While you may consider your employees as the primary users of your training content, there are others who are part of your larger business ecosystem to whom it's worthwhile to extend training as well.
I'm talking about customers and external partners. These are the people and organizations that make up your "extended enterprise" -- dealers, distributors, resellers, retailers, systems integrators, consultants, solution providers, certified partners, and others that help you sell and support your products and services.
Differences between Internal and External Training
When you look at the different types of learners you serve with your web-based training platform, there are differences among their motivations.
The internal learners -- your company's employees -- take training for several reasons. One is compliance; they need to adhere to rules set by the government or by the business sector you operate in.
Another is for their own development. If your designers or coders get training in the software they use on the job, they'll produce better quality products for you. Plus, they're more likely to remain loyal to your company since it's supporting their personal improvement. Also, by training employees, you help them stay informed about your products so they can represent your company better to the outside world.
One of the primary drivers for customer education is to make sure your customers get the most out of your products. When customers are engaged in your software and technology, you see improved usage and reduced churn rate. For more on this topic, about which we've written often, download your copy of "The Ultimate Guide to Customer Training."
But what about your extended enterprise? Why would you want to include them in your training program? It's the same basic reason as for your customers: You're trying to engage them -- but for a very different outcome.
Yes, that engagement translates into greater expertise and profit through knowledge. The goal with that knowhow is to place your company top of mind for your distributors and resellers.
Typically, external partners represent a number of companies. They tend to pay attention to those companies that can help them generate the greatest amount of business. The more they know about your products and services, the better positioned they are to close that deal by representing you over your competitors. As a result of your training and knowledge transfer, both you and your partners profit.
If your organization has a certification program, it can tie partner status to the amount of training that members of the extended enterprise receive. To obtain "gold-level" status as a partner, for example, gaining access to the best sales leads, higher visibility at your annual conference and other recognition rewards, your partner may need to commit to having x number of certified employees on staff, representing the most advanced levels of learning among all of your users.
How to Engage with Each Type of Learner Group
As you develop your strategy for delivering online training that reaches all corners of your ecosystem, keep these pointers in mind to make sure you can deliver what each learner needs.
For your employees
Develop learning solutions, education and certification programs on the products and services your organization offers. This will keep each employee knowledgeable and up-to-date. Make sure your learning management system can also deliver important compliance resources, such as security training, to employees while giving you a way to accurately track that they've completed their learning.
For your customers
Connect with them at each level of the customer lifecycle -- from acquisition and onboarding through retention -- by delivering engaging customer training programs to develop relationships and increase customer success with your products and services. Make sure your extended enterprise LMS gives you the ability to deliver a diverse range of learning experiences to increase the likelihood of engagement.
For your resellers, distributors, dealers and other members of the extended enterprise
Create course content to deliver important information and training. Your goal is to make sure they have the latest information on products, services and strategy and access to new marketing and educational materials.
Make sure your customer training platform gives you the ability to deliver different kinds of interactive content, including video, microlearning, documents and audio, to cater to preferred formats of learning and keep them up to date on what they need to know to maximize their sales and support efforts.
Two Challenges -- and One Benefit -- of Training the Entire Ecosystem
There are two big challenges you’ll face in training your entire ecosystem.
The first is realizing that it goes beyond the walls of your corporate operations. Your company leadership needs to acknowledge that there are stakeholders making a huge impact on your success as a company that you may not yet be recognizing as part of your organization for the purpose of training.
The second challenge is understanding that it will take more time to manage these additional stakeholders. The team that administers your learning management system may wonder how they can handle extended enterprise training in addition to what they're already doing.
If you can get over those hurdles -- and we shortly offer some advice for doing so! -- you'll reap benefits that more than make up for the hassle. By incorporating external learners into your learning strategy in a methodical way, you expand the reach of your training, which translates to more business for your partners and, therefore, for you.
6 Tips for Making Sure Your Learning Technology Works for the Extended Enterprise
Use native course authoring. Traditionally, you would have to purchase a separate tool to create learning experiences and add them into your training platform to deliver to learners. Make sure your learning management system provides a built-in authoring tool to speed up and simplify the job of delivering timely extended enterprise elearning.
Use different formats in your training. Listening to the experts, you'd begin to think that everybody likes to sit and watch videos. But that's very passive. Choose an eLearning program that lets you add interactivity to your lessons -- hotspots, flipcards, fill-in-the-blanks or other forms of "visual stimulation."
Similarly, some people prefer to read and not watch. Make sure your online learning platform lets you incorporate text files, PDFs, and other documents that are important to the instruction.
Take pity on LMS administrators. Your administrators could easily become overwhelmed if you suddenly added a bunch of learners from your extended enterprise. Make sure your enterprise LMS allows them to segment subgroups, which gives them a streamlined tool for setting up groups and managing them.
Once those subgroups are created, your administrators will have an easier time setting up the various learning paths to be followed by particular groups of people.
Use a recommendation engine. A recommendation engine gives you a method for delivering the right learning at the right time to the right users. You can display and deliver content dynamically based on the learner's previous engagement with other pieces of content.
Or, you can have the learner follow a pathway intended for a specific role -- sales versus marketing versus technical. Make sure your training software includes a recommendation engine that can enable different learners to follow a linear pathway or a scattered approach, depending on their preferences. In either case, the right kind of recommendation engine will ensure they get all the learning that's expected of them and land at the same endpoint.
Use branding. For your internal learners you want to use the logos, fonts, color palette and general look and feel that make up your corporate online branding.
But your partners may prefer to use their own branding so that their learners don't feel like they've landed on somebody else's website. Make sure your learning platform allows for customized branding so that the software can be configured for different sets of users.
Track your data. As you scale up the number of learners, you'll want to monitor how well you're delivering on your training goals. Make sure your professional training platform provides a simple framework to report on each group, so your decision makers get insight they can act on.
How to Get Started with External Training, Step-by-Step
Step #1. Identify your extended enterprise
If you want to expand your training to encompass your extended enterprise, the first step is to identify them. You'll want to understand their distinct learning needs. Find out what's important to them and figure out how that differs from your employees and customers.
Step #2. Scrutinize your content
Are you ready to serve the various groups of learners? What do you need to become content-ready? Fill in the gaps with new content that caters to their learning needs.
Step #3. Curate your training for different groups
At this stage, your goal is to figure out what kind of learning pathways these new users will need. Will you make all learning content available at once or "drip feed" them content? Will you need to revise an existing certification program or develop one to accommodate them?
Step #4. Set up key performance indicators
Executives make decisions based on return on investment. They may give you the budget and staffing you need to deliver training to an extended enterprise, but they'll want to see the ROI. Make sure you can define your metrics for each group of learners and have the reporting tools you need to track those metrics and visualize them for effective reporting.
To learn more about how to reach your entire business ecosystem with your learning content, download the SmartBrief update:Smart Focus on Extended Enterprise Learning, below.
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