What’s the best way to train sales teams on technology tools?

Gosh, I wish there was a simple answer, but there really isn’t. It really does depend…

In the last 20 years I’ve been delivering IT training, I’ve found there are five key factors that influence your approach to training sales teams on new technology, such as CRM. One size doesn’t fit all. Your vital statistics are everything!

Before you start planning your training approach, you first need to consider:

  1. The size of your budget
  2. How much lead-time you have
  3. How many geographical regions you need to cover
  4. The size of your audience
  5. How feature-rich your product or application is

Your own unique mix of these factors will determine the ideal approach for training your sales team. Let’s look at the five questions you can ask yourself to help ensure your envisaged training approach isn’t a recipe for disaster.

1 – HOW BIG’S YOUR BUDGET?

All training costs money. And training that’s organised in the eleventh hour means expensive training.

I won’t tell you the number of times I receive a call asking if I’m “free next week” to deliver training on a CRM project that’s been running for months. [She takes a deep breath]. The longer you ignore the fact you need to train your sales team, the more costly your training programme will ultimately be. Just like booking flights, the longer you leave it to get organised, the more you’ll pay.

Start thinking about training as soon as you start thinking about new technology for your team. If there’s going to be a change in process within your organisation, you have to factor in time for knowledge transfer, training or coaching. People can’t change unless we plan for it.

If you have a really tight budget, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to choose classroom Instructor Led Training (ILT) or eLearning as the primary means of training your teams. Instead you’ll need to depend on cheaper alternatives like virtual training or self-learning.

Warning sign: If you have no budget to allocate to training, you won’t reap the benefits you’re expecting from your new technology solution. Instead you’ll create a huge amount of frustration for your users. Stop now!

2 – HOW MUCH LEAD-TIME DO YOU HAVE?

 

The more self-sufficient you want your learner to be when they’re consuming your training material, the longer you can expect the lead time for developing training materials to be.

In my experience, creating eLearning courses takes much more development time than training materials for an ILT course. The more a trainer is in control of the content at the time of learning, the less preparation is needed for materials. An expert instructor can easily fill in any gaps, whereas eLearning requires you to plan for and include significant detail.

You have to preempt how much detail different types of learner needed.

If you have a really short lead-time, you’ll almost be forced into ILT or virtual training. You simply won’t have time to gather the level of detail you need to create effective eLearning materials.

Warning sign: If you’re told you need to create some eLearning from some PowerPoint slides that are available, because “you need some online learning really quickly”, put your tools down right away. You’re being set up for failure. To develop effective eLearning, you need a comprehensive Training Needs Analysis, defined learning objectives, training storyboards and scripts. A PowerPoint slide pack is purely a reference tool, not an eLearning course.

3 – HOW MANY GEOGRAPHICAL REGIONS MUST YOU COVER?

If your users are dispersed widely across different regions nationally or across different countries internationally, you’ll need an agile training approach that’s flexible and repeatable.

Localise your training

Even if you’re introducing ‘harmonised business processes’ across different countries, there are always exceptions to standard rules, for example because of local legislation. You need to ensure your training approach can flex to these requirements.

Translate your training

Translation is an expensive, unavoidable business. Training should be delivered in the users’ mother tongue to ensure maximum understanding. And yet training materials required constant updating, so there’s an inevitable lag to deliver training in different languages, when you have to wait for revised training materials to be translated.

For a new technology implementation you’ll probably need to outsource translation of your first tranche of training materials, but then it makes sense to have that capability in-house, so you can keep them updated easily.

Offer training across multiple time zones

If users are based in different countries, you need to provide training in all the different time zones or else asynchronously, such as with recorded webinars.

If time is against you, running virtual training or webinars in the users’ mother tongue is probably the most cost-effective way of providing your sales team with the right skills. You can keep training materials to a minimum and concentrate on live demonstrations instead. So long as users can ask plenty of questions and have access to support following training, this can still be a very effective way to train users fast.

4 – WHAT SIZE IS YOUR AUDIENCE?

The number of people who require training on your CRM is a critical factor.

Is the audience small?

Rule out eLearning straight away! The effort required to develop professional eLearning is far greater than creating an Instructor Led Training (ILT) course. You really need hundreds or even thousands of users to make the investment in eLearning design and development worthwhile. ILT or virtual training is your best option for small audiences.

Do you have sufficient training venues?

If you have a huge number of employees to train, you need to find training venues to accommodate them. If you’re not lucky enough to have your own company training centres in all the regions you need them, you’ll need to budget for hiring rooms in centres or hotels. This can drastically increase the cost of your training. In the past, I delivered training across Europe for large corporates who had their own training centres, but this is far less common today. I’m seeing a shift towards shorter, ongoing virtual training sessions instead.

If you decide to offer ILT, you should still plan for your delegates to have access to additional training or support after their initial training. Again, the cost of providing this ongoing support has to be incorporated in your training budget.

5 – HOW COMPLEX IS YOUR PRODUCT?

You don’t need a full day’s ILT to teach someone how to use Twitter. Simple apps should be fairly intuitive and not require too much counsel. However, if your product is especially technically or gets updated frequently, you will need to determine how you’ll communicate updates to your user base.

In a fast-paced environment, especially cloud computing, software solutions can introduce new functionality on a weekly basis. If you’ve invested thousands of dollars to create perfect eLearning and your product interface changes overnight, you’ll need to rework much of your training. So whilst your product is in flux, you’re better off creating a solution that is easy to update. This typically means live demos and virtual training are better options than eLearning programmes.

IN CONCLUSION: CREATE YOUR OWN BLEND OF TRAINING

Like good coffee, a blended training solution is more palatable to most sales professionals.

Try not to rely on a single method of training. The more variety you offer, the more effective your training will be all-round. Sometimes we just don’t have sufficient time or budget to offer the perfect training experience [yes, it galls me say that!], so we have to be pragmatic and invest our time and budget in the right areas. If you have to skimp on training, then you’d better be spending your dollars on having a fantastic Support team in place.

Assigning insufficient time to your training programme is the biggest point of failure. It significantly limits your training options and increases your costs.

Maybe the answer to the question “What’s the best way to train sales teams on technology tools?” should simply be…EARLY.

Good luck!

Vanessa Hunt

Vanessa Hunt

Vanessa is Director at Vanessa Hunt Consulting. Her forte is helping businesses and non-profit organisations improve their sales and marketing. Educated at Exeter University and graduating in French and German, Vanessa has been a training consultant to many of the world's leading tech businesses, focusing more recently on helping organisations realise the value of their CRM platforms.