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3 Questions that Keep Product Managers Up at Night

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Product managers are passionate people. They are passionate about the products they create and the problems they solve for their customers. Product managers spend thousands of hours researching, testing and developing their products before it’s time to commercialize. But then it’s time for the hand-off. The success (or failure) of the new product is in the hands of the sales reps, not the people who so carefully and thoughtfully created it.

Unfortunately, there’s often a disconnect between the business unit who created a product and the salesforce who sells it. The product managers developed the product and have specific goals they want to hit, in collaboration with the C-suite. The sales team has goals of its own, and they may not always align. Many sales forces have their own agendas, especially in global organizations.

If you are a product manager yourself, you know what I am talking about. This disconnect is frustrating! The three questions below are critical to bridging the gap. Answering them sets your new product up for success. Avoiding them leads to stress and sleepless nights.

1. How do I make my product stand out to sales reps?

Sales reps are already selling products they’re really familiar with and comfortable with. When a new product is launched, it can be difficult to get them to prioritize the training and put in the time to learn about the new product. To help sales reps feel invested in the products they sell, the launch, communication and training that surrounds a new product must be carefully planned.

2. How do I make sure sales reps deliver the right message?

Product managers partner with marketing to come up with the “bullet points” that explain why a new product is good, the features it offers, and the attached value statements. But when sales rep go to sell it, will they say and do the right thing? Without proper training and coaching, reps are prone to misrepresent the product or explain it differently than the product manager had envisioned.

3. How can I help sales reps understand the true value of the product?

When left to their own devices, sales reps will build their understanding of what a new product is and what it does by comparing it to the other products they sell. But if they are left to figure these things out on their own, they may not fully understand what makes the new product unique and valuable to customers. As a result, sales reps may get stuck on price instead of showing the product’s true value. Up-front investment in a thorough product launch training curriculum can actually result in savings down the line if it helps sales reps sell to value and avoid discounting.

For their new products to be successful, product managers are faced with a variety of challenges they cannot fully control. This is why a well-thought out product launch training curriculum is critical. The best product launch training takes a blended approach and introduces features, benefits and value statements before the launch meeting. This allows the launch meeting to include more in-depth, hands-on training sessions (not just hype and excitement, though that is necessary as well!). And while your sales force must take ownership for training and education after the launch, savvy product managers provide easy-to-use training reinforcement tools to their sales counterparts so that reps can commit key value statements to memory.

Product managers use the Knowledge Guru platform to introduce and reinforce critical knowledge during launches.

 

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How Cisco Uses Knowledge Guru to Teach Product and Technical Knowledge (Interview)

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I interviewed Paula Rossini, Global Program Manager at Cisco, to learn more about how Cisco uses Knowledge Guru games to teach its sales associates. Cisco’s sales associate training program (CSAP) has won multiple Brandon Hall awards for its innovative approaches, including a 2014 “Gold” award won in partnership with BLP.


Can you describe your role at Cisco? 

I’m a Global Program Manager. I focus mostly on content development and delivery of different programs within our worldwide sales and partner enablement organization. I focus mostly on new hires and early-in-career employees.

The Cisco Sales Associate Training Program (CSAP) is our keystone program along with the Partner Sales Academy (PSA). We also have a new hire acceleration program (SNAP) and a new internship program for university students.

What learners do you use Knowledge Guru games with?

We first introduced Sales Guru (the name we gave our Knowledge Guru games) games for sales associates and engineers in the CSAP program. It’s used as a reinforcement tool.

We now have Sales Guru games for the SNAP new hire acceleration program. While the games are a reinforcement tool in the CSAP program, for SNAP we use it as an assessment tool. You’d think it was daunting to use it as an assessment tool… but SNAP associates already have experience selling, so it’s a more mature audience. They can play the game as often as they want until they pass.

How are the games part of a learning solution? What other pieces are involved in the training?

In CSAP, the associate goes through synchronous classroom training. This training is taught by a virtual facilitator. The facilitator uses Cisco Telepresence to give the virtual instructor-led training. For example, associates take Data Center as a six-day module. Every day they have 3.5 hours of training, and at the end of Day one the facilitator tells them to play the Sales Guru game in preparation for the next day. There is a schedule posted on the LMS where associates can see exactly when they need to play each game.

During each module, associates play part of the game at the end of day one, three and five. There is a frequency by which they are expected to play the game before they do the next one… which is part of how we use the repetition. 

At the end of every technical module, we have “technical office hours” where the trainer goes through the entire module in summary format. The Sales Guru prepares associates for the assessment they take at the end of the module.

SNAP is an asynchronous virtual program. People go through a series of eLearning modules. For most of the technical eLearning modules, they have a Sales Guru game attached to each of them as a final assessment.

Was there a challenge you hoped to address by implementing Knowledge Guru games into the curriculum? 

There are lots of highly technical concepts in the solutions we offer that are difficult to assimilate. Associates struggled a lot to understand these concepts. We felt that, through Knowledge Guru’s use of spaced repetition, we could teach the associates and engineers better.

We first launched the game with our toughest topic of all: “Data center.” Little by little, we rolled it out to other technologies. Knowledge Guru is a reinforcement tool for all of the technologies in the program.

What do you want the learners to know or do after playing?  

We want them to be able to assimilate the technical content they learned in the module and pass their technical exam.

You mentioned to me that many of your learners are virtual. How have you worked to engage and connect learners with technology throughout the program, and how does Knowledge Guru fit into that effort?

We use Cisco TelePresence and Cisco WebEx to virtually facilitate the CSAP training. The Knowledge Guru games are launched from the LMS along with the rest of the program materials. We teach the learners virtually so that multiple locations throughout Europe can all be taught by the same facilitator.

What did you do to encourage adoption with players?

The success of the game really depends on the involvement of the facilitator who leads the session and the “producer”. The facilitator teaches the learners while the producer makes sure they are paying attention and completing pre and post work. The producer supports the facilitator on WebEx. The producer encourages learners to play the Sales Guru games throughout the module.

The really good producers have some best practices like leaving the leaderboard up, showing the associates who’s winning, and encouraging gameplay.

How did players access the games? 

Players launch the games from the LMS. During the pre-work, they see what day they need to launch the game.

How did Cisco communicate about the games to learners? 

All communication happens through the LMS. Associates can see all materials available in a single location. Both the facilitator and the producer encourage gameplay during the session. The games are also integrated into the slide deck of the facilitator… and the producer reminds them, too. Sometimes, the facilitators reward learners with some candy or some other small “prize.”

What results have you produced from the program with the help of Knowledge Guru? 

We received very positive learner feedback from the Data Center game, so we expanded into other modules. After this expansion, we surveyed associates and found that they rated the game 4.93 out of 5 in terms of its value as a learning experience. They rated the repetition in the game a 4.93 out of 5 and said it was highly effective in helping them retain the content.

We receive continuous anecdotal feedback that associates really enjoy the game and that it helps them to understand the content better. They say that it really does help them to pass the exam. While not a direct correlation, we do have a 98% pass rate on the technical exam.

What have been the keys to successful implementation for you?  

Collaborating with Bottom-Line Performance was very important. We had an honest partnership where Sharon (Boller) would tell us up front if she had concerns with how we planned to use the game. That honest collaboration led to success for us.

Project management was also important. As soon as we had the green light to proceed, BLP guided us through the process of creating our games. The BLP team helped us hit milestones every step of the way, and it made a really big difference. Now, we are at the point where the games have really become a part of our process, and it’s much easier to create and modify games.

The Brandon Hall “gold” award that Cisco won for its use of Knowledge Guru was the second in just a few years for the CSAP program. What do you think sets the program apart?

I like to say that, at Cisco, “we drink our own champagne.” Cutting edge technology is really important for us. When we have made mistakes along the way, we have taken those and turned them into lessons learned. We reflect on how we’ve done and take feedback very seriously.  Associates and stakeholders in general provide feedback and we take that feedback, change, and go with what makes sense. We continuously evolve, and that is a big part of why we are doing really well. 

In short, our keys to success are feedback, technology, not being afraid of change, and learning from mistakes.

What advice would you give to others on creating their first Knowledge Guru game, or bringing a serious game into their organization for the first time?

Start with the end in mind. Understand or identify what they want to accomplish. Based on those learning objectives, you can find out the best way to implement the game.

It’s also important to look around and do your due diligence for looking for the right learning partner. It doesn’t need to be a big one. Pick one that fits your needs the best and with whom you can have an honest conversation where the learning partner genuinely wants you to succeed. Don’t just pick biggest partner out there because they are big and reviews are good. Go with one that will meet your requirements.

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5 Ways Serious Games Can “Level Up” Your Sales Reps

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Sales people live in the moment. They need to hit this month’s numbers. They have a demo in 10 minutes. Their manager wants an update on their biggest account. They are paid on commission and they probably do not feel they have time to take your training! Sales people probably have the most single-minded focus of any role in your organization: activities that are directly linked to making a sale are top priority and everything else is just details.

As an L&D professional, you know that knowledge and skills are vital to building a successful sales organization. But a sales rep is not paid to worry about the entire sales organization. They are paid when, and only when, they produce results. Reps will be reluctant to invest time and energy into training if it is not directly helping them do their job better. They are eager to learn, but only when the knowledge will directly help them on their next sales call. Wouldn’t it be great if training could be a positive part of that, and not seen as a time waster?

Want to learn more about sales enablement? Access our webinar: Sales Enablement & Beyond: Using Games and Smart Implementation to Drive Performance.

Serious Games and Sales Reps: A Perfect Fit

There is a reason so many of the Bottom-Line Performance clients who ask us to design a custom serious game wish to use it with sales reps. Customers who use our Knowledge Guru platform often create their games for sales professionals, too. Our experience has shown that games are often the perfect addition to a sales training program or set of reinforcement and reference tools.

There are many ways games can be leveraged as a tool to help sales reps perform better on the job. Here are five ideas to jumpstart your thinking:

1. Games can prevent the need to “cram” new product knowledge

Product launches are stressful, complicated events for everyone involved. Sales reps are often bombarded with new product and technical knowledge they must assimilate quickly before their next customer conversation. Reps might find themselves studying PDFs, Googling information they can’t find or learning about the new product via a PowerPoint deck. Before long, learning about ACME corporation’s new product release feels like studying for a college exam. And there is a very good chance reps will forget more than they remember without proper reinforcement.

Our research and client work shows us that serious games provide a much better way to learn product and industry knowledge. With the right instructional design know-how, learning principles such as spaced repetition and feedback loops can be linked to the mechanics of a game that reps can play for just minutes a day as time allows. Games linked to learning science become real time savers for a sales rep, as the gameplay is designed to help them learn and retain the necessary knowledge. And when the product and technical knowledge is especially complex, sales associates will appreciate games that truly help them learn and remember.

Example: Cisco uses Knowledge Guru games as part of their year-long Cisco Sales Associate Training Program. Sales associates average over 3.5 hours of Knowledge Guru gameplay because the games helped them study for their Cisco Sales Certification. Cisco’s game earned a 2014 Brandon Hall gold award for best advance in sales training online application.

2. Games can create a little healthy competition… and camaraderie

Not everyone thinks that competition at work is a fun experience, but your sales team probably does. Most sales reps would probably describe themselves as “competitive.” That’s why they got into the profession in the first place. Games with leaderboards can fuel this competitive drive. They can also create a sense of competition between various locations, territories, or even individuals. Meanwhile, the scores that reps rack up can become informative to managers, showing which individuals or locations have the best grasp of key product knowledge, procedures, and selling skills.

Example: Competition through gameplay usually will not end up feeling cutthroat. After playing a Knowledge Guru game tied to a product launch, the ExactTarget (now Salesforce Marketing Cloud) employee from Australia who won “MobileConnectGuru” shared that he had never felt more a part of the team than while playing the game.

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3. Games can help reps retain and apply new product info

Games can be as simple as a jeopardy clone with handheld remotes or as complex as a 3D world. Most of the time, business needs call for an experience that is somewhere in the middle of these two extremes. For sales reps, the ideal game-based solution will do more than motivate. Sales reps’ time is limited and they will likely want to limit their time spent on training as much as possible unless that training is directly helping them sell (and earn more commission). Gaming that can be done in short bursts that helps them learn, study, and retain product features and benefits is ideal.

4. Games can provide meaningful reporting and analytics

Most serious games offer far more data points than a standard eLearning course. For example, a report that shows learning objective success rate for sales reps in different territories provides far more visibility into what sales reps actually know than a raw completion percentage. This information can be used to provide additional training on the weaker topics to the regions that need it.

With relevant, accurate data in hand, you can deploy just-in-time learning bites that help sales reps shore up the key information they need to learn instead of wasting their time with a full-blown course.

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5. Games can provide highly contextual scenarios to practice consultative selling

Of course, sales reps need to do more than simply memorize product information to be successful. In more complex selling situations, sales training is probably a full-fledged curriculum. Game platforms and templates will rarely be the only solution used in a curriculum like this. And they may not provide the necessary context to help sales professionals with higher-level skills. Thus, these situations are an ideal place for custom serious games.

Example: In Formulation Type Matters, a serious game we created for Dow AgroSciences, sales reps enter a fictional territory with five different unhappy customers they must try to place. Players gain and lose sales and increase or decrease customer satisfaction based on their answers to customer questions. As they play, the reps access a variety of resources and consult their manager, a learning agent in the game, for help. The resources used in the game are the same PDFs they will find and locate on the job.