From Offline to Online to Inline Learning

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From Offline to Online to Inline Learning


Most training and learning efforts are based on clusters of competencies, supported by a curriculum or catalog that gets scheduled on calendar-based interest and availability. But this conventional approach, and the premises underlying it, raise a crucial performance question: What does it really have to do with helping a company’s business strategy, responding to shifting market demands, or intervening to fix acute, emergent needs when they arise?

Just think about all the situations that might crop up suddenly, presenting challenges that you need to address right away. And then think about how well your training program can or can’t respond to them. These situations might include:

  • Troubled territory – What if a particular sales territory or geography is struggling with an aggressive competitor?
  • Weak pipeline or stalled deals – What if a large group of salespeople are struggling to create enough pipeline or get enough deals across the line?
  • Threat to a dominant product or service – What if a competitor launches a broadside on one of your highest share, highest margin product lines and you need to defend, retain and protect your position?
  • New product or go-to-market strategy launch – What if you need to take some competitive share or enter a new geography with a new product or program?

The main challenge when it comes to these situations? None of them are easily addressed by the traditional learning programs employed by many companies—programs that rely on catalogs of content just waiting around for someone to raise their hand and schedule an event. The future of learning and development will need to be as dynamic as the business challenges you confront. That puts a whole new set of demands on your library of competencies and content, not to mention your modes and timing of delivery.

Offline – Online – Inline

In the old days, training was primarily an offline activity. Whether it was a training workshop, a product launch, or a messaging rollout, the activity was event-based, non-virtual and done in isolation. Limiting right?

The next step was to migrate these activities to an online sales training sphere. While a crucial phase of progress, the shift to online didn’t necessarily eliminate the inefficiencies and fragmentation that had dogged your offline efforts. After all, virtualizing classroom-based training and messaging rollouts doesn’t change their event-based character and the drawbacks that might stem from it.

That move from offline to online did, however, set the stage for the next big leap forward in your learning efforts. What I call “inline” training and learning. This approach takes training to a new level of flexibility, customization and situational relevance, helping you stand up training experiences at a moment’s notice to solve problems as they arise. Inline training is about getting your reps the messaging and skills they need, exactly when they need them.

That means messaging and skills that are inline with:

  • The business initiatives you’re implementing
  • The conversations your reps are having
  • The systems and technology your reps are using
  • The decisions your prospects and customers are making

Excel at serving existing accounts and securing renewals, but worried that won’t get you the revenue growth you need? You can stand up a multi-week, multi-touch training program to build fluency in the skills needed to disrupt and dislodge competitors, which leads to acquiring new customers.

Updating a product in a market where you have dominant share, and need to promote your upgraded solution aggressively and convince customers to pay more for it? Your reps need situational skills training to help them effectively communicate a price increase during renewal conversations, without putting your customer base at risk.

You get the idea. This is “just-in-time” problem-centric training mapped to the problems you need to solve now, as opposed to “just in case” program-centric training, based on calendars and catalogs.

Problem Based Learning Cycle

Your reps shouldn’t have to wait for training when you have a big opportunity or performance challenge that you need to address now. An inline training experience brings learning where it needs to be—in the sales workstream and aligned to the problems you need to solve. Your ability to adapt your training so that you’re executing and responding to the different selling situations that surface this year can be the difference between making or missing your targets.

This article originally published in Sales and Marketing Management Magazine

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