Learning Your Way to Profits

An Opportunity for Expansion May Be Sitting Right in Your Training Department.

In the wake of current economic challenges, companies need to identify growth opportunities that may have been overlooked, for which the resources, processes and infrastructure already exist within their organizations. What assets can be leveraged quickly and efficiently for profit while building customer loyalty?

Although there is no secret formula, leveraging your existing online customer training function can be one expedient and cost-effective option. E-learning offers many direct benefits, including convenience and cost and time savings. Furthermore, the nature of forum-based e-learning can substantially enhance written communication; and with the push toward sustainability, e-learning becomes a green alternative by reducing the need for travel and paper materials.

If you consider online training as a growth strategy, answer the four “C” questions to determine your options:

>> What are the Customer needs?

>> What Content addresses these needs?

>> How can the content be Certified?

>> What Contribution can this make to my organization?

Start with the Customer

Installed Base – For many, the installed base of customers has been sold on the idea of workflow improvements derived from product purchase, often supported by online training. The question is whether the training you offer is sufficient, or whether it could be supplemented to achieve an expert level of competency. As this is considered, the importance of entitlements must be assessed. If the customer believes that the training is included with the purchase of the product, it will be difficult to de-couple the course from product purchase. However, new courses positioned as a supplement can be defined as a purchasable product.

Industry audiences seek access to industry-wide experience. As a result, it is important to position each course as derived from your company’s industry knowledge and developed by an expert within your organization. This establishes the experience of your workforce and suggests that the course may include insights to an enhanced business process unique to your company; your “secret sauce” of specialized tips and techniques. This not only reinforces your brand among customers but also provides them an ability to develop their staff while building a stronger customer relationship.

New Prospects – In some sectors, there may be a lack of specialized online training and career development options. This may point to an opportunity to fill an industry void with programs that would appeal to prospects, using education as a competitive advantage. It may not only address the customer needs but also solves a problem your competitors have failed to address. This approach distinguishes your company and exposes the marketplace to your knowledge base. Furthermore, it provides a reason to consider your organization and extends your brand value to a service offering that can either be tied to, or purchased separate from, your products.

Online and ‘Just Curious’ – The Internet has created a world of well-informed consumers. Self-learners often seek knowledge for personal reasons and are willing to purchase access to this knowledge. Establishing a well-indexed marketplace of e-learning offerings can build new revenue opportunities that might otherwise have never been considered. Aside from the revenue, the online consumer can do much to praise a training “find” in forums, on blogs and consumer rating sites. This grass roots endorsement can yield an incremental marketing benefit.

Evaluate Content

Existing – Evaluate existing training tools that meet customer needs. Generally, they may fall into a few key areas that leverage your company’s experience: technical information, sales and marketing strategy, industry-specific knowledge, and customer support. Of the accessible resources, what opportunities exist to repackage the information into manageable, marketable chunks that follow a learning pathway to build greater expertise in a field of study? This organization of content establishes a defined curriculum and gives learners a reason to come back for additional training.

Also, assess how best to maintain the currency of this information. It is critical to have access to a source for updating content and technical resources that can provide required innovation that deliver interactive, compelling applications that can be displayed on any mobile device. Content is an asset that is best preserved through innovation, thus a team focused on enhancing your training catalog with new ideas and delivery mechanisms is essential.

 Unmet Needs – Evaluate knowledge voids that are present in your current training materials and those that have been identified through customer research or general customer feedback. Additionally, consider what topics are currently affecting your industry. Could you develop a body of content to provide insight to this topic? If the subject lacks many experts and is likely to have longevity within the industry, it may make for a good supplement to a curriculum offering. Consider options for sourcing the content, first evaluating internal solutions or “ghost writers” who could develop a final product from consulting internal materials and experts. By avoiding external authorship, you control the rights to the content and avoid recurring royalty payments and intellectual property (IP) issues.

Targeted Versions – During the development process, consider the target audience; both in terms of requisite knowledge and intended use. Is the course a stand-alone module without pre-requisites, or does it require pre-course training or existing knowledge? When the latter occurs, consider a package with other courses to provide a series-based curriculum.

In terms of use, think about the end-user. Is the course intended to apply skills to his work, train others using the content, or simply use the training as a means for greater understanding of the topic area? The latter individual might be a consumer who wishes to know more about the subject as a result of hobby, personal need to care for a family member, or an individual researching the industry for career change. The point here is to consider versioning your content so it can appeal to these three user types. The value of versioning is that the upfront investment in development can yield multiple sellable products on the back end.

Certification Builds Value

When a customer evaluates purchasing a course, he looks to the learning objectives, time commitment, author, and association with an accrediting organization to make a purchase decision. An acknowledgement by an independent third party that your content and development process meet an industry standard establishes incremental value. Whether the certification is by a manufacturer, industry trade association or articulation agreement with a university, it makes your training more attractive. So evaluate options for getting independent third-party certification. Supplements to certification that often prove valuable include testimonials and student ratings.

Define Contribution

Financially, what will the benefits be? Generally, online course development can vary widely from $2,500 to $25,000 for a one-hour course. Achieving return on investment requires broad distribution of the content to serve internal training needs of employees and existing customers, and selling to new prospects. Where existing content is in place, the incremental costs to distribute are nominal. For new-course development, a price-times-quantity analysis must be performed to determine whether the return justifies the investment.

Well-developed and -delivered content can have a substantial effect on customer satisfaction from the vantage point of an end-user experience and that of a manager who can discern improved performance. Both contribute to a heightened perception of the service provider and enhance the overall value of your brand.

—Douglas Dell is director of learning services for Philips Healthcare and a member of the business and management faculty of the University of Phoenix. E-mail him at douglas.dell@philips.com.

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