the Customer, Empathy, Influence and Closing the Sale.  If you liked this post please click “like” and follow for more articles.

Practice What You Preach…

Feel free to contact me to discuss providing theatrical-based Role-Playing for your sales and customer service teams.  Give them the edge for your collective success!


Peter McLaughlin has been in sales for his entire career. His experience ranges from conventional employment with corporations to owning, growing and selling a company in the security industry.

In addition to his extensive sales experience, Peter has an unusual background, which includes professional actor, volunteer firefighter and professional hypnotist. This latter endeavor was spurred by a leukemia diagnosis in 2003. In his journey, he realized we communicate primarily non-verbally, buy for emotional reasons and we really learn nothing until we get our hands on our subject. Peter leads sales trainings of the theoretical underpinnings and the practical techniques described in his book: Becoming the Customer, Empathy, Influence and Closing the Sale. With realistic role-playing as the centerpiece, he brings the skills of non-verbal communication, emotion in decision-making and insights from neuroscience into the realm of professional selling & customer service.

Peter is a member of Actor’s Equity and SAG/AFTRA and an experienced presenter, moderator and panelist. He lives in Western New York with his wife and three children.


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