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Technology-Driven Sales Learning At Cisco

Click on image for full sizeSuzanne McLarnon, Director of Worldwide Sales Force Development at Cisco, presented at Richardson’s 2008 Client Forum in late October. 

Suzanne’s topic was Using Technology To Drive Sales Force Performance.  Suzanne’s mission at Cisco isn’t trivial.  Cisco’s sales force is a huge global community, consisting of 17,000 sales professionals and over 200,000 partners, and, as you can imagine, it’s not a homogeneous workforce.  Suzanne knows she has to make learning consumable for the community—any time, any place.

Among Suzanne’s many insightful slides, there are two I want to draw your attention to.  The first, “The Workforce Spans Four Generations of Learners,” is by itself a strong argument to reconsider traditional two- to three-day classroom training programs.  I delved into this subject before, including in a podcast with Cam Marston.

Attempting to provide a multi-generational (and heterogeneous in culture and experience) audience with the same content, presented in the same way, with the same learning expectations is generally not going to work.  (Click on the image to view it full-size.)

That challenge, along with others, such as the increasing sophistication of customer needs, the rapid pace of availability of new products, services and solutions and expanding global and mobile field sales forces require a change in learning that only technology can support.  Cisco’s learning strategy, developed by Suzanne, calls for them to open the aperture for learning while orienting it around exemplar performance.

Click on image for full size.Here are the critical characteristics of The Learning Strategy:

Consumable:  Sellers need answers at the moment of need.  The need for just-in-time information for Cisco sellers has resulted in a web service that provides search capability of content down to the presenter’s spoken word.  Today that service hosts more than 7,000 presentations, with more than 380,000 downloads/year, and usage across 95% of their global System Engineers.

Collaborative: Jay Cross at the Internet Time Group said, “It is more practical to think of learning as tuning our human networks to the problem at hand as opposed to filling our head with content.”  At the moment, Cisco has 74 “Communities of Experts” with a total of 3,000 members.  In addition, Cisco’s virtual classrooms and virtual interaction facilities save money and insure consistent experience among learners.

Immersive:  Suzanne quotes Roger Shank: “The human mind is better equipped to gather information about the world by operating within it than by reading about it, hearing lectures on it, or studying abstract models of it.”  Sales simulation and support desk simulation are two immersive platforms that have sped up the onboarding process.

Hopefully before long, the word “traditional” will no longer be associated with sales learning. 

Thanks to Suzanne McLarnon for permission to use her content.


Web 2.0 Adoption Stats: Disappointing or a Call to Action?

I read an article on Inc.com about a recent survey performed by Robert Half.  According to the results of the polling of 1,400 CIOs (from companies with 100 or more employees), 60 percent of them currently have (47%) or are planning to deploy (13%) online training.  “At the same time, most respondents were less interested in emerging Web 2.0 technologies, with nearly three quarters saying they had no immediate plans to adopt blogs, wikis, and other networking tools.  Despite their potential benefits, many businesses are likely waiting for these technologies to spread before implementing them as an essential business tool, according to Katherine Spencer Lee, the firm’s executive director.”

The phrase that hit me was, “…many businesses are likely waiting for these technologies to spread before implementing them as an essential business tool.” I read it again and again with Geoffrey Moore’s (actually Joe M. Bohlen and George M. Beal in 1957) technology adoption cycle flashing persistently in my mind’s eye.

Rogers' bell curve

Where is your company on the Web 2.0 technology adoption lifecycle?

Initially I was discouraged. 

I would have thought the 60 percent number would have been higher, considering it included companies that were planning to deploy Web 2.0 technology in the next five years. 

Then I began to think about my years in the enterprise application software industry and our many customers who became (or retained their position as) market leaders as a result of employing technology to support the execution of winning business strategies.  Whether they were innovators, early adopters, or even the first wave of the early majority, they changed the playing field, sometimes in the face of considerable risk. 

Whether it’s gen-i or GE, companies that have a strong competitive business strategy and deploy technology in its execution possess a significant asset for competitive advantage.

So, if you’re reading this and your company is in the 40 percent group, you’d be well advised to strongly consider not “waiting for these technologies to spread before implementing” Web 2.0, or Sales 2.0 or any other leverageable technology. 

Not convinced that you need to get on board the Web 2.0 train? 

This is from the McKinsey report referenced below: “Almost 60 percent of the respondents satisfied with Web 2.0 initiatives (but only 42 percent of other respondents) see them as a driver of competitive advantage. Expect these companies to become more aggressive in the marketplace against rivals that are slower to get on board.”

If you are “slower to get on board,” you might very well be relegated to picking over the customers your competitors have decided are not worth pursuing.

One last point:  What laggards have to realize is Web 2.0 and Sales 2.0 are not some dot-bomb start-ups such as we had in the late ’90s. These 2.0 technology-based business-enablers aren’t going away.

The old imperative “Get with the program” has rarely been more relevant.

Additional reading:

Building the Web 2.0 Enterprise: McKinsey Global Survey Results

To: Blog Lurkers / Subj: What Are You Thinking?

Is that you lurking on my blog?

Is that you lurking on my blog?

Robin Fray Carey from The Customer Collective and I have been exhanging emails. TCC is a fine example of a Web 2.0 community.  I’m pleased to be part of it. 

I had asked Robin a question about the demographics of the 3,000 or so users on her site.  It seemed to me that they were mostly sales trainers and consultants.  Robin said the trainers and consultants are the open “critics,” but there were plenty of sales and marketing execs who were “lurkers.” 

Lurkers!  Being fairly new to blogging, that term caught me off guard.  Lurker.  Now that I think about it, I’m certainly guilty of lurking on some blogs and social networking sites.

Those of you who visit this blog either regularly or rarely, please take a minute and leave a comment to a post now and then.  The blog stats show this blog has been steadily increasing in traffic since I started it last April, so I know you’re out there. 

I’ll be equally as delighted whether you support or reject my position on the subjects I write about.  I’m just interested in what you’re thinking.  And I know other visitors to this blog would be, as well.

A Challenge for Sales Trainers

Karl Goldfield contacted me the other day.  illumio flagged one of his posts, so I read it. 

In this post, Karl goes on a rant about technology and sales training.  Here is my favorite part of his (unedited) challenge to sales trainers:

If you are not tweeting your blog posts and sending newsletters to keep your mind trust strong in the frontal lobe of your prospects and customers; if you are not joining groups and connecting on Linked In or E-cademy, Facebook or Plaxo; if you are not using Jigsaw or Salesconx to find your the top level prospects; if you do not set up google alerts and research news aggregators for trigger events; if you do not use Genius or Leadlander, then Landslide or another Process driven tool to manage your lead cultivation, what on earth are you doing? I don’t mean to get on a rant here (Thank you Dennis), but it is 2008 and if you are not using VOIP and SAAS, or this whole paragraph is in a new language, get off the soap box and go back to the classroom. It is time to learn a new game, then teach others. Go, now, get moving!

I love it!  Karl is absolutely right.  Sales trainers who procrastinate, waiting for their clients to drag them into the Sales 2.0 era are going to lose any competitive edge they might currently have.  Sales trainers need to understand, embrace, and integrate sales-enablement and learning technologies into their IP (intellectual property) and the delivery of their IP.  The rest of the post.