Custom eLearning Development

The Loss of an Arizona Legend

Resolutions is a Phoenix based company, we have been lucky enough to have been in business since 1995.  For a solid 10 years of our existence the Bashas’ Family of Stores was a client.  Yesterday Eddie Basha Jr. died at the age of 75 years.  Eddie is something of a legend in the state of Arizona, one of the state’s most recognized CEOs, politician, advocate for education and community supporter.  Bashas’ is one of the largest privately owned employers in the state, Eddie called each employee a member, as though they are a member of his family.  I serviced the Bashas’ account for a few years, in that time I was lucky enough to have met him on a couple occasions.  He was always smiling, outgoing and treated every person like they were a member of his family.  The business and his members meant everything to him.

When Bashas’ filed for Chapter 11 reorganization in 2010 Eddie received offers from larger grocery chains to buy his business, pay off his creditors and walk away a rich man, but that was never an option he was willing to accept.  His members meant too much to him for them to become employees of someone else.  Instead Eddie worked his way through bankruptcy and emerged a leaner, stronger Bashas’.  Resolutions lost Bashas’ as a client that year, but we knew that it was nothing personal, rather Eddie’s belief that he needed to focus his company on its core business of providing quality groceries to Arizona communities.

Eddie truly cared about the community as gave back as much as any organization in Phoenix.  In 2007 Bashas’ celebrated it 75th Anniversary, a monumental event that we were lucky enough to participate in through the production of a 75th Anniversary Television program that aired of local Phoenix television.  That program highlighted the Basha Family’s commitment to their members, the communities in Arizona and Eddie’s love for what his family built.

I am sure today is a tough one for Bashas’, they lost a great leader, family member and friend.  On behalf of everyone at Resolutions we send our condolences.

Sex Sells, but so does E-Learning

We have all heard the old adage, sex sells.  While that me be true, sex may not have the ability to generate incremental revenue and solidify customer relationships as well as e-learning.  This may come as a bit of a surprise so let me explain.  Every company selling a product or service has educational material available to their customers, but are they realizing the potential of that material to expand their business model and develop stickier customer relationships?

A fundamentally sound e-learning platform developed around your business and your customers can be a huge differentiator in the marketplace and most importantly could be an unrealized revenue source.  Let’s look at a software business as an example.  Company A is selling an enterprise software solution to mid-sized companies.  There is a certain about of ramp up and training time required to implement their solution, as well as ongoing support calls.  Chances are this is being handled by a small staff initially to handle installation, initial training either in person or via online meeting.  Ongoing support is probably handled by a 800 number help desk, support email system or FAQ database.  On the surface the systems are in place, and by most standards this is an acceptable practice in the software industry, but leveraging that internal knowledge base and transforming it into customer focused e-learning platform could open the floodgates to incremental revenue and better customer relationships!  All of the internal knowledge, manuals, trainers, webinars should be transformed into a tactical, engaging and interactive online training curriculum of courses that is on-demand 24/7 for your customers to have all the answers to their questions with real-time tracking, scoring and possibly even product certifications!  This type of online content delivery could drastically reduce ongoing support and internal manpower, while increasing the image and quality of your training product.  It also opens the door to up sell subscription based access to your world-class customer training system, providing a real return on investment.

If you read my post about the blurred lines between training and marketing, you would know that the training system you built to educate your customers may be the best way to market to and engage prospects searching for your company’s solution.  The needs of your prospects and customers only very by degree not kind.

E-learning is a powerful tool for education in both the academic and professional world.  Why not leverage its power in your business.  It could be the differentiator in your product or service, help generate more revenue and create stickier customer relationships.

Sales – The Cure for the Common Business

When times are tough we all have to manage expenses.  Tighten the belt, cut the fat, get lean, whatever catch phrase you want to use.  This is as true in our personal lives as it is in business.  Luckily in business there is a cure.  Sales!  Sometime sales is considered a dirty word or has a negative connotation, but trust me when I tell you that sales can be the cure to whatever ails your business.

I hold the dubious title of Director of Sales and Marketing for our company, but let’s be clear.  I get paid when I sell.  The role of marketing is to generate leads, but those leads aren’t going to close themselves, it requires a proven sales centric approach to our business to convert prospects into customers.  A sales centric philosophy gets lost at times in the business environment, especially with entrepreneurs who have a passion for their product or service, but may have never sold anything in their life.

Being sales centric from the top down in a organization can have a dramatic impact on how the business is run an the approach to everyday operations.  A focus on sales makes you look at your potential customers differently.  I makes you think, get in their head and really try to understand what makes them tick.  Honestly, it makes you a better vendor partner.  In order to sell you must be consultative, fully understand your prospects business and embrace their business objectives when considering your product or service.  This approach builds relationships that will stick and turn into repeat business.

A sales centric approach to your business also has an affect on your product or service.  Looking at what you offer based on how you will have to sell it can make you rethink and consider your entire offering.  If sales is your focus then you ultimately want a product or service that is easy to sell and once it is sold it should be of such high quality that the re-sell/up-sell is not even a SALE at all, rather a continuation of the relationship you have built around a superior product or service.

When it comes down to it, organizations with a sales centric approach to their business make actual selling easy.  It becomes something entirely different, it becomes a consultative relationship built around a superior product or service that is focused on the business objectives of your prospects and customers.

E-Learning and Beer, A Match Made in Heaven

I read a press release today from the Cicerone Certification Program announcing the BeerSavvy E-learning Platform.  If you have spent any time reading posts on this blog you know that I advocate finding your niche as a business, and your niche focus should bleed into training a marketing efforts of our company.  You also know that this blog is written from the perspective of an e-learning company.  Let me start by saying, I wish I would have landed this project!  More importantly though is that this is a perfect example of a business finding a niche focusing their business on it exclusively and using e-learning as a business tool in order to expand their audience, increase revenue and create a virtual business model with less moving parts.

Cicerone Certification Program has not just focused their business on beer, but specifically craft beer.  Their objective as a business is to help bars, restaurants, retailers and beer distributors capitalize on the growing interest in craft beer.  They found a unique niche in a growing market and have built a platform to help educate the staff of these businesses in order to help them capitalize on the growing market.  Genius!  As is the case for many education based start-up they started with live, classroom based training.  What most businesses in this space quickly find is that classroom training can be a grind.  The logistics and expenses that go along with classroom delivery can be quite costly and can account for less than stellar profit margins.  This is where a well executed e-learning platform can step in and provide a tool to virtualize and automate an education based business model.

We all dream of making money while we sleep.  This is tough to do when your product is delivering classroom based training.  I have nothing against classroom training, it has its place, but as a scalable business model it falls short for a number of reasons.  Delivering your training or educational product online offers the ability to build a product ONCE and sell it over and over again.  Growth is not dependent on more employees or the ability to secure locations.  It is now squarely on your ability to sell!  I will take that option anytime.

Does your business provide valuable education that could be turned into a online product?  It is an interesting thought.

What can Twitter Teach us about E-learning?

Twitter is a global force in social media.  Its signature, all posts must be 140 characters or less.  Twitter tapped into the human psyche and found something that resonated with human nature in a big way.  We want information fast, relevant to our interests and delivered, small easy to consume bites.  From this very simple concept Twitter has become something bigger than anyone could have imagined.  From being a news source to a conversation forum, twitter has a place for everyone.  Celebrities and businesses alike are able to tap into this social force and target specific niche audiences with their bite sized messages.

What can the e-learning world learn from Twitter?  Twitter taps into human nature and the message is clear.    Find your niche, understand your audience and deliver information in small easy to digest chunks.  E-learning should be no different.

Every piece of e-learning content developed should be looked at like your business.  What is your niche?  Anyone who is successful on Twitter, by successful I mean has a significant number of followers, has a niche.   The people who choose to follow them do so because that person provides the with a specific type of information.  For example, I follow Adam Schefter of ESPN because I know he is going to post information about player and team deals in the National Football League.  He has carved a niche for himself on Twitter as a news source for NFL information.  How can you apply this to e-learning?  It comes back to an article I wrote, called Go Niche or Go Home, where I discussed that in order to be successful in business you need to find your niche.  In order for your e-learning initiatives to have some teeth with your intended audience you must first understand your niche as a business and apply that philosophy to your e-learning.  If you want your e-learning to be successful it must be in line with the tenets of the niche you are serving.  By fully understanding your niche and applying those principles to your e-learning initiatives whether they are internal or consumer facing you will have set the foundation for success.

Once you have a clear understanding of your niche, you must fully understand that audience and what they expect from you.  I follow Adam Schefter for NFL news, I do not expect or want his views on politics.  I will go elsewhere for that information.  The audience in your niche is unique, which is why you have selected that niche.  You understand who they are, how they think and most importantly what is valuable to them.  Apply these principles to your e-learning and it will become a part of your business culture.  It will be the go to resource for information about your company.  Speak to the desires of that audience, use their language and imagery.  Make it feel like it was built only to serve them.

Finally, keep it short.  Twitter is recognized as the social network that delivers information in 140 characters or less.  I am not saying your e-learning has to be 140 characters, but I am saying that it is human nature to want things quickly and easily consumable.  Keep information in your e-learning practical and tactical, focusing on your business objective.  Don’t stray from the tenets of your niche.  Be clear and concise providing valuable information that helps the user improve in the area they are learning about.

E-learning is a globally recognized tool for delivering training, information and education to a user base.  Twitter is a social network globally recognized by providing information in 140 characters or less.  Both are broad, general and have the ability to be used by anyone, but their success in on the inside.  The ability to create a niche, relate to that audience and deliver information in a quick tactical manner.  Keep the fundamentals of Twitter in mind next time you tackle and e-learning project and see if there is a difference.

The Mobile Monster

Smartphones and tablets have changed the game in the business world.  The consumer’s expectations of accessibility and connection to product and services online are through the roof.  Everything must work on every device and every browser or you are going to lose customers.  This challenge is no bigger than in the e-learning world where the industry standard for the past decade plus has gone by the wayside due to the mobile market.  Flash is not only an animation tool, but also a programming and development tool that has been improved and developed by thousands of users over a significant period of time.  In no time at all it has been removed from the mobile marketplace.

At least once a month I get a call from a client that asks me if the online training courses we built for them will work on an iPad.  The majority of the time I have to say no, mobile delivery was not in your statement of work as a final deliverable.  Without fail the next statement is, “Well our Senior VP, President, Executive X, called me and said he/she absolutely must be able to access the courses from their iPad and it is not working.”  My explanation of why it is not working makes perfect sense to the person I am speaking with, but the bottom line is Executive X does not really care, they just want it to, more importantly, expect it to work on their iPad.

What is the solution?  Simply making it work on an iPad, or any tablet for that matter, is going to cost money, take time and the course as the client knows it will be substantially different due to the  limitations of mobile delivery without Flash.  My solution is to speak their language.  That means working with them to make a business case for mobile delivery of their online training.  It may make perfect sense, but it may make no sense at all.

The first step is to ask them to look at their user base.  Where will the majority of users be accessing the training?  If it is a large corporate environment they may only be accessing on a company computer limited to a certain browser.  In that case, rebuilding or initially building a course for mobile delivery probably does not warrant the investment.  Many of our users are in retail type environment where the only computer is a point of sale system which should never be occupied for training.  The primary purpose of that computer is to complete a sale!  This is a perfect use case for mobile applications, many times a tablet or two are purchased for the store for that purpose.  It is a cheaper alternative to adding computers.  Designing online training with mobile use in mind makes perfect sense in this case.

The next step in the mobile learning qualification process is the WOW factor.  This is a bigger issue with existing clients who already are accustomed to a certain level of course development.  One differentiator as a company is our ability to visually bring complex, non-visual, messages to life through custom graphics and animation.  Our ability to accomplish this is severely limited in the mobile world without the ability to use Flash.  The combination of HTML5, JavaScript and CSS needed to create a mobile learning environment has not yet come up to the level Flash for those types of applications.  It will in time, or a Flash-like tool for mobile will be created, but until then that is what we have to work with.  The client needs to understand that the same level of interactivity and on-screen flexibility is not possible for course built for mobile.  This may or may not be an issue.  In some cases we build a computer based version and a mobile version with code written to sniff out what type of browser and device the user is accessing the training from, other times the decision is to stick with the desktop version based on the user demographic.

One thing I do like about the current limitations of mobile learning applications is that is truly forces the the client and the developer to focus on their business message and the desired business result.  Mobile training can not be complex.  It must be easy to navigate, tactile and laser focused.  Without the unlimited tool kit of Flash developers are forced to hone in on the business objective and the user.  Sometimes simplicity makes a better learning experience.

Mobile technology is rapidly changing, but I think it is here to stay.   It is our job as a technology company focused on our clients, their workforce and their customers to be able to provide them with the best tools to deliver their message.  You can’t be married to one technology or platform, it could crush your business.  Mobile learning is in a state of constant evolution, we must evolve in order to meet the expectations of our clients.

What is your experience with Mobile Learning?  Here is an example of a consumer facing web application we built for a client which required us to develop completely cross platform and cross browser.  This is a consumer facing training application.  It was a challenge, but in the end I think the user experience is one of a kind.

Build It and They Will Come!

Build it and they will come!  If it were only that easy.  Resolutions develops e-learning courses for a variety of clients in a number of different industries, one major challenge for all of our clients, regardless of industry, is user compliance.  Our focus as a company is building e-learning content that achieves a business result.  That can be hard if the intended audience is nowhere to be found and the company has spent thousands of dollars to develop the course.  We have come up with a few keys you should keep in mind for any e-learning initiative to help drive users and ultimately ROI.

1.  Identify your Objective – If you want to develop training that gets results, know up front what results you want to achieve.  Be specific, how does a particular employee group learning this material affect the bottom line?  How will it affect your customers?

2.  Focus – Once you have identified your objective focus on it!  Don’t take the, “While we have them here” approach of throwing in random topics you would like them to pick up while they are here.  Keeping your online training focused will help keep users attention.

3.  Tactical – You have set your objectives and are focusing on them, know turn your attention to the user.  What is in it for them?  Present useful information that will help the user be better at their job or possibly advance their career.

4.  Short – Your employees are busy, and honestly how much time do you want them away from their actual work?  If you are laser focused on your business objective you should be able to deliver effective tactical training in 15 minutes or less.  Coffee break anyone?

5.  Engaging –  User engagement can be defined a number of different ways, but in its simplest form make the learning active.  It is proven that passive learning is far less effective than active.  Make use of media where appropriate, discovery learning is always a winner and decision based learning paths will seal the deal.

These are a few short tips we try to pass along to our clients.  Every situation is different, each company and industry segment has a different level of acceptance when it comes to online learning.  The best clients incorporate it into their culture and make it a part of everything they do.  Not everything goes as planned, but if your build your online training content with these the 5 simple tips in mind, then they surely will come!

What rules do you follow in your company training?  What has been the result?

Qualities of an Effective Leader

Leadership in an interesting topic.  Is it inborn or is it a skill that can be developed?  I happen to think like all things there is a little gray area.  The worlds most dynamic leaders have  the “it” quality that makes them dynamic leaders.  There is no denying that there is simply something inherent in their DNA, but where does that leave the rest of us?  Leadership is a quality found attractive by everyone.  People want to be lead in business and in life.  There are leadership opportunities everywhere and it is your job to seize them.

What then are the qualities of an effective leader?  About a year ago I had this discussion with my mentor in relation to our business and business in general.  Here are the 10 qualities that made our hit list.

1.  Visionary – Knows where they want to go and how to get there.  Leads the team with confidence.
2.  Ability to Motivate – Clearly articulates the vision, and leads by actions that say, “follow me.”
3.  Conviction – Makes decisions regardless of popularity.  Put’s company’s and employee’s success above their own.
4.  Consistency – Creates structure and follows through in a consistent manner.
5.  Creative – Anticipates future customer needs.  Stays ahead of industry competitors.  Viewed as an innovator.  Finds opportunities in a rapidly changing business environment.
6.  Risk-Taker – Has a competitive spirit.  Is entrepreneurial and is not afraid to take risks to advance the business.
7.  Delegates – Delegates authority to those who have earned their trust.  Takes a hands-off approach and holds team members accountable for achieving results.
8.  Intellect – Knowledge of the business world, including sales, marketing  finance, operations and technology.  Is informed on economics, politics and global affairs.
9.  Well Balanced – Good balance of mental, emotional and physical attributes.  Gives back to employees, the industry and community.
10.  Character – Has integrity in how they conduct business.  Puts success of the company above personal success.  Understands the team will only “follow the leader” if they have trust in the leader.

These are obviously very focused on business, but I think they translate well into all aspects of life with some minor modifications.  If you look through the ten items on the list there are skills that can be learned and refined with time, experience and some education.  Not everything here is inborn, which is what makes this list so motivating.  Commitment, execution and drive can make these things happen.  My guess is it all comes down to passion.  If you have a passion for your business, your community, your team, then a person is more likely to strive to possess these leadership qualities.  What qualities do you look for in an effective leader?

Training and marketing, the lines are blurred

I read a good article this morning by Lynne Murray, titled E-learning and Lead Generation in the Digital Age.  She talks about the rapid growth of e-learning and content marketing as an opportunity for marketers to expand their online presence.  Lynne hits the nail on the head with her article, I want to take it a step further.

The emergence of e-learning and content based marketing have blurred the lines between traditional marketing and training, but the potential benefits are not being fully realized by large corporations, which is a huge opportunity for the small and mid-sized companies competing with them.   Training and marketing in most major corporations operate in their own silos, completely independent of each other, which is a mistake.  As Lynne stated in her article, “4 out  of 5 users now search for information on products and services online to start to understand how to solve their business issues.”  If e-learning is being used successfully as a tool to train employees selling, servicing and supporting your product or service that same information could be incredibly valuable to your potential customers searching for solutions to their problems.

The objective of well built online training is to engage the learner to the point where the material is retained and ultimately that knowledge is transferred to an on the job skill.  There is a lot of effort put into internal employee online training.  Script writing, instructional design, video, graphics, animation, approvals from legal.  Why not extend the ROI of internal training projects into the your company’s online marketing efforts ?  There may need to be some minor modifications made to the content to suit your consumer based audience, but the re-purposing of training assets will create efficiency in the use of your resources.  This is a tough nut to crack in the large corporations where training and marketing are budgeted, staffed and run independently, but is a huge advantage for the mid sized business where much smaller departments are asked to wear many hats and contribute to many areas within a company.

Content based marketing has been built around providing high value online material to your prospective buyers so your company will be viewed as a respected source and be top of mind when it is time to buy.  Why put out another white paper when you could offer truly engaging and purposeful content your company has already made a sizable investment in developing?  The lines have been crossed!

Do you market to consumers and train employees differently?

Here is an example of internal sales training that was re-purposed as “how-to” training for customers.  The end result was more sales with a better educated sales team and less returns due to increased “how to operate” knowledge for their customers.

E-learning could save mine operators millions!

New MSHA Pattern of Violation law will have a huge financial impact on the mining industry.  Citations handed out by MSHA can add up to a hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars for the larger mine operators.  One of the mitigating circumstances MSHA looks at is the mine operators commitment to training.  Do you think the mining industry can benefit from targeted e-learning to help avoid costly citations?  Check out this video from Mining Expert Kim Redding, who provides some insight into the new Pattern of Violation Law.

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