In its earliest incarnation, elearning was viewed by businesses as a tool to provide basic education to employees, many of whom no longer occupied desks at the office. The subject matter was hardly revolutionary; many firms simply transported existing content, such as product demonstration videos and educational brochures, to their intranets. These days, however, executives expect elearning to do much more, including provide a potent way to help drive sales. In terms of cost savings, elearning offers a number of advantages over traditional methods of sales training. Often, instructor-led training courses involve seminars and workshops where travel is required. In fact, GeoLearning estimates that 40 cents of every dollar spent on in-person corporate learning is spent on travel and lodging costs.
Technology-delivered courses not only trim costs associated with sales training, but also allow for increased productivity. Rather than being on the road and largely unavailable to clients, a salesperson can schedule training sessions during lulls in the day. Also, instead of having to attend endless meetings, some of which might not be relevant, elearning provides members of a sales team the ability to participate in extremely targeted learning. If they already possess a high level of expertise in a certain subject, they can even opt out by acing a pre-test. While still achieving the same levels of competency, the hours saved increase bottom-line productivity.
Administration costs can also be slashed, as elearning negates the need to reserve classrooms and update training records. Most learning management systems are automated to eliminate such cumbersome tasks. According to Will Hipwell, VP of marketing for GeoLearning, the impact of elearning can be immediate. "Travel costs are decreased instantly, reps spend more time in the field, and new products can be rolled out more quickly," he relates. "Often the initial payback period for an elearning platform can be a matter of months."
When putting an elearning infrastructure into place, it is important to measure the impact of the new sales program with specific objectives in mind. "If you're going to measure the impact of elearning, then you have to be very specific about goals and matrixes you are expecting to see moved," says Peter McStravick, senior research analyst with IDC. "Specificity is important because otherwise there will be too many variables and it will be impossible to measure just the training's impact."
Web-based learning evaluation systems, often called analytics systems, can gauge the impact of an elearning program by providing data and statistics that measure increases in sales, speed to competency, customer satisfaction levels, and sales reps' product knowledge levels. In addition to monitoring a salesperson's progress and comprehension levels, the performance results can be accessed in real time by managers. For example, let's say that a sales rep fails to score the minimum aptitude on an elearning test. His or her manager would instantly be notified of the fact, and alternate plans could be made for an important client meeting. Analytic systems can be integrated with CRM and order-entry systems to attain additional measurements that allow businesses to cost-effectively measure training impact while improving performance.
In addition to having an evaluation program in place for management, it is crucial to have one in place for the sales team so that they can offer suggestions to improve training materials and delivery methods. "This is the only way to ensure that the training materials and methodology are meeting the needs of the sales force and ensure there is coordination between the home office and what is happening out in the field," points out Hipwell.