Sales training is major challenge for most L&D and Training Managers. Owing to the intensely competitive consumer market, companies have to continually innovate and launch newer products each day. Also, the volatile market ensures that most organizations have new employees or dealers on-board. Therefore organizations have to design programs to train sales staff quickly and effectively, for a faster time-to-market delivery.
According to a research by leading training research organization ASTD, most new recruits among the sales force are trained for more than 15 days per annum. But by the third year, sales professionals average only three to six days of sales training annually. This creates learning gaps which reflect directly on the sales targets. In addition, most sale teams are geographically dispersed, and accumulating the entire team for training sessions is logistically difficult. Also, as per ASTD’s research, the preferred mode of training is still traditional classroom or PPT based learning courses that do little to kindle the learners’ interest.
To talk about realistic solutions, we have to keep in mind that sales personnel are often on the go and this is a challenge to effective training. However, this doesn’t mean that training should be ignored altogether. To work around the challenges, the best solution for sales training needs is technology-aided learning. In addition to traditional e-courses, other technologies can also be harnessed to create a learning solution aligned to the needs of the sales team.
A leading FMCG company in India was facing a challenge to train their 5000 plus team of sales personnel. They realized that while most of them have considerable knowledge of their job, they have to refresh concepts to keep their business and financial acumen updated. They wanted a learning solution that would give the sales professionals an opportunity to refresh their knowledge and apply it to excel professionally.
To suit the needs of the sales team, we conceptualized, created and deployed an IVR (Interactive Voice Response) based LMS. Interactive voice response (IVR) is a technology that allows a computer to interact with humans through the use of voice and DTMF (Dual Tone Multi-frequency) tones input via a keypad. The IVR-based system was a novel experience for the sales team which created a continuous learning and assessment, even from remote locations with limited access to internet connectivity or computers. The technology-aided platform was new to them, but since all they had to do was call a toll-free number, the learning solution was hugely popular.
• Keeping in mind the geographical spread of salesmen, a multilingual IVR (Interactive Voice Response) based learning management system was developed. The system could be accessed in 7 languages– English, Hindi, Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, and Malayalam.
• The Learners could call on a toll-free number to get the assessments. Since there was no cost to associate, it increased interest in the solution for all learners. Alternatively, if a learner so requested, a call-out could also be made on his/her assigned telephone number. Each learner was also assigned a particular person code as well as training code, which ensured that they received assessments as per their job roles.
• Once the learner calls the toll-free number, he has to choose the language of his preference by dialling the assigned number for the language. The audio recording directs the learners to choose a number accordingly — for instance ‘Choose 1 for English, 2 for Hindi, and 3 for Bengali’ and so on.
• Once the learner has chosen the language, he/she needs to punch in the ‘person code’ and ‘training code’, and the assessment begins. An audio recording reads out a series of questions and gives five or six choices to choose from. The learner chooses the right response and punches in the number accordingly. He or she has the choice to repeatedly hear the question and the options.
• At the end of the set questions, the system provides instant feedback to the learner, whether he/she has passed or failed, or should re-take the assessment. The total time assigned for each assessment call is fifteen minutes and the questions are designed for quick understanding, as well as response.
• If the call is dropped or disconnected in the middle of the assessment, the learner is free to call again, and the assessment will begin from where he/she left it. The time remaining will also be managed in accordance with it.
• As an alternate, for learners who do spend considerable time in offices, assessments can also be taken on the LMS.
The integration of IVR and a Learning Management System was a completely new concept, but proved to be a very successful one. The technology-aided solution was immensely successful in delivering effective learning and reaped many benefits:
• The IVR based system could be accessed through a landline or mobile phone. It did not cost the learners anything and could be taken up even when disconnected from the internet. So, learning could be successfully conducted ‘anytime and anywhere’.
• The IVR system was very easy to understand and the learners were able to master it soon. The questions were direct, easy to answer and weighing available options, as clearly highlighted by the outstanding results of the learning endeavour.
• The intelligent system not only managed the entire learning – including assigning courses, managing learners, sending out reminders and so on, it also provided several customized reports and sent them out automatically in the form of emails and dashboards to the respective stakeholders.
The winsome combination of IVR and LMS provided an effective way of learning and assessment. It was beneficial for all – sales personnel, their managers, and the zonal heads. The sales personnel were able to gain confidence through the assessments and it reflected on their performance. Not only did it support them to achieve sales targets, it also helped them forge stronger relations in the market.