For technology and professional services firms, understanding the current and future needs of their consumers is their only way to survive in this highly competitive and now extremely global industry. To contend with the most recent shift in the consumer landscape, many technology and professional services firms have shifted gears from providing individual technology products and services to offering more integrated solutions.
Keane Inc., a worldwide provider of business and IT services, is among the many organizations today successfully following the demands of the ever-evolving industry. In business since 1965, Keane has undergone three or more transformations over the years — from its approach to project management and software development in the late ’60s and ’70s to the expansion of its global delivery model in the ’90s to its latest transformation endeavor, which includes developing highly targeted industry-specific solutions and delivering them through a global network of highly skilled professionals and vertical practices.
“What we’re trying to do today is change the way we deliver our services — we are selling global delivery capabilities where all of our resources are aligned globally to specific service offerings, which is different from where we were in the past, geographically based,” said Gregg Blatt, vice president of global sales, Keane. “Now we are taking a horizontal slice across the organization, aligning people into seven business lines and then bundling components of a specific business line or multiple business lines into a solution offering.”
In order to jump-start an integrated global-delivery model and drive a fresh sales strategy to improve all aspects of the business’ performance over time, Keane officials quickly realized the organization had to empower its global sales force through education. Chris Newell, vice president of knowledge and learning, said the learning organization has focused on providing a training experience that is as functional as possible.
“We have taken an approach that we call ‘Before, During, After’ to maximize the learning and knowledge retention,” Newell said. “So before employees actually come to any face-to-face training program or any course per se, there is pre-work to get ready for training. Then, when employees participate in the face-to-face program, we are maximizing the time spent in those programs to really drill down and as much as possible simulate how we actually really work here and sell. Then there is an ‘after’ portion, which is follow-up training — either through coaching, e-learning or refresher courses.”
Specifically, the training for Keane’s sales force (about 100 employees) begins with online training. Blatt said 15 to 20 learning modules were developed in partnership with SkillSoft to educate the sales force on the basics of all the company’s business and IT solutions, as well as educate them on the core aspects of their customer base.
To coincide with the online training, sales employees also must be certified on core modules, as well as recertified when more modules are added, the company’s business and IT solutions change, and the marketplace continues to evolve.
“Online is a core strategy of ours because it is a way for us to get to disseminate information very quickly to a global sales team,” Blatt said.
Once trainees complete the modular training, they go through a two-day, on-site training, which is facilitated by a sales peer expert to help reinforce and apply what they learned. Blatt, a trainer during many of these sessions, said role-playing and “what if”-type customer scenarios are the main techniques employed.
After the on-site phase, trainees begin the on-the-road phase in which they connect with their top-performing sales peers to gain firsthand knowledge and experience with Keane’s marketing strategy.
Correlating with the on-the-road phase, Blatt and Newell implemented an on-the-go phase, as well. They compiled 25 successful sales stories and transferred them into audio files for podcasts to teach the sales team, on the go, how to tell stories. More than 100 iPods were distributed to Keane’s sales force to bring this initiative full circle.
“Great sales people are great storytellers,” Blatt said. “Customers today don’t want to hear the size, shape and color of Keane — they really want to hear how Keane provided business value to one of their competitors or an organization in their industry. So when sales professionals sit down with executives, they can tell them stories of what they have done on another account. That is 10 times more powerful than giving them a credentials deck on Keane. So the idea was to get those stories in the salespeople’s heads and create storytellers.”
Newell emphasized the importance and longevity of these success stories.
“The online courses and case studies we created are applicable to more than the 100-plus salespeople and are available through the Keane Web portal,” Newell said. “Anybody in the company should be getting their heads around these stories and some of the same concepts. So they are highly reusable.”
Blatt said the on-the-road and on-the-go trainings help ensure the sales employees are trained to the set standards. He also said these two fundamental prongs of the sales training and development plan would expand during the coming months.
“Chris and I are going to be pretty focused on mentoring and coaching and teaching individuals how to be great mentors and coaches to their sales peers,” Blatt said. “All of that is a different way of certifying that the right message is being communicated to the customer during training.”
Although the sales training has been under way since September 2005, Blatt said the most significant result thus far is that the “Before, During, After” approach to training has given Keane the ability to change focus and roll out service offerings faster.
“The challenge is that we’re tuning the racecar as it is going around the track here because we are changing as a company — our offerings to the market are changing,” Blatt said. “It is a concern for us that we are giving the salespeople too much information at once. We have to be cognizant not to overload because it is easy to give tons of information, content and training to the point where people will just shut down. It’s really the magic of getting the right amount training and the right time and then keeping that ongoing.”
In terms of future learning and development initiatives, Blatt said the modules would be continuously updated and improved as the organization grows and service offerings evolve, and mentoring and coaching will become an even more significant part of the learning and development process.
“From my perspective, this process that we have identified builds some really good, quality online training that we could quickly adapt to our changing environment, which is absolutely a core piece of our strategy,” Blatt said. “It builds some really good on-site sessions that get people collaborating with each other — aligning, prototyping and role-playing — which is core to our strategy, and it continuously connects our people to accounts through mentoring and coaching and the success-story podcasts.
“I don’t think our learning strategy will change much other than I think that the next step for us, one of the core strategies that Chris and I are talking about for the entire organization, not just sales, is making global work — meaning, how you operate optimally in a global environment, which is where we are today. So, really, building a strong collaboration strategy is the next step in the process to pull all this together. I think that is something we are going to have to focus on in the coming years.”
Because Keane is in the middle of a major business transition, Blatt and Newell said it is too early to specify how successful their training efforts have been in terms of sales and business growth.
“We will be looking at retention over time,” Newell said. “The sessions that Gregg and I have been running in the field, we are actually using them diagnostically to realize where we have weaknesses. It’s not a matter of saying, ‘Does it have immediate results?’ but, ‘Are we learning about our workforce in such a way that helps us hone the kind of people that we hire, provide the appropriate support, etc.?’”
Blatt said he is constantly studying the sales numbers. In particular, he considers three factors: the cost of sales, attrition and sales force earnings.
“We really study the sales numbers,” Blatt said. “‘Are the costs of sales going down?’ Meaning, ‘The easiest way to drive the costs of sales down is to sell more?’ ‘Am I managing my attrition, and are my salespeople making a lot of money?’ If the salespeople are making a lot of money — believe it or not — my cost of sales is going down. Because when a salesperson doesn’t make any money, that means they haven’t sold anything and the cost of sales is exorbitant.”
While the primary objective of the comprehensive sales force training is to equip the employees with knowledge, skills and abilities to drive organizational growth and revenue over time, Blatt said he has other goals for the sales team.
“I would like to drive attrition down below 20 percent, and I would like to see 75 percent of the sales team make quota,” Blatt said. “And in terms of the business result, we would like to make 5 to 7 percent quarter-after-quarter sequential growth that would come out to about 28 to 29 percent, which equals just slightly below industry — the industry is currently running at the mid to high 30s. So if I could achieve these things, all the other data around cost of sales and so on would all fall in line easily.”
–Cari McLean, firstname.lastname@example.orgFiled under: Leadership Development, Technology