I have been asked to write a post about why our online trainings are so well accepted within our sales organization and why they are often even rated higher than regular classroom trainings.
I will not talk about the well-known benefits that e-learning has for an organization in general (e.g. saving travelling costs). I will solely talk about the feedback that my team is getting from our target group: 350 learners located in over 50 countries. The shoe has to fit the customer – not the shoemaker.
Feedback #1: “You have a good nose for what the real world is like in our country”
This is most likely due to the following circumstances:
- Our instructional designers sit within hearing distance of the SME’s ( Subject Matter Experts).
- They have a long experience with sales issues, product launches and know many members of our global sales team personally.
- We interview sales and product management peers before creating a new online course.
- We know in advance what questions from customers our global sales team will be exposed to. We integrate these into our online courses.
- Before we started with our online courses we knew from our network that the worse thing you could do is starting a global e-learning project with compliance or safety at work trainings. I know of other companies who tried to relaunch their LMS project by replacing the word ‘e-learning’ with another word. E-learning became one of the most hated words in their organization. Thank you, network, for warning us in advance!
- Another ‘Lesson learnt’: Never force your sales organization to do anything they don’t see a clear benefit in.
Feedback #2: “We have great trust that when you roll out an online course the product is ready to sell and working”
Everybody working in the machine building or automation industry knows that it’s a long way from a prototype or a sample on a trade show booth to a ready-to-sell product. We know how frustrating it is for the whole sales process trying to find out when a product is ready to sell. That’s reality in most companies I know.
Besides being in contact with all relevant departments, we diligently work our way through product presentations and user manuals and test new products by ourselves. It is always our goal to reach a knowledge level that allows us to talk with product management and sales on eye level.
We hold our online courses back until the final and official launch date. Our target group is aware of that and considers our course releases as the official starting signal for a product launch.
Feedback #3: “Your online courses are more compact than classroom trainings and you get better to the heart of a subject. Speed is all what counts in sales.”
Even though a live presentation of a SME can be very inspiring, most sales peers don’t have a chance to be trained directly by a SME (due to the global setting of our sales organization). We tried to solve that problem by letting the SMEs present their subject in a webinar. But even when we limited a webinar to 30 minutes, we got the feedback that it’s very difficult to pay attention for such a long time – especially when they watched a webinar recording the next day.
In my experience, when you just look at the knowledge transfer aspect of a training, you can transfer a given content within the following time frames (with the same result):
- Classroom training: 1 hour
- Webinar: 30 minutes
- E-learning: 10 minutes
This calculation ignores of course all positive side effects of a live training (sozializing, hands-on workshopfs etc.).
Every sentence that we show or say in an online course has been discussed and reviewed with at least eight people. This is where the higher quality of an online course comes from compared to a classroom training.
Feedback #4: “Since you roll out your online courses I have the feeling that your really care about us and that I am on a similar knowledge level as my peers in the HQ”.
Have you ever thought how long it takes until an outside sales guy in (e.g.) South India is on a comparable knowledge level as a sales peer in inside sides of the HQ?
Training a global sales organization in a traditional way is a littIe bit like Chinese whispers (for German speakers: “Stille Post”):
- Product development trains product management
- Product management trains national and international sales in their HQ
- International sales trains internal sales of subsidiary
- Internal sales of subsidiary trains outside sales
- Outside sales trains reseller
- Reseller trains customer
- Customer trains a new employee
I bet that the one who is at the end of this training chain will have the least benefit from the training – due to the “Chinese whisper effect”. A good train-the-trainer program might help, but keep in mind the speed that you still lose with such an approach. You can not give your global trainer team update trainings every two months. With online courses you can bring everybody of your organization in a defined time on a defined knowledge level. No jealousies about who may or may not travel to the HQ for a training.
Feedback #5: “You treat us like adults – not like children”
When I got in charge of the global knowledge transfer project in my company I was aware that e-learning didn’t have the best reputation on the learner’s side in other organizations. Friends told me how ridiculous they found their corporate e-learning program.
I will never forget what a good friend of mine told me with rolling eyes: “HQ keeps me from work again: They just blessed us with another e-learning…” I liked the word ‘blessed’ which expressed in an ironical (maybe even cynical) way what he thought about the value of e-learning. I promised myself that I would do the utmost that I never had to hear such a statement in my organization.
It was the right decision to build up skills inhouse in order to create online courses by our own. Our team knows which content will be considered as childish and which as serious.
By the way, if you are confronted with the challenge to digitalize your global onboarding training: estimate the number of online courses you will need (30 minutes each) and multiply that number by 20.000 USD/EUR (that’s the average price that an external agency will charge you for a 30 minute online course). We estimated 50 courses. We made the decision to design the courses inhouse in less than a minute…
Feedback #6: “You took a great burden off my shoulders – preparing sales meetings has become a lot easier”
Local managers benefit a lot from our online courses. Before it’s been a huge hassle to prepare local product trainings. Now local managers just need to prepare additional hands-on workshops. All technical issues, industry news and sales arguments etc. have been transferred in advance via our online courses to each salesman. Managers only need to monitor the learning progress, so that everybody completes the online courses before a workshop starts. Perfect blend, no loss of information and a win-win situation for both sides.
In general, our salesmen have no problem that their learning progress is being monitored by their superiors – as long as the content is relevant (!) for reaching their own goals. As soon as they feel forced to learn something that has no benefit for them, they will feel bossed around. And that will sooner or later result in the end of every progressive learning approach.
Feedback #7: “With your online courses we can react quicker to market trends”
It’s obvious: a traditional training organization needs months or even years until new products or processes are trained in the entire organizations. Some subsidiaries are that small that they are visited by somebody from international sales only every 2-3 years. Others don’t have the resources to join every training or meeting in the HQ.
Especially these organizations appreciate our online courses a lot. By completing the online courses they can keep pace with new market trends and satisfaction of customer needs with new technical solutions.
Feedback #8: “I can always come back to what I have learned and review content for a customer visit”.
Classroom trainings are good, webinars, too. But all of them lack the chance to quickly return to a required learning nugget that you need for a sales call that takes place six weeks after a training. A good structure and table of content allow a quick return to look up content.
Feedback #9: “More online trainings, please!”
The best feedback we ever got after our first blended basic product training: one group had to complete a 10 hour online course before coming to our HQ and participating in a one week basic product seminar. In a feedback questionnaire (“Happy Sheet”) that the participants were asked to fill in at the end of the seminar, a couple of them added the note “We want more online trainings in advance”.
This is not because we have bad classroom trainers, but because the participants were so willing to study by themselves in order to have quick wins with customer projects.
We are convinced that we made the right strategic decision – for the customer and therefore for the future direction of our organization.
Feedback #10: “Our Asian sales guys feel strong interpersonal barriers when attending a classroom training. It’s like a foreigner attending a German school for the first time.”
I knew that Asian training participants had problems understanding the English of our trainers. Of course, a visit in our German HQ is a great experience and very beneficial for employee retention. But when you just look at the amount of knowledge that is being transferred during a one week training, it is sometimes very limited due to language and intercultural factors.
Our Asian managers gave us the feedback, that the “German engineer’s style of teaching”, the German accent plus the different environment is a heavily limiting factor.
The interviewee who sent us the above statement continued: “With your new online courses we don’t have any of these barriers. The online courses have a very international touch, which we like.”
Feedback #11: “I see online courses as one of the best value contributor within our organization. We are trained effectively and efficiently. Skilled employees will contribute more to the success of our organization.”
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