Put aside the notion that the flip of a technology switch should herald the start of CRM training. For training to be truly effective it must begin before any CRM technologies are implemented.
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One of the oldest axioms of CRM project planning is that training is closely linked to the adoption and success of any initiative. Too often that principle is ignored. "When you look at a traditional time line for a phased implementation of CRM, training comes dead last," says Randy Betancourt, director of customer intelligence product strategy at SAS Institute. "In this scenario often little investment is made, unfortunately."
Big Bang training is the most common approach. On the eve of the launch of a new technology, users are gathered, exposed to the new way to work, and sent on their way to wait for the changeover. "Getting everyone in a room and giving them a manual is a waste of money," says Sheryl Kingstone, CRM program manager for the Yankee Group. "You don't necessarily put context into the situation, and it's information overload."
Put aside the notion that the flip of a technology switch should herald the start of CRM training. For training to be truly effective it must begin before any CRM technologies are implemented. "Train people on the processes--collecting accounts, managing a pipeline, managing accounts," says Celeste Lunsford, senior product manager at training firm AchieveGlobal. "Once you have the processes and the software comes along, it is a tool that makes the [processes] easier to execute."
However training is deployed, smart, ongoing CRM training looks not just at software functions, but also at business processes and workflows. As a company becomes more comfortable with its new CRM initiative, there will be adjustments to the related business processes. Communicating those course corrections helps keep everyone on track.
"Our plan was to develop our culture before we even looked at CRM software," says Brent Hill, manager of customer service at Los Angeles--based IndyMac Bank. IndyMac engaged AchieveGlobal to provide a series of service excellence process courses to its staff over a period of several months, in advance of a technology implementation. "There will be technical CRM training that will come into place once we have the product," Hill says. "And what's going to be key is that [the product] supports the culture we are putting in place."
To design a launch and ongoing training that will meet the needs of users, those users need a voice in the look and feel of their education. Create a representative team of users who can explain how the training can fit their schedules and needs. "Our experience is that you have to have some representation from the CRM user community, because these people are consuming the application," Betancourt says.
This user representation should be separate for each user community, because their needs will vary. For example, training for customer service staff should include context that relates to the company's overall strategy, and how CRM-enabled processes benefit the firm and enhance the customer's experience. Big Bang training is a critical step in high-turnover environments, but there is a real need to roll out advanced concepts so users have the understanding and experience necessary to help ensure their success.
For sales users the training may focus heavily on a sales process shift, or even a change in sales philosophy like switching to selling value instead of price. "The changes associated with that have nothing to do with using the software, but sales professionals need to understand this new business process," says Anthony Deighton, general manager of Siebel Systems' employee relationship management product line.
In the case of sales-process changes, ongoing training will be crucial as the processes are refined over time based on feedback from the field on how the market is receiving the new strategy and how well the new sales processes and sales technologies are mating.
Gearing sales training to focus on goal-oriented information is often a winning strategy. Even if a task isn't directly related to closing a sale, salespeople will react strongly if it directly impacts their priorities; for example, reducing the time they spend on administrative tasks or speeding the time it takes to be reimbursed for expenses.
Another approach, for both field sales and field service staff, is to deploy e-learning tools on their portable devices. However, the training sessions must be scheduled within the constraints of their normal workday, and be digestible in anywhere from five-minute to two-hour blocks.
CRM training for the marketing staff should be geared towards each person's likely career path, according to Monica Barron, research director at AMR Research. The training should focus on developing their skills to support the way they are likely to progress through the organization. "These are people who often have a degree and want to work in marketing as a career, so you want to ask, 'Where do you go from here?'" Barron says.
Think Long Term
Although much of CRM-related training should be tied to business processes and strategies that will make both the users and their companies more successful, it's equally important to create long-term training strategies tied directly to the technology. One approach is to monitor how well users perform on CRM tools.
Natalie Badolato, a sales administrator at equipment manufacturer Veeco Instruments, keeps a watchful eye on usage patterns that indicate trouble within her SalesLogix user community. In collaboration with integrator Infinity Info Systems, she designs supplemental training for different business units every four to six months, and bases much of the information on irregularities or problems she spots in the software logs. "The way I find out what kind of refresher courses I have to offer is by monitoring my users," she says.
Although this type of approach may raise Big Brother concerns, the object and result should be to identify trouble using the application. "I don't want everyone to know all the things I do with my keyboard, but for a bank trying to run call centers with 10,000 representatives and finding they have a high error rate doing particular tasks, that's an indication that either the software isn't constructed for that task, or people aren't performing the way they should," SAS's Betancourt says.
Another long-term approach to training is to blend e-learning with instructor-led programs. Doing so has helped Siebel cut in half its initial classroom training time for new sales hires. "We found that the first week was spent getting people up to speed and the second week was actually training them," Deighton says. "Now we do the first week with Web-based training, and everyone's on the same level when they walk into that high-value, instructor-led training."
Although some e-learning development costs can become substantial when the program involves closely integrated, highly interactive multimedia presentations, e-learning can also be as simple as daily or weekly tips and reminders, either integrated in the software or as a regular email update. However, such material quickly becomes ignored if not kept fresh, or if it does not match the users' level of experience with the software.
One common practice among companies with successful CRM initiatives is to lean on power-users to provide both a positive example and ongoing support and advice to others. In remote locations or startup situations power-users can be vital in providing coverage and first-stage support. Veeco's Badolato, for instance, has power-users providing advance training in foreign countries where it may be weeks or months before she is able to provide full or follow-up training in person.
Make power-users an asset, but don't make them a substitute for a comprehensive, continuous training process. Doing so would be a rather unfair expectation to make of those employees, and could take too much time away from their regular responsibilities. "I know how to use the tool, I know how to speak about the tool, but that doesn't mean I know how to train or have the patience for teaching," Yankee Group's Kingstone says. "I can help with ad-hoc questions in between, to solve problems that are short term."
There are many training strategies to choose from, so be sure to spend time planning and selecting which options are the most appropriate. Ultimately good training playbooks start with forethought, AMR Research's Barron says: "The best companies have training strategies in place that are looking at next month, a year, and three years from now, not thinking, 'Gosh, we just rolled out a new version.... Now, are we going to tell people about that?'"
6 rules for Long-Term Training Success
1. CRM training is never a one-time event. New hires must continually be brought up to speed with business practices and technology.
2. Ongoing training provides opportunities to refine changes in business processes.
3. Training schedules and software implementation should be loosely linked. Focus on process first.
4. Use e-learning to minimize cost and maximize flexibility for users who don't require live instruction.
5. Each user community has different goals, requirements, and life cycles. Take all into account when devising a training strategy.
6. Power-users are a supplement to, not a substitute for, continuous training.
Jason Compton is a Wisconsin-based freelance journalist who specializes in CRM and related topics
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