Why companies cannot afford to skip training their external partners
Only considering your own workforce when planning your training is short-sighted. After all, distributors, franchisees, agents, brokers, as well as association members and even volunteers contribute to corporate success just like your in-house employees.
Consequently, these external partners need to know all the details of your company’s products and services. In this article, our experts show how to set online training up for success in such an extended enterprise learning scenario, and how to turn a learning curve into an earning curve.
Revenue losses through deficient distributor and network partner training
To understand “partner training” let’s picture the following scenario: A manufacturer of glasses and other optical aids is launching new contact lenses that are particularly thin and suitable for sensitive eyes. First of all, the company’s own sales staff need to know the benefits of these contact lenses, as they sell the products either directly to the customers or to other companies like Company B.
If the products are sold on via a trading partner as an additional distribution channel, the sales consultants employed by Company B also need to know the particularities of the new lenses. The crux: You can only sell a product if you know its benefits. This holds true even more when a trading partner sells products from more than one provider and has several suppliers.
Distributors, trading partners AND external sales people all have the same need for specialist and product knowledge. Leaving out this target group when arranging learning and development measures is a missed opportunity for significant revenue growth.
Which target group should an extended enterprise training scenario take into account?
The circle of distribution partners includes more than just external sales employees. Depending on the sector and the orientation towards B2B or B2C business, a completely different set of target groups should be addressed and included. For example:
- Distributors and dealers (car dealerships, opticians)
- Franchisees (restaurants, insurance companies, real estate agents, etc.)
- Specialist staff in the insurance, health or medical technology sectors
- Joint ventures
- Members and voluntary staff
- Friends and family
- The general public
Sales training for external partners: online or in person?
Once the external partner network has been defined, the question is: Is it better to train these employees online or in person? Both options have advantages and disadvantages which need to be balanced precisely. The idea to present such distributor training online – for instance, in a learning management system (LMS) – is not new.
The benefits are obvious: Instead of sales consultants travelling to attend on-site training, all employees ultimately involved in selling the product can complete relevant product training in the convenience of their home or their workplace using various devices. For instance, an optics manufacturer placing their products with various chains can provide remote access to the product training to all sales staff of those chains’ branches.
However, the drawback of such online training is that employees are often under time pressure or lack motivation to get started with such training. It is therefore crucial to minimise any barriers to entry for training measures.
For instance, complicated registration processes act as a deterrent. Combined online and face-to-face training within a hybrid learning concept or even a true blended learning scenario may also be suitable options.
Having assisted numerous imc customers with the development and support of such training, training expert Anika Rabe recommends:
“Most of the time, product training is not designed for the general public and must therefore be set in a secure area. An LMS is a suitable option for this.
Yet, the training courses must be easily accessible for everyone and, above all, they must be interesting. In particular, external employees must be involved on an emotional level rather than stopping at technical product knowledge.”
Facts tell, stories sell
No emotion – no sales. Especially when technical differences between products or brands have no major impact, brand loyalty and great storytelling are key.
An external employee needs at least the same degree of emotional investment as a team member of the manufacturer - they must both convey enthusiasm for the product. That is exactly what product training needs to deliver. Items like smartphones, jewellery or cars are frequently bought for emotional reasons, rather than based on mere facts.
If a sales consultant can share their enthusiasm for a product, customers are more likely to buy it – even if, objectively, it is not better or cheaper.
One size fits all is a thing of the past
The training that helps external partners internalise these stories differs from that most helpful to your own employees. Internal team members already have a special connection to the brand or the products. They already believe in the quality standard, and need not be won over.
This is an important aspect to take into account. One-size-fits-all solutions no longer have a place in training design – and even the best training will fail if it is unnecessarily difficult to access. This is why training expert Anika Rabe recommends: “Making it easier to access learning means making it more likely for the learning experience to be shared by everyone. For example, adding a QR code to products that are new or involve a steep learning curve is easy, and can be used to direct the user to the relevant training course with a simple scan.”
However, Anika notes that simplified access also makes it harder to verify training. If a training course requires no prior authentication, the creator of the learning content cannot know with certainty whether the end user really completed it, nor how much time they invested. It also remains unknown how much the learner actually learned, and whether they actively apply that knowledge.
Yet such assessment is important, especially when optimising and evaluating learning content. While in-depth learning analytics would be taking things too far in this context, it is a topic L&D managers should keep an eye on.
Combining both worlds to boost sales
According to Dr. Wolfram Jost, Board Member and Head of Product Management at imc, the only thing that really matters in the end is this: The learning curve must be transformed into an earning curve. No company trains employees just for fun – whether that is internal employees or external partners. Especially in the extended enterprise learningscenario, the fundamental objective is to increase the company’s sales. Partner training must contribute to corporate success.
It helps to keep these key questions in mind when designing your extended enterprise training to transform the learning outcome into revenue.
- Objective: What is the training designed to achieve?
- Target group: Who is meant to be trained? What prior knowledge does my target group have? What information and which stories do they need?
- Conceptual design: What type or combination of training is suitable?
- Performance assessment: How do I define success? How and when do I measure it?
- Training access: How can I simplify training access?
- Learner motivation: How can my training design ensure that external partners enjoy the training process and retain the learned content?
Onboarding, slightly different
Onboarding can already be integrated into an existing LMS, but this benefit is hardly ever used.
We took a little trip into the (near) future to see what a successful onboarding process could look like.
Why the gains from an LMS outweigh its costs
A Learning Management System too expensive? Not if you use it in the right way! For most clients, an LMS pays for itself within a year. We tell you how to prove that with a Business Case.
More about our LMS
If you would like to learn more about imc's Learning Management System, check here for more information.
I have been working in the Marketing & Communication Team at imc since March 2019.
Communication, creative content and social media are my passion. "KISS - Keep it short and simple" is my credo.
To explain complex content in an understandable way and thus make the topic of e-Learning accessible to everyone is an exciting challenge every day.
Privately I love to read, play poker and travel a lot.
I am always happy to receive feedback or suggestions.