Posts Tagged ‘b2b’

Learning without training

by Wayne Turmel on January 18, 2010

I love the word “conundrum”.  It’s defined as “A paradoxical, insoluble, or difficult problem; a dilemma”. Here’s the conundrum that has impacted the training business more than any other lately: Companies complain about a shortage of skilled workers, but have slashed training budgets and the big traditional corporate training companies are bleeding customers and money at a time when what they teach has never been needed more. How can you have a shortage of skills that cost companies billions of dollars but no one’s willing to pay for it? That, my friends, is a conundrum.

The problem, I believe is a sea of change, not in what skills people need (as Drucker pointed out, the Leadership, Project Management and Strategy needed to build the pyramids aren’t any different than what we need today), but in who needs them.

Traditionally, the companies identified “competencies” that everyone needed across the organization, and either had their training department provide the content or went out and found it, brought training in-house (or to a centrally located sterile hotel ballroom) for employees to learn. This is still the model that most training companies follow- sell to the entire organization and look for company-wide initiatives… and it’s why they’re in trouble.

The audience for training is no longer the companies themselves, but the individuals in them. One manager might need to improve their business acumen while another does just fine with the numbers but can’t deliver feedback that doesn’t make people cry.  They know they need to develop these skills- if not for this job then for the next one. How do they identify, pay for and attain the learning they need?

Here’s how the players at companies will look at training in the New Year:

  • The Company– will be looking for training that is short, cheap and won’t involve travel or taking people away from their desk. This will mean a huge  increase in web-delivered training,  and if they’re smart, a mix of asynchronous (recorded, available any time) and synchronous (live with a facilitator that knows what they’re doing- and they’re in short supply).The fact that they will ask the impossible ( highly specialized but off the shelf so we don’t have to pay for customization, deep enough to show ROI but we don’t want to pay very much for it or let people invest time away from their jobs) is nothing new- customers always have asked the impossible. It does, however put a lot more pressure on…..
  • The Training Department– which is largely reduced to an administrative function. Rather than deliver a lot of training themselves, slimmed down Training Departments ( or more likely an HR professional juggling multiple jobs) will be asked to source and evaluate training  when it’s needed. This means fewer scheduled “catalog” classes that go on a schedule and are then canceled for low enrollment, and more specific just-in-time requests. What will determine what’s needed? Usually what shows up on performance reviews so an individual manager will have a different training requirement than their coworkers. This will mean they’ll need trusted sources of content, focused on niches or specialties, inexpensive and either public enrollment (so the manager can attend  by themselves but might mix with people from other companies) or scheduled for small groups of like-minded people. How will they find and evaluate this material? Well that’s a problem for….
  • The Training Companies… who will have to move away from licensing their content (because there’s no one left internally to deliver it, and each course isn’t being delivered often enough to provide economies of scale for the Companies) and into varied ways of delivering other than putting an instructor at the front of a room. Again, whether this is the most effective method of training is almost irrelevant, it’s where the market is moving, right or wrong. Gone are the days of huge corporate-wide initiatives, and they’ll be selling through their contacts at the Company to smaller groups (business units, project owners) rather than to a VP with a vision. They will also have to change how they bill their clients as more individuals will be paying (probably with a credit card over the web because who wants to issue 25 Purchase Orders for one class?) and definitely will have to move more of their training either online or into shorter chunks. The days of the 2-week “boot camp” training are gone forever. Additionally, they will have to be able to prove the value of what they do- either in Return on Investment (which for soft skills training is almost impossible but people keep trying) or in value to the learner through Continuing Education Credits, Professional Development Units or accreditation. Even a printed certificate of completion looks great in an HR file. The real change, however, will be for….
  • The Individual Learner– who will have to be responsible for learning what they need to know as they need to know it and finding it in a variety of ways. Maybe it will be traditional training, maybe it will be a book or a podcast.  The team leader who learns from their performance review, shows initiative to learn a skill and prove they’ve learned it (even if it’s just showing the certificate of completion) will be miles ahead of the worker who can’t explain what they can do or how they learned to do it. Additionally, more training will be paid for by the company (in small doses, as long as it’s not too expensive) but will be done after hours or on the employee’s time.  Online courses from trusted sources, marketed to individuals are the wave of the future.

In essence, training has gone from a B2B model with large contracts and licensing agreements to a modified Business to consumer model (the company might pay for it…they might not but if they do they’ll want to be involved in selection and pricing).

Companies that are really serious about helping their people develop skills will have to work with this new dynamic. Training companies that are serious about surviving will have to move to more web-based marketing and offerings, and individual employees will have to take their learning into their own hands.

Selling when you’re not there

by Wayne Turmel on December 18, 2009

selling when not thereThere’s been a lot of research done about how customers- especially B2B customers- buy online.  The difference could mean a lot of money to your company and make your sales force’s jobs easier.  The good news is it means less work for you and your sales people if you do it right.

The problem is that many companies are still locked in last century’s sales thinking. That model was: hook them early in the sales cycle and get them to commit to a demo as early as possible. This webinar, usually delivered by a Subject Matter Expert, assumed they were starting at Square One. This doesn’t fit the way they want to buy from you now. They want to meet you armed with research and get their questions answered by someone (your sales person) who can help them buy.

Not surprisingly, companies are acting much like you and I do when we shop. CFOs and Purchasers (well, actually their underpaid and overworked assistants) are spending a lot of time cruising websites and shortening their list of prospective vendors. Only when they have a pretty good idea of the features they’re looking for- not to mention the approximate price and how you compare to the competition- will they  ask for a demo or to speak to a sales rep.

The implications of this are pretty profound:

  • Metrics matter Take a good look at your website’s analytics. When are people visiting your site? (if it’s a lot of after hours, you’re getting shopped out).What are they looking at? How long do they stay? How many take the next step to ask for contact with your reps?
  • Make sure you have something to measure If they’re not staying long, they aren’t finding what they are looking for, which is enough information to qualify you as a prospective vendor. The more information you provide (video demos, pre-recorded webinars, articles and industry research) the more they will look at you as an expert and a resource. This can only help.
  • You’d better know what your customers think they know Just because they’ve clicked the “schedule a demo” button doesn’t mean that’s what they need.  It’s critical that whoever they talk to next ask questions about what they have already read or seen (they don’t want to sit through redundant information) and where they are in the sales process (are you talking to the buyer who will need different information than someone doing the screening for them?). All of this means…
  • The people who demo need to be (or at least think and present like) sales people Many companies use “sales engineers” or Subject Matter Experts to do the demos to customers, which is fine (obviously you need someone who knows what they’re doing, and that isn’t always the sales person of record) but their job is not solely to demonstrate functions and features. They need to ask the questions that qualify the prospect, identify where they are in the sales process and move them through the sales cycle.  What are you doing to help prepare them for that role?

Does your website reflect this new buying reality? What are you doing to help customers move themselves as far along the sales cycle as possible, and what are you doing to help your SMEs and sales people bring them the rest of the way?

Your customers want more… so give them less!

by Wayne Turmel on November 2, 2009

time is moneyThe way we buy and sell our products has changed forever because of the Web. This is especially true for the B2B (business-to-business) landscape. The problem is many of us haven’t really adjusted to this change and it costs us money, which is a shame because they are really acting just like we do when we buy something… so, why the cost?

Think about the way we make a major purchase…. We investigate online, read reviews, visit websites and eliminate obvious bad choices. Then-armed with information- we march down to the car lot or the appliance store and get what we want in record time.

Now think about the way we sell to customers online. We have some information posted, the customer clicks a link or emails us and says “yes we want a demo” and we schedule a demo. But is that what the customer really wants? Probably not. They don’t want to start from scratch-  and you have to meet them where they are or risk alienating them forever.

The good news is if they’ve requested to speak to someone from your company they are a great, live prospect. The better news is that they have all the basic information they need or they wouldn’t be there… what they want is the final information necessary to make a decision (or at least pass you on to someone who can). They have very specific information they need to move the sale forward, or decide you can’t help them.

The bad news is that we often don’t know at which point in the conversation they are. Thus, we end up giving them too much (read irrelevant) detail and that does not serve them very well. This is evident by their number one complaint  about online demos … yep! you guessed it right – they have too much information and don’t get to the point.

Here’s the thing to keep in mind:  If the customer has come this far, find out where they are, currently and what they need to complete their journey. Now, you are at a point where you can then give them exactly what they need. Before even starting the presentation, ask a lot of questions and find out what information is critical to them to make a buying decision. The form they fill out won’t give you the same good quality information as a conversation. Your contact with the customer needs to give them more relevant, focused information they need to make a smart choice. It needs a lot less time and extraneous detail. You may never even demo the product- which is actually a good thing in a strange way.  Why go through all the effort if it’s not a fit, and why make them sit through it if they know enough to move you through the sales cycle?

This also means that the information on your site needs to give them as much up-front information as possible. Do you have recorded information, demos and video that helps them choose you?  Are you giving them the chance to gather information before they even talk to you? If not, why not? If you are, is it easy to use and understand?

Customers want more from us than ever before, they just want less of us in order to accomplish it.