High-Tech Training: Is It Right For You?
When jan/san distributors talk about training, they usually envision traditional one-on-one instruction on how to use, say, a floor machine — an application where the hands-on approach is still the superior training method. While distributors leave high-tech at the door most often, they do embrace Web-based applications in situations where they see a clear benefit — such as for internal training, continuing education and demonstrating order management software to customers.
Without a doubt, equipment training and demonstrations produce the most successful results when done in-person by specialists, who then allow customers to test the products themselves, says Shelley Riha, president of the central and northwest regions of AmSan LLC.
She says when end users see immediate, tangible results, there is a faster learning curve and increased comfort level, so they’re more apt to buy.
“In most cases, there is no substitute for it,” agrees Tim Feeheley, president of JanPak Inc., Davidson, N.C. “There are times we’ve done short presentations on product and applications, but we immediately follow up with hands-on demos.”
For JanPak, Web learning augments the tried and true: the product demo. Selling involves demonstrating products to those who will use them — the cleaning personnel — making sure they’re sold on the benefits. Then, JanPak reps sit down and work through order entry and logistics with housekeeping or purchasing managers. Only then do purchasers walk through the online ordering demo with a JanPak representative.
Customers then plug their own data into JanPak’s Web-ordering program, Feeheley explains. “It helps people grasp it better to see their own orders. This, coupled with an effective field demo of how a product will work, gives us an advantage. One without the other doesn’t help as much. I think Web training is most effective when we get the attention of one or two decision makers. We have more success with smaller groups — people are more inclined to get clarification if they need it.”
Training Within the Ranks
Most Web learning, however, is not targeted to jan/san distributor customers — at least for now. More often, distributors are using Web-based learning to educate and communicate with their own staffs.
Because AmSan is a national company, distance training is especially effective. Salespeople have the ability to train customers to utilize an order entry program via an online interface, by telephone. “Training without traveling,” Riha calls it.
AmSan also uses technology to train and inform its own sales force. For internal meetings, AmSan’s 35 general managers utilize “Webcasts” in conjunction with conference telephone calling. “We share PowerPoint, Excel and informational reports — it works,” explains Riha. “It’s the best of all worlds to be together, but this saves companies huge amounts of time and expense.”
Riha advises leaders of Web-based conferences to be comfortable with the software before a meeting convenes, and be able to jump from screen to screen or pass the reins to another presenter without interrupting flow.
Fortunately, says Michael Nelson, director of channel sales for ON24 Inc., an international Web-casting solutions provider in San Francisco, live media software programs are becoming so commonplace and user-friendly that getting up to speed shouldn’t take more than about an hour for the typical non-IT person.
Web Media 101
Distributors interested in implementing this type of high-tech training — for their own salespeople, or for customers — have a number of options.
Today’s Web-based meetings and seminars typically require a telephone and a monitor linked to a computer with high-speed connectivity so any streaming media — media that’s not downloaded, but transmitted over the Internet — don’t lag behind the live media, i.e. the conference or phone call. Sounds easy enough. But what about all the different names that have sprung up for Web-based communication?
According to Dave Kahle, president of The DaCo Corp., a sales consultantancy in Comstock Park, Mich., the various descriptions used for Internet-based training and meetings (Webcasts, Webinars, Web seminars) are a matter of preference — they mean the same thing.
“It’s basically two connections,” he explains. “Phone and Internet to a Web site with software that allows for the presenter to manipulate the screen in real time. Whatever you call it, there are always those components.”
The training is also interactive, allowing the audience to ask questions and get feedback, Nelson adds. “If you want to get specific, the two most common types of meetings are ‘telephone Web conferences’: collaborative presentations good for an audience of less than 25; and ‘streaming Webcasts’: one-to-many broadcasts using streaming media, and good for audiences of over 50.” Streaming Webcasts generally cost a little more, but can be used with a larger group of people.
Andrew Fritz, manager of ON24 Life Sciences sales, explains the logic behind these audience numbers: telephone Web conferencing can become cost prohibitive the more individuals utilize the conference call servicing. Streaming Webcasts are broadcast by the presenter and eliminate that call service. The base cost is a bit more for streaming, but there is no limit on number of attendees. With either method, the presenter is capable of receiving questions that attendees can type into their monitor’s Q&A box.
Both include many of the same features, Nelson adds. For example, they can be live or on-demand; can be audio and/or video; and can include product demonstration capability, synchronized slide presentation, real-time usage reporting and customized interfaces and interactivity. They can also include polling, question-and-answer capability and/or email.
Kahle knows of a couple dozen Webinar service providers. He contracts with one of these companies.
“The customer signs up, and they download the software on their computer to view and interact with the Web site. There is a time set for the seminar, and they’re given directions, usually via e-mail: ‘Go to this URL, here is your login and password. Log in and follow the directions.’ In five or six clicks, you’re done.”
Kahle says Web-based training’s popularity hasn’t caught up with other training methods. For every Webinar he conducts, he gives another 12 telephone-only seminars. “I would guess probably 75 percent of jan/san distributors have taken part in a Webinar at some point during the past two to three years,” Kahle states. “I would think only a very, very small fraction routinely use this methodology for education and training. They may have signed up for a topic they found particularly attractive, but it’s not every month. Webinars are the flavor of the day.”
Often, Kahle simply has clients download and complete a handout to use while following along with the presentation. “I believe it’s more effective than to add the Web piece, which for many of these people would be an obstacle. Not every conference room has a PC with a monitor big enough for seven people to watch.” Audience size is an important consideration.
Video conferencing presents another potential layer of interactivity in Web-based communications. Video conferencing, Kahle says, can theoretically be done over the Internet, but to find space to gather 20 people can be difficult.
Nelson sees this technology becoming more sophisticated as time goes on: “Video conferencing technology is becoming more common and more cost-effective,” he says. “Also, the quality of Webcam technology is improving. Cost-effective integration of these solutions into a Webcast is on the horizon.”
Weighing the Web’s Benefits
Nelson says Web-based training lends itself particularly well to training busy, high-paid sales and development staff and partners and customers. It is also well suited to employee education and orientation, and continuing professional education — things done by rote, that can — and should — be automated.
“With employee education and orientation, it’s typically the same presentation over and over again,” he says. “Do it perfect once, and everyone gets the same message. And you can use your best speaker to make one presentation.”
Getting new product information to customers is also crucial, says Nelson.
“Speed to market is important in sales. It’s a real competitive advantage with a new product or something new, to reach people quickly, not set up a date and travel, which takes a month to organize.” Distributors can reach people quickly, improve retention of the information — all while saving money. It lends itself to increased customer face time.
“They allow your sales team to train from their PC, keeping them on the ground to do what they do best — sell,” says Nelson. Cost savings come in the way of increased employee productivity, improved information retention, and the trainer can spend more time creating new courses or hands-on material.
But Kahle isn’t convinced that Webinars are always the right vehicle for training sales professionals. “A Webinar is more suitable for a CFO than it is content delivered to salespeople,” Kahle says. “Sales is relational and interpersonal and it’s difficult to teach many of those sales-related skills over the Internet. It’s yet to be proven as a mechanism for teaching soft skills. My first thought isn’t Webinar.” Sending salespeople a DVD can be more effective than sending video over the Internet, he adds.
Although Nelson is an advocate of Web-based solutions, he says that Webinars are not a silver bullet. “Online training can be costly, become quickly outdated and is hard to keep updated,” he says. “It can be easily ignored or skipped by the student and there is not an effective way to ensure that the student is engaged.”
Web-based education is only part of the equation, Kahle says. “What it comes down to is, it gives the ability to share your computer screen with somebody else. That’s OK, but that’s not transforming anything.”
Lauren Summerstone is a Madison, Wis.-based freelance writer.
MRA Adds Membership Directory To Web Site
The Manufacturers Representatives of America (MRA) has made its membership directory available online. MRA is a national, non-profit trade association for reps and manufacturers in the paper/plastic disposables, packaging and janitorial supply industries.
The association’s 125 members are listed alphabetically and by geographic region. Each listing contains a name, address, e-mail address, website, MANA (Manufacturers Agents National Association) district and territory covered, plus products currently represented and other information.
Broadband’s Wide Appeal
The number of high-speed Internet connections used by businesses and consumers grew by 34 percent during 2004, according to a recent report by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). There are now 38 million “broadband” lines in service used by residential, small business, larger business and other subscribers
During 2004, DSL high-speed lines increased by 45 percent, to 13.8 million lines, while cable modem service increased by 30 percent to 21.4 million lines.
At the end of 2004, service providers that report to the FCC had at least one high-speed service subscriber in 95 percent of the nation’s zip codes, according to the FCC’s release.
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