Cambridge (UK), September 2022 - (by Keith Henry, Director, Client Advocate, Cambashi) They say that knowledge is power, but you need to harness it properly to have real power. For this reason, any company selling products or services into the manufacturing sector needs customer-facing staff who are fluent in the business issues that are of greatest importance to their clients.
If clients perceive any lack of industry-specific knowledge in what salespeople or consultants are offering, it can lead to a loss of trust, which in turn can mean loss of revenue. Alternatively, having well-trained, well-informed professionals in your company will give an edge in the sector.
But how can this crucial knowledge be achieved? Qualified industry training is the answer. It will provide your professionals with the credibility and confidence they need to successfully engage and build lasting client relationships in targeted sectors.
There is no doubt that training which is relevant and industry appropriate, and which leads to sound ROI is not just a "nice to have", it is essential.
So, how does a manager identify any training gaps that might exist among their revenue-generating staff? What training interventions will deliver the required knowledge transfer and ROI? And how can staff be upskilled in a way that adds value to both the company and their own professional development?
Fundamentally, there are two components in the equation:
- an audit in the form of a training needs analysis, followed by
- a suitable training program, which can be face to face, online, or eLearning of one type or another.
Training conducted online in its many different formats has been available to corporates for years now. The global pandemic has changed everything, and more professionals have had to work from home due to lockdowns. Self-directed eLearning has therefore become far more entrenched in the training-solutions-related mindset of companies, as reported by Deloitte in early 2021.
The global pandemic has undoubtedly pushed many organisations to focus on self-directed online learning, with its focus on "continuous" and "spaced learning". There is more of a realization that eLearning can be a cost-saving solution for organisations of any size, given that outcomes have been shown to be as effective as in-person, traditional training interventions.
ELearning is so much more attractive as a training solution for professionals in the post-pandemic era for a variety of important reasons:
- Flexibility - Traditional classroom based training has to be set to a rigid time schedule, which can often mean time away from revenue-generating work for salespeople and consultants. eLearning that is self-directed allows employees to do training when it suits their schedules and when they feel more relaxed and ready to do it.
- Engagement - Traditional training courses with students stuck in airless classrooms for hours on end are too often dull chores that employees must sit through. Exciting technology and visuals-centered, animated content delivery means that eLearning courses tend to be far more engaging for learners than traditional courses.
- Pace - One of the biggest drawbacks of traditional classroom-centered corporate training is that it forced attendees to acquire knowledge at the same pace. Different people learn at different paces, and self-paced eLearning allows learners to acquire knowledge at a pace that suits them.
- Variety - As the technology has become more sophisticated for eLearning, courses have become even more diverse in what they can offer in terms of topics, delivery platforms, learning methodologies and, importantly, outcomes.
- Interactivity - eLearning is becoming increasingly interactive in two ways: Firstly, the technology has evolved so that the learner increasingly interacts with the content, making the learning more spontaneous and organic. Secondly, improved chat and video chat technology mean that employees can interact and exchange ideas with others doing the same training, thereby expediting and enriching learning.
- On the pulse - Business principles and trends come and go and can quickly become outdated. Updating traditional/Socratic learning materials is usually difficult and costly, meaning that content can often become redundant. Updating content to keep abreast of emerging trends and changes in an industry is far easier to achieve with digital programs, especially those based on machine learning (ML), as noted by Forbes.
In today’s hyper-competitive business world, training - more than ever - needs to provide organisations with tangible, verifiable results. Having team members able to access qualified, up-to-date industry content is not only a "nice to have", but essential.
The ability to track learners' progress through courses, which can sometimes be part of a compliance requirement, is now commonplace. However, this can be easier said than done. Optimisation and ROI measurement of industry-focused training investments continue to be problematic.
So, how do you properly assess the effectiveness of chosen training solutions?
One way it is to ensure that all employees are given the specific training they need. It is important to identify where the gaps are and the training needs of each salesperson or consultant in your company.
Enter the training needs analysis, or TNA, a straightforward, systematic way of identifying and assessing employees' training needs (or gaps). TNA can form an integral part of a broader training audit (or skills audit) by which the effectiveness and ROI of training is adequately assessed.
Audits focused on training should be multi-functional and include the regular and systematic assessment of whether chosen course content is current and relevant, i.e. fit for purpose. Training audits should also comprehensively and effectively assess whether the tools for learning are actually facilitating or stimulating the training process.
A training audit may quickly reveal, for example, that too many training courses have been bought outright by an organisation, yet have not been updated and their adoption/application not adequately measured. Many of these (often "off-the-shelf") training courses may have even become outdated and, thus, redundant. This alone can render poor or even negative ROI on those investments. As the Harvard Business Review puts it, "use it or lose it".
Another form of auditing industry-related training assets is to assess or validate their appropriateness. Where a TNA focuses on the employee, this form of auditing focuses on whether the training content itself can be trusted. Every effort must be made to ensure that training being offered to employees is industry relevant, value adding, and - of critical importance - factually correct.
With this in mind, industry training content that is developed or at least validated by external authoritative sources typically has an edge over internally developed training solutions. Also, content that is constructed by expert industry professionals and market analysis firms has a premium value add. Outsourcing industry training programs often brings distinct advantages, particularly in including authoritative industry viewpoints, provided that a qualified partner/supplier is selected.
In the absence of expert-based content, a notable and typical red flag is when vendor sales teams are not accustomed to using the needed parlance when doing use case or sales plays for clients. This can sit badly with industry buyers used to their own industry jargon or language. This is just one example of when sub-standard, inexpert training can have adverse results for your employees - and is the reason why there may be a lack of trust in a professional.
This is the main reason why any training intervention, whatever the topic or intent, needs to be enriched with the latest and most relevant industry updates. Without this vital investment, sales and marketing teams soon lose their industry edge with their clients because they don't understand an industry's fundamentals and trends, not to mention its specific language. In short, respect goes out the window and sales march out the front door.
Effective industry training is a "mission-critical" investment for any company with growth and longevity ambitions in competitive spaces, such as manufacturing or engineering. Training needs to fit the needs of employees, which is why self-directed eLearning is an excellent option. The training also needs to be forward thinking and appropriate, which is why verified and externally created, expertly crafted content is the right choice.
The mandate to audit existing and proposed training assets should be both urgent and compelling for any dynamic organisation, especially in an uncertain, much-changing post-pandemic business world.
As such, the selection of an industry training platform should be predicated on asking tough, issue-specific questions. Among these are whether the curriculum resonates with current industry principles and its business jargon, as well as the frequency with which content updates are undertaken in order to align with industry dynamics and shifts.
Quality, qualified industry-focused training programs underpinned by relevant, up-to-date research insights will help your professionals become smarter about the industry they need to target and should impress clients accordingly. Your organisation thus becomes differentiated and valued for the products or services it can render.
Ultimately, organisations need to capitalise on their talent by ensuring that their customer-facing teams receive on-the-job, preferably digital learning experiences with qualified industry content. This will enables them to stay competitive and relevant to customers.
That is how success is built - sustainably and intelligently.