Virtually every week I have a discussion with a principal at a small- or medium-size training firm about e-Learning platforms for their content. What do they want to know? How fast the training industry is moving toward virtual, whether virtual will ever represent 100% of sales training, and what virtual platforms they should consider.
It occurred to me to interview an expert in the field, Adam Rin, who is CEO at Training JumpStart. As you’ll see when you read Adam’s responses to my questions, he really has a grasp of the issues smaller training firms are facing as well as the solutions they require. He gets pretty detailed here, so if any of you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to post them as comments and Adam will be happy to respond.
Here is the interview:
Dave Stein: What do sales trainers and small- to mid-sized training companies without an e-learning platform need to know to be successful the next five years?
Adam Rin: Most of the top-tier sales training providers already have an online, self-paced training offering, delivered and managed either through a home-grown platform or through technology licensed from third parties. A sales trainer relying solely on face-to-face training will find a shrinking market with reduced price points as online training becomes ubiquitous. Sales organizations may want to keep the instructional, motivational speeches offered at retreats as well as perhaps some role-playing workshops, but to reduce costs and allow salespeople to take training at their convenience and at their pace, the majority of sales training will be purchased and taken online within the next couple of years. The good news for the small sales training firm who has not yet made the shift is that they can catapult their way to an online offering by partnering with specialty online training system providers who deliver hosted, private-branded web-based training portals.
DS: Some sales people feel that sales training involves aspects such as role-playing, motivational look-in-the-eye dialog, and question-and-answer sessions not possible to duplicate in e-learning. Do they have a point?
AR: There may indeed be some aspects of sales training, such as the ones you mention, that lend themselves best to live interaction, though even some of those are moving online. While it may not be 100% of sales training that can be recorded, packaged and interleaved with self-service exercises and quizzes, this is where “blended” training comes into play. Sales trainers from individuals to large providers should consider shortening their instructor-led training that might have been, for example, a two-day event to a half-day workshop containing only the interactive and role-playing elements. Prior to attendance, trainees could obtain handouts online, take self-assessments, watch narrated presentations, view video clip scenarios and otherwise prepare at a time and pace suitable to them. Following the workshop, attendees may return to the online system to review material covered, take a final exam that leads to certification and/or provide a course evaluation. Regardless of whether you move 30% of your sales training to the online medium or 95%, make sure that an online training system you adopt can effectively support blended training modes.
DS: Most sales trainers have years of classroom-based PowerPoint presentations and text-based handouts. What is entailed in adapting such materials for effective e-learning?
AR: Creating effective e-learning is an adaptation of your traditional material, much like a book to a movie. Some guidelines are as follows:
- Depart from the traditional bullet-points PowerPoint look: Move away from displaying a sequence of full, complex sentences on a page. Place text on the page judiciously. Better yet, if possible make the background a relevant image or diagram over which you overlay text or merely highlight the portion of the illustration being narrated. Show key phrases on filled rectangular shapes, for example, while the learner hears full sentences narrated about those phrases.
- Add consistent branding: Avoid overused standard templates available within PowerPoint and take advantage of templates available on the Web at least as your starting point. Invest effort in a branded template with your distinctive, color scheme, logo, pagination, title, style etc.
- Prepare a script for narration. If you find it difficult to write a script in a spoken rather than a written language style, which is what’s needed, consider audio-recording one of your live classes, then transcribing and editing the content.
- Consider engaging a professional narrator. If you do not engage a professional, have the audio reviewed by friendly, honest others.
- Intersperse exercises with feedback. Insert exercises or quizzes after many of the 5-15 minute chunks. Keep your learners engaged by including activity.
- Utilize multiple media rather than rely solely on narrated slides. Some of the content in the original PowerPoint presentation may be most effective if written as printable handouts. Short video clips illustrating a scenario can be especially effective for sales training. I would not consider a video-recording of your live presentations or webcasts as your self-paced e-learning product, though many firms do this. Exceptional presentations (well delivered or inspiring) break my rule, of course. Otherwise, a video of a spontaneous live session will rarely be effective “as is.” It will need re-working with a mixture of media, polishing the script, shortening the components , and interleaving with exercises or quizzes.
- Also consider a self-assessment, a final exam and/or a course evaluation
Those are a handful of guidelines. Sure, it takes time to adapt your training material. But once you have it recorded, you can sell it and deliver it globally to many learners concurrently while you sleep.
DS: There are so many e-learning platforms, how should sales trainers evaluate them?
AR: First, you can eliminate platforms intended for academia or for corporate employee training. Look for a system that was designed for commercializing training for outside customers, such as your sales trainees. You can also narrow the search to hosted systems requiring only a browser for learners, authors and the site owners. Second make a checklist of capabilities you feel are important vs. nice-to-have in your training portal. To give you a head-start, let me suggest 6 very standard capabilities below, and then 8 more advanced capabilities particularly important for a sales trainer marketing and delivering online training to their client companies.
- Diverse Training Formats: Can the system import narrated slide shows, videos, audio clips, and PDF files?
- Accessibility: Is the system accessible from diverse devices, browsers and operating systems?
- Usability: Is the system easy to learn and use?
- Scalability: Is the system scalable as your business grows in content, videos, number of users and number of courses?
- Reporting: Does the system have flexible reports to track usage, progress and performance, both for portal owner and for the customer sales management?
- Training Modalities: Does the system support on-demand, live/instructor-led and blended training modalities
Essential Capabilities for Sales Training Firms
- Private branding: Can you customize the user interface to reflect your brand’s look and feel? Your customers need to believe that the training portal is yours.
- E-Commerce support: Can trainees buy sales training offerings online with a credit card right on your training portal?
- Business rule customization: Can you deploy courses for online payment and also manage enrollments for client companies that purchase in bulk for their salespeople? Can the system send your trainees automated messages that you have customized? Is it easy to specify which courses are freely available to any site visitor and which are available only through purchase?
- Testing and Assessment: Does the system offer multi-format exam and quiz capabilities with automated scoring and reporting? Can questions be randomly selected from one or more question pools.
- Multi-lingual support: Can the user interface as well as the course content for the learner be offered in any language or in multiple languages?
- On-boarding support: Does your provider help you deploy and launch your training program and offer ongoing responsive support? Ask them how much time they’ll spend and the nature of the support they’ll give you to get your system up and running smoothly.
- Integration: Will the system integrate smoothly with your other online systems, such as by providing a “single sign-on” capability.
- Marketing support: Will the e-learning system have capabilities to drive traffic to your portal and convert them to course purchase? Consider whether you can create catalogs, package training tracks, and set multi-tiered pricing with discount codes and multiple currencies.
DS: Any final words of wisdom for sales trainers and small sales training organizations?
AR: The sales training industry is undergoing a major shift from live training to an effective blend of online, self-paced training and live workshops. If you do not already have an online training offering well underway, consider partnering with an e-learning portal provider to launch and run your new e-learning business.
Adam Rin, Ph.D. is co-founder and CEO of Training JumpStart, a firm that delivers private-branded, online training portals. His business experience ranges from innovator of successful software products to research division president of a billion dollar company Gartner, Inc. [NYSE:IT], the world’s leading IT Research & Advisory firm, to venture capitalist, and back to entrepreneur.
About Training JumpStart
Founded by software and training industry veterans, Training JumpStart is a leader in global e-learning portals, extending the reach of its clients to their diverse audiences in worldwide markets. It breaks new ground in supporting multiple business models for conducting e-commerce, comprehensive online exam software, multilingual support and extensive personalization in technology and services. Training JumpStart delivers a private-branded customized e-learning software training portal, mirroring the design of each client’s corporate web site. Reports and alerts track usage, progress, compliance and performance. Visit www.TrainingJumpStart.com to explore this innovative e-learning software product, or watch a product demo of their e-learning system.
Disclaimer: Adam is co-founder of, and an investor in, ES Research Group, Inc. In addition, I have a small financial investment in TrainingJumpstart.