To run learning like a business, think and speak like a business person. Sure, the quality of learning products and services is important, but plenty of companies making great products have gone bust for one reason — they were out of touch with their customers.
Being in touch with customers doesn’t mean adopting a slick, snake-oil sales patter or jumping through whatever hoops customers put in the way. It’s about knowing who customers are, understanding and meeting their needs, and managing the relationship well.
Your customer is the person or group of people who commission learning programs. Consult with these managers or executives at the start to establish what they need as opposed to what they think they want. Are they realistic about what can be achieved through learning? Are they looking for a course to solve an issue that is actually motivational or procedural? Don’t be afraid to challenge them, but listen carefully when they describe the roots of the business issue they aim to solve.
Once learning leaders understand their needs, you must understand what success means to them. Not success as defined by the learning department, such as fill rates for courses or completion rates for online content. Define success with business metrics, preferably ones that are already in use and are familiar to customers. For example:
- Speed at which project team rosters can be filled.
- Problems solved by field engineers on initial client visit.
- Better management leading to lower staff turnover.
- Reduction in help desk calls.
- Sales staff moving faster from hire to making quota.
- Rate of returns of faulty goods.
And don’t just collect this data at the end of a program and drop it on customers’ desks in a fat report that no one will ever read. That’s poor account management. Instead, from the start of the program, schedule regular short updates with the sponsor — perhaps short weekly phone calls or emails to update him or her on progress, with concise analysis and suggestions. Remember, learning leaders are business people. Keep communications free of learning jargon and focus on customer concerns — getting that metric to hit the agreed target.
Reporting data is as important as collecting and interpreting it because it leads to the next relationship, program and contract. Account management like that is a crucial part of the business mindset.
The most successful learning leaders build a great reputation not just by delivering consistently good results, but also by letting others know about it and having them spread the news. Make customers look good, but gently remind them who made it happen.