Caterpillar Inc, the world’s largest supplier of industrial machinery today, didn’t always have a vice-like grip on the top. Reeling from the oil crisis of 1979, the company was losing nearly a million dollars a day. Some believed a venture with competitor Komatsu to be the only way to save it.
But the American manufacturer brought itself back from the brink by doubling down on building what it believed was its best asset: its distribution system. “We are convinced that our single greatest advantage over our competition was and still is our system of distribution and product support,” wrote Donald Fites, the then-CEO of Caterpillar.
Caterpillar’s historic comeback was nearly three decades ago, but the principles behind its success still hold true. Given proper support, your external sales network is the key to new markets, the upholder of your brand’s integrity, and your partners in securing loyalty. But in order to become all of these things, businesses need to provide adequate support and training.
What is Training Program Management?
The strength of your external sales channel is predicated on how well you train them. Yet although the overarching goal–improve performance and sales–is generally the same for in-house and external training, the path to fulfilment differs.
Channel partners are a special breed. Neither employee nor customer, a training program has to account for specific challenges and needs. Poorly designed and managed programs not only cleave away potential sales but also harm your brand’s reputation.
This is where training program management comes in. By taking a deliberate approach to planning, implementing, and revising materials, businesses can turn their external sales network into a powerful competitive edge.
The Program Management Cycle: What Does it Cover?
Human brains are wired for constant learning. To help us survive, our neural pathways have had to become incredibly efficient at sorting out which information to retain and which to drop.
So many training programs fail because they go against the biology of how we learn. Businesses spend months designing a training program, deploying it, and then forgetting about it. Skills gained fade fast because there’s no follow-through on the application. That, and efforts to iterate are far and few in between, especially for external sales channels.
Managing a program efficiently, therefore, isn’t just ensuring you get to the end of training. There is no end. Rather, you need to establish a closed-loop system that’s conducive to innovation and improvement.
For businesses starting fresh, the cycle begins at the design phase. Then you run the program, during which businesses provide support, monitor progress, and test retention. Data gathered during the course of the program is then used to decide what’s working and what needs to be dropped. eLearning platforms enable businesses to be much more flexible in their approach, making incremental changes as they go instead of waiting weeks to fix what isn’t working.
Generally, the scope of training management includes the following stages:
- Database management
- Learner Support
- eCommerce management
Why is Training Program Management Important?
Aligns learning outcomes with business goals
KPIs measure the efficacy of a training program. Yet too often businesses end up focusing on the wrong metrics. Connections get even fuzzier when working with external sales partners, as these are entities that may have a different idea of success. Training program management ensures learning outcomes clearly align with business goals on the supplier and distributor sides.
Sustains engagement rates
One of the main challenges of training external sales partners is keeping them engaged. Unlike in-house employees, ensuring completion isn’t as easy as making courses mandatory. Neither can you prod them as strongly as employees, as these are businesses running on their own time. Distributors and resellers also do not have access to the supplier’s intranet, where most employees find learning courses. Through training program management, businesses can constantly keep courses top of mind for external sales partners.
Turns theory into practice
Brains are often likened to a sponge, yet that’s not quite accurate. For one thing, they’re actually not very absorbent. We forget approximately half of new information within an hour of learning it. Turning knowledge into useful skills requires repetition and application. Effective training programs are able to ensure learners get the hands-on experience they need for lessons to turn into tools they can actually use.
Keeps scope and tech creep to a minimum
eLearning technology has unlocked near-limitless functions for training. You can code virtually any feature onto your platform, personalise it for your brand, and even integrate next-level tech like augmented or virtual reality. But as with software development of any type, with numerous capabilities comes creep. Organisations use an average of 19 different types of learning technologies. Training program management helps keep the stack streamlined, minimising complexity and making courses more approachable for distributors and resellers.
Allows you to pivot when needed
Many businesses lean towards a cautious, waterfall approach when it comes to training: spend months trying to get everything right, and launch when ready. But external sales isn’t a slow field. Consumer behaviours change quickly. Delays and disruptions along the global supply chain can change how you manage inventory locally. Training programs need to be able to stay agile to remain relevant to the ever-shifting needs of distributors and resellers.
Focus on core business functions
Every growing business is familiar with the pain of spreading itself too thinly. New markets bring new opportunities, but also a new breed of customers to figure out, new marketing strategies to test, and new logistic issues to hurdle. Training program management, by ensuring your external partners are well-equipped to sell your product, allows you to gain a foothold in the local market without siphoning too many resources away from core business functions. It also allows your HR department to focus more on employee engagement
Donald Fites predicted that “the global winners are going to be the companies with the best distribution organizations”. Thirty years on amidst a landscape made hypercompetitive by digitalisation, that is now truer than ever. External sales partners hold the key to business growth–but only when equipped with the tools they need to get the job done.
If you’re looking to improve your training program, then don’t miss out on our blog ‘The Benefits of Managed Learning Services‘ Learn about the advantages of outsourcing your training program management and how it can help your business grow.