My friend and fellow Toastmaster Mike Hayes, wrote an article this week titled, Strong Opinions Make Your PR Campaign Great! The basic premise being that you need to take a stand and have a position in order for your message to be heard in a crowded marketplace. This got me thinking about how this basic premise should be applied to online training application for businesses. The e-learning world tends to be run by academics and instructional design theory. Those principles certainly have their place, but without focus on a sound business objectives results may be hard to come by, much like having your marketing or PR message heard when you fail to take a firm stance or have an opinion.
E-learning, whether you are looking at it from a big picture view or down to a specific course must focus on the business objective in order to achieve a business result. Resolutions has had the good fortune of working with many different types of clients all of whom have different objectives when it comes to the development of online training applications, but the constant message we preach to them is, “what is the business objective ?” It seems like a simple question that should warrant a simple answer, but that is not always the case. You would be surprised how difficult it can be to answer if it was not the focus in the first place.
When I talk about a business objective I am not talking about the specific learning objectives of a course. Every online training module has its learning objectives, I am talking about the big picture. The things that keep the CEO up at night like major citations, fines, accidents, bad press, declining revenue… the list goes on. E-learning applications built for a company should consider how they can positively affect the actual BUSINESS of their business. If a client comes to me and says, “I need to build a course on ladder safety.” My first question is, “What happened? Did someone get hurt?” Chances are their is a hidden business objective behind the launch of a ladder safety course that the person put in charge of execution may not have been made aware. My guess is there was an accident, someone got hurt and either sued the company or made an extremely costly insurance claim that leadership would like to avoid in the future. Simply understanding that will make a dramatic difference in the development of the training.
Think about it. If you go to work and all of a sudden you are asked to take a course on ladder safety, what is your first thought? Most likely, “This is ridiculous I know how to climb a ladder.” You are probably right, you do know how to climb a ladder, but if the person developing the training presents ladder safety with an clear understanding of the business objective it can be framed in such a way that is valuable to the user. When you present something of value there is a much higher likelihood of retention and behavior change over time.
A clear focus on the business objective can help trainers and e-learning developers build training that can have a real impact on their company. Take a stance, have an opinion and meet a specific business objective. It will help the company and the user achieve and actual result.
I have heard from business people on numerous occasions that Walmart does not make it easy to do business with them. They make the rules when it comes to selling your product through their stores. Why then do so many companies bend over backwards to cater to Walmart’s demands to sell their product? It’s simple, for a retail product Walmart is high on the food chain, they are about as far upstream as you can go in regard to a retail distribution channel.
We have made a concentrated effort at Resolutions to identify the best way to get as far upstream as possible when selling our e-learning solutions. It has made a dramatic impact on or business and how we approach different markets. When I say selling upstream I simply mean going as far up the food chain as possible to find one company who with the stroke of a pen will provide you with access to a large portion of your market.
I had an interesting call with a prospect last week that really brought this concept front and center for me. This prospect’s business happened to overlap two of our different industry vertical businesses, Mining and Insurance. The prospect is an officer at a large insurance company that caters specifically to the mining industry. As we talked through the potential of working together he asked my why I don’t just sell our Mine Training directly to the mines? My response was simple, we do, but working with you would provide us access to hundreds of mine operators and contractors by signing one deal.
It may seem like an insanely simple concept, but think about your business. How would it change your selling strategies, and possibly even your entire business strategy if you were able to focus on just a few key prospects far enough upstream that it opened up your entire market to you with the signing of a single contract? Take some time to evaluate your customers, find out what they have in common, how your business can add value to another that is higher on up in the food chain. It may take some time, thought, research and patience, but in the long run it could change your business.
What are your thoughts on selling upstream? Can you provide any good examples?
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.
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.
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.
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.