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Product Sales Update Training

You are the VP of Sales for Amalgamated Widgets, Inc., a multinational company that sells high-tech widgets as subcomponents in other high tech products. You have 800 salespeople in 20 countries all over the world, and you are getting ready for a major product launch.

Your new Red Widget 1100 product line will be available in a month, replacing the Blue Widget 1000 series of product. The Blue Widget 1000 has been the main product line for the last year-and-a- half. The Red Widget 1100 line has new underlying technology, faster speeds, and a more competitive price/performance ratio. Keeping your salespeople up to speed is crucial because your high-tech product line evolves every six to twelve months—this is the demanding pace set by high-tech competition.

All 800 salespeople are already experienced in selling the existing Blue Widget line of products, but they need to get up to speed quickly on the new Red Widget line. You want them to be selling effectively immediately after product launch.

You don’t have to teach your salespeople about basic sales or even how to sell into your market. They are experienced sales personnel. What you do have to teach them is the new Red Widget 1100 product characteristics (features and functions; feeds and speeds) and what new opportunities for sales the new product features open up.

You expect that the next generation of Yellow Widget 1200 products will be available in nine to twelve months, so you have to maximize your opportunity to sell Red Widget 1100’s in that short time window.

What’s at Stake?

Your company has a lot riding on the revenue from the new Red Widget 1100 products. You have a short time window in which to make the product sales. Any salesman who’s not completely up to speed is going to cost your company revenue. Training your sales- people on the new product line is critical to your company’s success. This is not something to do in a half-hearted way.

Student Motivation

The salespeople will be motivated to learn about the new Red Widget product because their salary depends directly on how well they will sell that new line.

That, however, is not the whole story. These are salespeople after all—and successful salespeople like to be “out selling,” not “in learning about new products.” You will still have to create the learning event to fit into the unique characteristics of the sales personnel (who are very different from technical personnel, management personnel, etc.). And you will still have to make sure that everyone gets the training. We all know how certain types of salespersons just like to “wing it,” even if they are less effective when they do it that way.

When the business stakes are high and you have lots of revenue riding on the training success, you need to emphasize training speed and also emphasize making sure everyone is actually trained to the level you want.

Note: Stop a moment and think of your own e-learning solution before reading on.

Solution Factors

The critical components of this training are that:

  • Everyone gets trained in a short period of time.
  • The training is fitted to the salesperson style (not to the technical person style, or the manager-type style). This essentially comes down to the fact that salespersons are people-oriented and are not typically the type to study on their own. Some kind of person-to-person contact (even if virtual) needs to be a part of the solution.

A good approach is to imitate what you would do if all the salespeople worked out of the same city. You’d bring them all in for a live seminar and complete the “training update” in a couple of hours with a series of presentations.

But with e-learning, you can do that in a virtual manner—you can run a virtual sales seminar over the Internet. You could have product experts and senior sales managers lecture on the new product features and explain how each feature affects the sales equation. You might also present some sales case studies for the new product that show how best to sell it. And you could give a short quiz at the end just to be sure that everyone understood the main points.

Webcasts are sometimes used for this type of live learning event, but I think it’s even more effective to use Web lectures. The difference is that a Webcast depends heavily on the video trans- mission and often focuses on the “talking head” instead of the information being transmitted. That’s good for a casual lecture, and for entertainment, but not when you really expect people to learn and remember critical facts.

Web lectures broadcast PowerPoint-type slides over the Internet with an audio voice-over. This means that each slide appears one by one on the computer screen, and you hear the lecturer talking about each slide. So you’re sending the information by eye and by ear at the same time. With the Web lectures, you keep the focus on the slides and not on the person talking.

Depending on the type of high- tech product you’re selling, you might be able to do a good demo of the new product features over the Web so the salespeople can see it work even if they can’t actually touch it. Don’t spend too much energy fretting over this, however, because useful product demos are very hard to pull off (even at a live event). You could wind up spending all your energy on a marginally useful demo and neglect the more important content of the Web lectures.

When students are motivated because the training has a direct impact on whether they can continue doing their job, the training situation has a great chance of overall success.

Here are three other elements that will be critical to successful learning taking place for this case study:

  1. You can have the salespeople ask questions and get answers during the session by using “voice technology over the Internet,” a simultaneous telephone call with all participants, or an instant-messaging feature that lets all participants type questions and get instant text responses.
  2. You can put the “product facts” at a Web site so salespeople can download them later (reference material for actual sales calls). This is the electronic equivalent of the binder full of handouts you’d get at a live session. You’ll have to show how to use this reference Web site during the lecture part of the session.
  3. You can use a short “quiz” (delivered over the Internet) to check that each salesperson actually attended the session and in fact learned enough about the new product. (You’ll also need a way for salespeople to recover when they fail the quiz— you’d like to think that everyone will pass the quiz, but that will never be the case.)

Avoid structuring the training session in a way that is more appropriate to technical personnel instead of sales personnel. Salespeople want to know enough to sell the product, and that’s often all they want to know.