Are You Running in the Business of Learning?

One of the more volatile training meetings in which I ever participated was years ago, when our sales and marketing director attempted to help the training department understand how it could better “market” our services. Once the presentation was done, you could cut the tension in the room with a knife. After some prodding, we as trainers proceeded to tell our director that trainers aren’t in the sales and marketing business — we are in the learning business. Good instruction sells itself, and we would never “lower” ourselves to blatantly selling our services from the front of the classroom. How dare he think learning and selling should ever mix! How could anyone ever argue the value of learning within an organization? As long as we continued to offer an instructionally sound product, the learners would continue to attend and pay for it.

Well, enough of that mentality and back to reality. For years many who sit at the C-level within organizations have said the training department just doesn’t get it. We have not been seen as being in the business of learning and having to answer many of the questions they, as true business owners, always have had to answer. If training is going to sit at that table, many of us are starting to entertain, if not already address, these issues. Let’s consider some of the more fundamental ones.

1. Know Thy Customer
This has become a very complicated issue over the past five to 10 years. Both our customer (the learner) and our product (learning solutions) have become more complex than ever. Gone are the days of offering a three- to five-day, instructor-led course and expecting the masses to simply show up. Needs, learning habits and instructional tools have all matured, and we as learning professionals need to keep up with that. To effectively develop a product for market, we need to be highly effective at understanding our customers’ “buying patterns.” There are some basic questions we need to get better at answering: What problem is our product trying to solve? What is the best environment in which to present and sell the product? Under what conditions will they tend to buy and continue to come back?

New learning modalities have made our ability to answer these questions easier than ever. We need to do a better job of putting the right product in front of the right customer at the right time. That leads me to the second issue we need to address.

2. Do We Have an Effective Sales and Marketing Strategy?
We were discussing this issue during a breakout at the last Chief Learning Officer Symposium. I was very taken aback by how few things many organizations were doing to directly and intentionally sell and market their services — many still were taking an “if we build it, they will come” approach. Learning competes with many other distractions and priorities in our learners’ and buyers’ lives. Now that many learning solutions are delivered at the desktop and often on their own time, we need to get better at driving our products’ business value and ease of use. The latter issue is one that’s blindsided many of us for years. Just because our offerings map to business needs doesn’t mean we’ll get adoption. How easy is your learning to “get to,” and does it integrate into your learner’s lifestyle?

3. What’s an Effective Price Point?
ROI and the cost of training have been discussed for years. I’d rather stay away from the specific dollar values and talk more about the price of attendance. With all the assessment capabilities that come with most LMS tools, as well as those provided by your vendors, there’s no reason to put training content in front of users that is not specifically designed to meet their needs and be worth their time. I’m not saying this is an easy task, but it’s much more doable then it’s ever been. It’s also a competency many training departments need to grow beyond their traditional view of content development and distribution.

Are you in the learning business? Many of us have worked very hard to understand the economics, but we need to focus more on approaching our offerings from every aspect of running our departments like a true business. The more we embrace a complete approach, the more effective we’ll be.

Bob Mosher is director, learning evangelism and strategy, for Microsoft Learning and has been an influential leader in the IT training space for more than 15 years. He can be reached at bmosher@clomedia.com.