At software developer SAP’s North American education division, training a sales force includes multiple steps that facilitate onboarding and keep representatives current on methods and products. But it wasn’t always that way.
Lori Williams, vice president of market development and channel sales, started with the company 12 years ago as a rep. She said training then was rudimentary and informal — she was handed a customer list, white papers and a few phone numbers, then sent out to do the job.
“That works fine if you have enough of a deep base of knowledge with all your sales directors and have a fairly simplistic scope,” she said. “As the business grew, that wasn’t working anymore.”
As new people joined the team and SAP’s portfolio grew, employees became increasingly less effective but were under more stress to make their quotas quicker. The pressures at play helped SAP take a deeper look at its process and create the technology-based micro-learning approach in use today.
Now when employees start at the company, they are introduced to Lara Keelan, manager for field enablement. She introduces them to the SAP Communication System, where they can find white papers, blog posts and videos. She also makes sure new employees understand, “We are going to invest in them to make them succeed. The ones who take advantage of it are the ones who have seen the benefit of it,” Keelan said.
During the next four to six weeks, employees take part in individual learning through that channel. Then they participate in a five-day boot camp where they go through a cycle of products they can use, and at the end of the week present a plan for a fictitious customer. “We literally take them through the end-to-end message that we would provide our customers,” Williams said.
After boot camp, employees become part of a cohort that helps continue establishing relationships with fellow salespeople and business leaders. This element not only helps them build the confidence and skills to build rapport with clients, but also keeps them collaborating with their co-workers. The latter is important in a matrix environment like SAP Education, where sales reps work in teams, rather than individually assigned to each account.
In the months after boot camp, employees can access SAP Jam, a collaboration platform where they can converse and get more materials for the week. Even after they get comfortable in their roles, they continue to receive live presentations, short videos, white papers and blog posts.
“We look at ways to empower them [sales reps] with knowledge they can get in real time whenever they need it,” Williams said.
This article is a sidebar to Chief Learning Officer's November 2014 feature, "Class Is in Session for Sales."