EPSS Replaces Product Training – Could It Really?

Having been a Sales Trainer, Sales Training Manager, and Director Sales Training in a couple of previous lives, I nearly jumped out of my chair when I read a blog post by a new networking contact, David Brock. Dave authors a blog, Partners in Excellence, and his post of December 7th Let’s Put an End to Product Training” triggered a wee bit of a dance…not really, but I did unleash a couple mental fist-pumps. First-hand experience and many many road miles confirm how wasteful product training can be. I must add, it is not “What we train” as much as it is ‘How we train it.” Sales reps certainly need product knowledge, but the ability to spew features and promise of intangible benefits at a prospect is a waste of time and energy to both parties.

We cannot stop the flow of product knowledge, but I am in total support of ending product training, as we know it…or at least changing the way we do it. Dave says this in his blog:

“Perhaps if we turned things upside down and started thinking and training differently.  What if we started training sales people on things the customer cares about?  What if we started training on markets, customers, problems that customers have?  What if we started training sales people on helping customer discover new opportunities to grow their business or improve their operations?”

To his point, we cannot stop product training, but the context in which product training is introduced represents a different venue and a different training paradigm, and centers around the business impact potential associated with the product. I do not intend for this post to be a lesson in applications selling, so permit me to step back and point to the tactical mechanics of the application of learning. The mechanics shine the light on what I am calling a paradigm shift, and it is not limited to product training.

Here a real example where formal product training was reduced by 70% for a national pest control company. Funny thing…the learning application, as well as the results, were discovered by accident.

The reduction in formal product training was an accidental byproduct of launching Electronic Performance Support System (EPSS) technology intended to support field sales in their post-training environment. The EPSS was filled with searchable, objectized “product information & support” and was accessible by the sales force 24X7 from either smartphone or laptop technology they already had in hand.

The EPSS was launched and access made available to the field [reps and managers], and then about a month later, routine invitations for the next round of product training went out. Corporate received a large number of responses from the field that said they would not be attending…product training was no longer necessary since they had the EPSS to give them what they needed…when they needed it. They had access to learning content that was “chunked” down into stand-alone searchable learning objects.

Imagine “chunking” content that had direct alignment to the selling effort. Imagine attaching key words to your product chunks that cross-referenced your competitor’s products. Imagine attaching business problems as key words that connected to the correct product and feature chunk. Those examples are all “pulled” by the rep when needed. Now flip the coin…imagine “pushing” a best practice sales technique…or a new competitive price…or promotion…or competitive product alert…to the entire sales force. Am I getting too far away from training for you? Sorry, it is time to flee from that old school approach anyway.

The convergence of learning and work are driving the scenarios where the line between information necessary to drive performance may well be the same content we need for training…only the work context is different. Dismember the linear training on products and chunk the information in a manner that aligns with the sales process and prospect’s business applications and the “why” that is illustrated by key business drivers.

Yeah, I know I am preaching again, but I have been for years now about the downstream shift of learning headed into the post-training work context. In defense of my passion, the payback potential is amazing. The cost savings on this one thing…not shipping bodies into corporate for training…contributed to a payback on the EPSS investment of less than a single year. That does not include time off task, or time saved searching for the right content, or the negative impact of learning retention dropping off the brain in less than three weeks.

Okay, [stepping down off the box…] is this a sales pitch for EPSS? It sure would be if I was selling EPSS, but I am not. If I am guilty of selling anything, it is the concept of a new learning paradigm extending into the work context. And we need to be on this paradigm like a big dog. And…if this new paradigm can decrease the amount of time and resources we waste training products in traditional linear venues, I will carry that guilt without hesitation. Plus, on a personal level, I get a charge out of freaking training traditionalists out when they think their job is at risk. It really isn’t, but the fear of having to change can leave a mark.

Do you need to buy an EPSS to accomplish this? It depends… [Once again, he offers the consultant’s response…].

Depending on what learning content you need to shift closer to the work context, you may only need a web services front-end to act as a “Learning Broker”. Sure, it’s a poor man’s EPSS, but if you do not need integration into a business application system [like SAP, Oracle, electronic medical record, etc.] then maybe an EPSS would be overkill. I will say this…if I was in the market for a new LMS, I would look long and hard at EPSS technology first. ROI on a LMS pales compared to the tangible downstream impact of EPSS technology. Koff…bet that comment stirs the pot…

The decision point for how you approach “product” training or “onboarding” or “process” oriented workflows is a function of the work context – the point where the workforce has the potential to encounter a moment of learning need. If you do not invest in the discovery to define the attributes of the learner’s work environment, you have no choice but to default to building product training and keep doing what you have always done. I am not convinced that that approach is sustainable given where the velocity of business seems headed.

Agree?  Disagree?    I welcome your thoughts!

Take good care!

Gary Wise
Learning & Performance Solutions Strategist
LinkedIn Profile
Twitter: Gdogwise