Training Industry Exclusive
By: Chad Hoke , July 20, 2011
Recently, however, companies are increasing their efforts to integrate online training into their sales and marketing efforts. How? Some companies simply bring product training online, thus boosting reps’ product knowledge, which greatly impacts sales.
And the nature of how sales and marketing staff can participate in online training has dramatically changed in the past few years. Instead of simply watching a sales presentation or series of slides on a computer screen, users are now encouraged to interact with their company’s Learning Management System (LMS). Sometimes this interaction takes the form of quizzes or games, and sometimes it’s in the form of earning rewards for online course participation.
Webcasts are also becoming more interactive—many live webcasts now allow for instant feedback as well as question-and-answer sessions that reach all participants and can be saved for future reference.
But what’s the bottom line? Sales personnel are beginning to participate in e-learning and their increased knowledge is improving their ability to sell.
So, how does e-learning impact sales?
No two companies will have the same approach to e-learning or the same LMS capabilities. But for those seeking to rev up their existing sales training, the goal is the same. And according to a BlueVolt study of cross-industry distributors, 81 percent of respondents agreed that online training does increase sales.
For many product manufacturers, for example, an e-learning program can help get the word out about new products and those products’ unique features, benefits and applications. When building an online training course, the manufacturer has complete control over the messaging that goes out to its distributors. This allows for consistent training and ensures the message that is delivered throughout the sales channel– from buyers, sellers and ultimately the end-user – is as accurate and compelling as possible.
From a financial perspective, this message consistency and delivery (via e-learning) can greatly impact sales by extending a message throughout the entire channel and reaching more sales people. While there will always be a place for live, instructor-led training, online training can help lower expenses such as travel– and still reach a broader audience.
After creating an online university to deploy new product sales training, North America’s largest producer of residential ventilation products, Broan-NuTone, was able to reach more partners. They also dramatically reduced travel and saved more than 90 percent on training expenses.
For the distributors of these specialized products, online training provides expert product knowledge. Not only does this strengthen the link between an informed distributor salesperson and the customer, it creates opportunities for increased sales. The same BlueVolt survey respondents agreed that more than 80 percent of sales present add-on opportunities and strong product knowledge at the point-of-sale can increase the number of add-ons they sell.
After national independent tool and fastener distributor co-op Sphere 1 began using its online university to deploy sales training, one of its members – distributor Big D Bolt & Tool – switched from carrying a competitor’s brand to American tool manufacturer Wright Tool’s product. This was directly a result of effective training. According to Big D Bolt and Tool owner Bob Coursey, “The training really illustrated how Wright Tool is better and [the sales team] understood why the product made sense for our customers.”
Sphere 1 also incorporated incentives for taking courses into its online university, which motivated participation and increased enrollment. BlueVolt’s $BlueBucks incentive program is proven to increase course enrollment up to ten times.
Manufacturers’ distributors also reap financial rewards from switching to an online platform. The historically standardized approach to training requires everyone to be in the same place at the same time so a sales rep can present training face-to-face, disrupting both the workday and the workflow. With online training, distributor employees can instead take online training whenever and where they need or want to.
Online training maximizes return-on-training time because learners:
- Train when it is convenient with their schedule—whether from home, the warehouse, or while out on the road.
- Learn at their own pace. Learning online isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Sales team members can skip what they already know and spend as much time as they need on what they don’t know.
- Review previous courses. Even after completion, courses are available for future reference, which continues engagement and extends the learning cycle.
- Receive training that is focused on the product, with an emphasis on product features and benefits. This maximizes the effectiveness of the training, because what is most important is clearly laid out and retained by the learner.
Additional benefits of e-learning
The benefits to online learning go beyond just the product manufacturer or the manufacturer’s distributors. Even the end-user, such as the product installer, can benefit from e-learning and having the same in-depth product knowledge. For example, a strong understanding of the product can significantly improve on-the-job safety for electricians who must stay up-to-date on hundreds of rules and regulations according to the National Electric Code.
Research shows that online learning is just as effective as, if not more than, taking an in-person course. In fact, a study by the U.S. Department of Education found that students who learn online generally perform better than those who learn in face-to-face courses. Additionally, the American Council of Education recently found that U.S. employees cite continuing education programs as the second most important reason they stay in their jobs.
Chad Hoke is Vice President of Sales and Marketing at BlueVolt, the leading provider of online Learning Management Systems (LMS) for the manufacturing