Accurately assessing the skill needs within a geographically dispersed sales force is difficult. The need might be for technical know-how or for actual selling skills. How do you tell the difference if the symptom is simply “not making the numbers”? In certain territories, it may be important for the sales team to focus on a niche market solution rather than spend time learning about the global solution from headquarters. Trite as it sounds, it takes different strokes to prepare different folks for success. How can we determine what might translate into success for each individual?
A common approach is to resort to “blanket training” (train the entire sales force on a specific product). But this approach will strain if not waste limited resources (time and expertise). The alternative is targeted learning. Targeted learning means developing specific people based on their specific skill needs, linked to their current performance objectives.
One key measure of increased productivity is sales performance—a direct contribution to the top line. Poor or weak alignment between sales objectives and a salesperson’s skills will result in missed opportunities and competitive weaknesses in the marketplace. Internet learning allows management more insight into what employees need to know to meet sales objectives in their specific geographical region.
The question is, how much e-communication, e-training or e-assessment is needed for an individual, without overwhelming the entire sales force? In other words, which online videos, courses or text should an individual salesperson use? Which content or contact opportunities should that person pursue? And which exams or certifications are most needed, in that specific job at this time?
Internet learning allows a targeted approach to knowledge and skills development. Internet learning makes sales-force development more timely, need-based and success-driven. The approach ensures that limited learning budgets are focused on delivering direct benefits to the corporate top and bottom line. Targeted learning keeps management’s finger on the pulse of sales-team readiness. If management is able to determine how well the team measures up against what it needs to be successful, they can intelligently recommend individualized learning programs for sales readiness.
At Cisco Systems Inc., targeted learning has been accomplished with a tool called MyDevelopment, which follows a structured development process. Cisco has a dedicated worldwide Web-based portal to track and manage the skills and sales targets for each individual salesperson. Based on experience, management determines the level of skills and knowledge needed to meet sales targets.
The salesperson completes an assessment to indicate strengths and weaknesses. The assessment is measured against the required attributes and expectations. The system identifies any skills gaps. At that point the tool prepares an individualized productivity improvement plan.
This individualized productivity plan offers links to content within the structure of e-communication, e-training and e-assessment. The individual’s supervisor receives a notification of the plan and the progress made to ensure feedback, follow-up and appropriate recognition linked to completion. The Web-based portal may be used as a continual sales-development tool by altering the criteria for success.
The Internet enables targeted learning for efficient and effective deployment of education for productivity. Targeted learning allows skill and proficiency levels to align with evolving sales objectives. Such alignment ensures that senior management has confidence in the skills of the sales team. So now an executive making claims at a rally can accurately predict the preparedness of the sales team.
Tom Kelly is vice president of the Internet Learning Solutions Group at Cisco Systems Inc. Nader Nanjiani is marketing programs manager of the Internet Learning Solutions Group at Cisco Systems. Contents of this article will also appear in the book “The Productivity Pyramid: A Cisco Approach to Internet Learning” by Tom Kelly & Nader Nanjiani from Cisco Press in 2004. For more information, e-mail Tom and Nader at email@example.com.