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Marketing for Trainers, Training Directors and Consultants Series

Marketing the Training and Development Function

Marketing Strategies for Chief Learning Officers, Training Directors and Managers

by Anne Thornley-Brown
President, The Training Oasis, Inc.


Discuss this article or ask questions at Accelerated Learning Exchange.

One hard lesson that training and development professionals have learned in the past decade is that training is often one of the first areas of the organization to be cut in a turbulent marketplace. The reason for this is that, far too often, we have failed to market our services effectively and demonstrate our value to the organization and contribution to the bottom line.

This article is part of our Marketing for Trainers and Consultants series. It will offer some suggestions to help you market learning and development initiatives and demonstrate your value to senior management. Some of what you are about to read, goes against conventional wisdom. My goal is to share some of the lessons I've learned as a management development specialist for 2 major corporations and a training consultant for the past 10 years.

Often, we perceive marketing as simply promoting our courses. This is a HUGE and sometimes COSTLY mistake with serious consequences. Consider the following case:



MASSIVE Trainer Layoffs & Shift From Classroom Training to E-Learning at Telco

Up until 1995, the Bell Canada Institute for Professional Development was a large deparment with over 400 employess and a budget that exceeded $40 million dollars. The primary emphasis was on the design and delivery of classroom training. At the time, I was the Management Development Specialist for Bell Mobility, which was also part of teh BCE Inc. corporate family. Through a exchange of services arrangement with one of teh BIPD trainers, I delivered Advanced Presentations Skills and Report and Proposal Writing training for the Bell Canada sales force. He, in turn, provided sales training for the Bell Mobility corporate sales team. It was a winning combination but little did we know that our lives were about to change drastically. In 1995, Bell Canada outsourced training and started to drastically reduce the internal training staff at BIPD. You can read more of the story here. The other trainer moved on to greener pastures and about a year later, I realized my dream and launche The Training Oasis. (When you've finished reading this article, you can read my story and the lessons that I have learned here.

In the years that followed, Bell Canada placed more and more emphasis on e-learning. The reason for such a drastic change was simple. The telecommunications industry in Ontario was undergoing rapid change. Federal regulations were changing and some of the services fore which Bell Canada had previously had a monopoly were gradually being provided by other telecommunications firms. For the first time, Bell Canada faced competition. Are-engineering effort was initiated and major changes had to take place for the organization to remain competitive. There were a number of concerns about classroom training.

Traditional classroom training for Bell Canada employees was expensive and lacked flexibility when it came to delivering courses to any geographic location, at any time, and in a self-paced mode. A business reengineering process was required to move the organization from traditional training methods to technology-based training methods.

          Source: Collections Canada, page 154



The State of Training & Development in North America

Similar scenarios have been played out in Corporations throughout North America. More and more classroom trainers have been laid off and there was a dramatic shift to e-learning. This has not been good news for training departments or independent consultants. Often, when big companies outsource, they outsource of other big companies. Hence, we saw the rise of the mega vendors starting in the 1990s (as the Bell Canada case illustrated). Also, just because training is outsourced to a mega vendor, this does not mean that the employees who were laid off get first crack at the opportunities. Usually, the existing string of facilitators gets first crack at the assignments. Also, with the demise of classroom training and the rise of e-learning, technology is often the key driver. IT consulting firms often take the lead on these projects. They collect the big bucks and hire designers, both locally and as far away as India for US$25 - US$60 per hour TOPS. As a result, instructional designer rates have plummeted. Also, what is sometimes produced is a boring page turner that bears little resemblance to training. Companies are starting to discover that e-learning is not a panacea. It will be interesting to see the shape of things to come for the training and development profession.

Marketing: What's it all About?

You may be wondering "What the heck has all of this got to do with marketing?" It is, in fact, at the HEART of marketing. Often, people use the term "marketing" interchangeably with "promotion". They are not the same thing. Promotion is one of the ingredients in the marketing mix. However, it is not the only one or the most important aspect of marketing. When we fail to market the training function effectively (or our services as independent consultants), we set the stage for some of the disastrous results that I have already described.

Definition of Marketing: Marketing is an organizational function and a set of processes for creating, communicating, and delivering VALUE to customers and for managing customer relationships in ways that benefit the organization and its stakeholders

SOURCE:   American Marketing Association

It is because clients don't PERCEIVE VALUE in what we offer or see a direct connection to organizational goals and objectives that training is often viewed as a discretionary and HIGHLY EXPENDABLE line on the income and expense statement. The popular view is that training can be eliminated with little impact. We do little to change this perception when we focus energy on what we should be called (e.g. trainers vs performance consutlants vs learning professionals) rather than how we can add value.

Let's review the core elements of the marketing mix and discuss how we can use each of them to ensure that our clients receive and perceive value.

Marketing 101 programmes indicate that there are 5 key ingredients in the marketing mix:

  • product
  • person
  • place
  • price
  • promotion
  • positioning

    (Some sources also include positioning which is, in a sense, the combined impact of the other 5 ingredients.)

Person

  • The customer or prospective customer
The more that we understand customer needs and "buyer behaviour", the more likely it is that our product or service will "hit the mark".

Product

  • The service or product that you offer in response to specific customer needs
Your role is to help your customer meet those needs.

Promotion

  • The strategies and tools we use to make customers aware of our product or service.
This involves connecting with prospective and existing clients, communicating what we have to offer, conveying the benefits and ensure and ensuring that they perceive value and understand where and how to purchase the product or access the service.

Price

  • The amount of time and money the client must invest to acquire the product or use the service.
In my opinion, it was transfer pricing and the time element that were the final nails in the coffin in the Bell Canada (and other similar) scnearios. Once the organization had a handle on the TRUE direct and indirect costs of training, it was only a matter of time before the value proposition would be closely examined.

Place

  • This is also referred to as a distribution channel or location.
In other words, it's the place the customer has to go to purchase or access your product or service. Sometimes it's a process.

Positioning

  • Place in the marker including the overall perception of our product or service from the client's POV.
Products and services are typically categorized as high end (luxury or upscale), average consumer, bargain or low end.

If this information is new to you, here is where you can access a detailed discussion of Marketing Fundamentals

The main areas in which the effort to market the training function becomes derailed are Product, Place and Positioning so we will devote most of our discussion there.

Product

If the majority of your department's time is spent in promoting and delivering classroom training programmes from a catalogue, based on the experiences of trainers in other companies, you may be in trouble. If, in addition to this, the training department selected the courses in a vacuum with little or no input from the line organizaton, your department could be at risk the next time there is a bump in the road and the company's budget is scrutinized. The key to helping our clients perceive our value is to deploy our skills to assist the line functions in achieving THEIR objectives. Here are some examples.

Meeting Facilitation on Demand

In many organizations, teams struggle when they are in the midst of project management, problem solving sessions, and brainstorming. Can you think of a better place to contribute your facilitation skills? To make this work, each trainer could be assigned to provide consulting and facilitation services to specific directors. The trainers would set up meetings with their clients to describe the new service and indicate that they want to partner more closely with the department. Trainers can add value by attending the weekly management team meetings and assisting directors with facilitation skills on demand. As information about skill new initiatives and skill gaps within the department is uncovered, each trainer can map out work with the management team to map out a proactive strategy to meet the needs. We used this strategy at one of the organizations with which I was involved first as an employee and later as a consultant. We were able to identify a number of areas in which we could add value. This helped to break the cycle of last minute scrambling to design a training module because no one in marketing had the time to tell training about a new product launch.

Just in Time Training

The service you offer needs to shift to more "just in time delivery" that is available "on-call" when individuals are having difficulty performing their work. How would this look? If you are in a call centre environment, the trainers need to be available so that if a customer service representative is having difficulty, they can get on the spot coaching or on-the-job training. If you are a sales training, again, some of your time should be spent to offer on the spot assistance to sales professionals when they are having difficulty. The story for management training is the same. When a manager is having difficulty in handling a specific interaction with an employee, a management trainer should be "on call" to provide assistance. We can apply a model used by IT help desks, hospitals, the police and even child protective services. All that it requires is a rotating duty roster. On a given day, at a given time, a particular trainer is available. If it's for the call centre, the duty trainer could be on the call centre floor and readily accessible as an "on call" resource for training supervisors and managers. I have also seen this model work for technical trainers. For management or sales trainers, perhaps there is a hotline or a special e-mail address and, for pre-assigned half day periods, specific sales trainers or management development specialist could, as it were, man the lines.

Select Training Programmes Jointly with Your Client Group

At times, classroom training will still be the appropriate method for bridging a skill gap. When this happens, it is important to involve individuals from the client group in the selection process. Years ago, I learned this the hard way after selecting what I felt was the best programme to address a specific skill deficiency. When I first ran the programme, participants were not satisfied with the videos. They felt that there were too many "talking heads" and that more vignettes would have conveyed the message more effectively. A lot of time had to be spent in customizing the programme to compensate for this deficiency. After this experience, I never again selected a programme without asking directors to provide one or two representatives to give input. Typically, I would ask for the input of one individual whose opinion the director or VP respected highly and specific individuals who had been critical of other programmes or who had provided lukewarm feedback. Running a pilot is also an important step before a programme is selected. Even if we are experts about a particular topic, only a client can give us input from their point of view and with their needs in mind.

At times this will involves relinquishing control and this is rarely comfortable. I remember for an initiative to improve project management skills, I invited representatives from the core functions that would receive the training (marketing, engineering, operations, the call centre, and sales) to attend the vendor presentations. None of the groups selected the programme that I would have chosen. Also, although I preferred to have one programme for all departments, engineering and operations strongly felt that they need a highly technical programme that did not appeal to marketing at all. In the end, we went with 2 programmes and everyone was satisfied.

The need to relinquish control was even clearer for a career management and career coaching initiative, the results of the pilot for a programme that was highly respected in the market were lukewarm. Also, even though I was prime for this initiative, the trainers in Quebec were not satisfied with the quality of the translation. A lot of customization would be needed. I attended a showcase for some tools that I thought might be helpful for the customization. Even though I was prime for this initiative, I felt it was important for a colleague who would be involved in the delivery of the programme for certain departments to attend the next showcase. She came back HIGHLY enthusiastic about the other programme. At that time, there was a change at the VP level and a decision was made to change the programme from a mandatory programme to one for which we would have to obtain buy-in from each line group, that was the nail in the coffin. Please understand, the agreement for purchase had already been signed and we had taken delivery of the videos and the facilitators' manuals. It was clear that it would have been difficult to promote the programme in a way that generated enthusiasm. I recommended to the new VP that we pull the plug on the launch of the original programme and proceed with the new programme. This was tough but it had to be done. Better to make a decision to delay an initiative and go with a product that the client will support. By the way, even though the programme was not mandatory, the initiative was a HUGE success and well attended by individuals from all levels of the organization including executives.

Involve the Directors From the Client Group in the Selection of Training

For a training department, the trainers are part and parcel of "the product". If our client groups are not satisfied with the trainers, they will ultimately not be happy with the delivery of the training. For this reason, when I am working with clients, I always recommend that they give their client groups an opportunity to have input into the trainer selection process. I also recommend that the trainers with whom they will be working be given an opportunity for input.

When I suggested this to one of my clients, the director felt that this was a radical move but it paid off and these ideas were incorporated into the regular trainer selection process. The training department had hired some call centre trainers who had excellent delivery skills. However, the call centre managers felt that they lacked credibility. This was surprising as the trainers had call centre experience. For some reason, the call centre management team was dissatisfied with their ability to bridge and demonstrate this experience. It was an uphill battle for these trainers to gain acceptance. So, the next time trainers were to be hired, the training director took my advice. She invited the call centre director and the manager who was most critical to attend the presentations that the finalists made as part of the selection process. These presentations were followed by brief panel interviews. It became evident that only those candidates who had previous call centre management experience were perceived as credible. The call centre professionals were viewed as too inexperienced and lacking an understanding of the business aspects of running a call centre. Not only did the involvement of representatives from the line group improve their level of satisfaction with the trainers, their input also helped the training department modify what they were looking for in candidates for call centre training positions.




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Bookmark this page. We are just getting started. There is a lot more to come. We will soon continue our discussion with a focus on "person".

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Other Articles and Resources

The Main Course: Demonstrating Your Value to Senior Management

The Accelerated Learning and R.O.I. Series

Survival Strategies for Training and Development Professionals




The Training Oasis, Inc. is a Toronto based consulting firm specializing in team building and accelerated learning for rapidly changing organizations. When the pace of change accelerates organizations need strong and effective teams that are all pulling in the same direction and it's time for accelerated learning. Clients of The Training Oasis, Inc, have included CIBC, Telus Mobility, Manulife Financial, Wurth Canada, the Royal Bank of Canada, and IKEA. Anne Thornley-Brown has toured Asia 9 times and offered seminars to over 1300 executives, managers and HR professionals in Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur, Kuching, Penang), Singapore, Thailand (Bangkok), and India (Mumbai). Petronas, Malaysian Airlines, Digi, Mobil/Exxon, Perodua, and Dell Computers are among the organizations that have sent delegates to her sessions in Asia.

Our sister company, Executive Oasis International helps executive teams from rapidly changing companies in Canada, Jamaica, Asia, and Dubai improve their effectiveness through executive retreats, meeting facilitation and executive coaching.



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