Learning Inside and Out
Hipwell gives a scenario where potential buyers can take an online tour of a company's products and available options while being guided through the purchase decision with expert advice, comparison reviews, and financial planning tools. The net result, he says, is that not only will new revenue streams be tapped, but an increased number of well-qualified and educated customers will be delivered to the company's sales department.
McStravick also has noticed the increased emphasis on educating non-employees. "Initially elearning was something that people just did for employees. But now more and more companies are starting to recognize the value of training what we call the extended enterprise," he observes. The extended enterprise, he explains, includes anyone that is involved in the value chain, both upstream and downstream, which includes customers, manufacturers, and indirect sales channels.
For a business that does not currently have an elearning infrastructure in place but is interested in this sales training platform, the foray does not need to break the bank. "If you're a company that doesn't have a big budget, then I would consider looking at a hosted model rather than having it installed behind your firewall," advises McStravick. "By having a system hosted, you don't pay nearly as much up front and you can pilot how it's received, work through that model for awhile, and then invest in it long-term if it's working well."
When an elearning system has been established, it's important to note that Web-based learning is most effective as a complement to traditional methods of learning rather than as a substitute. Often called a blended model of learning, the combination of various forms of learning methods can lead to achieving maximum results and increasing competitive edge.
A best-practice scenario that Gustafson gives involves preparing for an annual sales meeting where sales trainers engage in dialogue, hammer home key points, and encourage attendees to share ideas. Prior to the meeting, the entire sales force is required to take Web-based preparation courses, which are tracked and which they must pass within a certain time frame. The end result is that everyone comes prepared for the group sales meeting, which in effect, allows a business to use the right technologies in the right place and save the expensive interactive portion for when it is absolutely required.
"If I'm teaching you to fly a plane, I'm going to give some manuals, I'll give you some computer-based training, I'll give some classroom training, and the last thing I'm going to do is take you up in the plane because that's the most expensive," explains Gustafson.
While the implementation of elearning won't, by itself, turn the fortunes of a company, it can be integrated into an effective sales strategy that ensures a sales staff is meticulously trained and up to date on product features. And if the progress of the past few years is any indication, the continued advances of elearning will make it an indispensable component in any company's sales arsenal.