Category Archives: Articles

Virtual Training….A Modern Day “Must Have”

Here’s a brief article I wrote on training platforms for my friends at Direct Selling Mastery Group.  Check them out at http://www.directsellingmasterygroup.com.   (Unfortunately I was limited to 250 words.  As most of you know, that’s a near impossibility for me.  May be unfortunate for me, but the better for YOU!)

Virtual Training…A Modern Day “Must Have”

You wouldn’t treat a seasoned veteran consultant the same way you would a new recruit and vice-versa, right?  Strategic technology is a great way to meet the needs of the field at every major milestone in their development and for enhancing the growth of each individual team member.  The right technology recognizes and adapts to the consultant based on their longevity, activity level, training level and even information consumption rate.

A successful training delivery platform supports recruiting, retention and leader development through each stage in a consultant’s life cycle   It uses a more modern and consistent approach, replacing systems that often consist of disconnected emails, collections of PDFs and piecemeal videos.  The right training technology allows for the use of your content but delivered sequentially, successively and in a multi-media manner best suited to the user’s style.  Interactive assessments and accountability trackers instantly reward progress.   Tying results to an incentive or recognition program to enhance visibility and encourage participants via social media has big impact.

When you put a new consultant into a training system immediately, they not only learn the product, the selling system and the business opportunity but they learn that your company cares enough to provide the tools necessary to be successful.  They are much more connected, confident and likely to have earlier personal and economic success which naturally leads to obtaining that next level in the consultant life cycle.

Direct Selling Mastery Group
http://www.directsellingmasterygroup.com

Please take a quick survey and let me know how you are using training in your organization.  I’ll post the results here in the next couple of weeks.

Thanks!


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A Mentor…Me?

It might sound strange, but I fell into mentoring out of pure frustration.

I’m a technology geek.  I just get it.  I understand computer systems, programming, infrastructure, troubleshooting, the whole works.  (I can bet some of you are already glazing over at the thought, but stick with me here.)

I inherited an interesting mix of staffers on my first official information technology job.  There was a tattooed uncontrollable systems engineer, a very young girl (she looked 12) that worked the night shift in the call center, a helpdesk technician that spoke massively broken English and 600 beleaguered and belligerent users.

Despite it all, I was ecstatic.  This was my first team and I was determined to help drive the most fabulous technology into the organization, show off my genius to the (male dominated) executive management team  and make everyone’s life just a “push button” dream.

Uhhh….well.   Reality check please!  This was a fortune 50 company, and that my friends, comes with all the bureaucracy and political back stabbing, in-fighting and ladder climbing you could ever want.  Instead of the “push button” dream I had created in my head, we were more like the Three Stooges, running frantically from place to place, bumping into each other and falling over our own feet.

One of our first major failures was when our phone switch went down.  When a phone switch goes down for a large customer service call center, it’s a M-A-J-O-R event.  Our technology was old, we didn’t have a contract and we were inexperienced.

Armed with the enormous phone switch technical manual, and a six-pack of diet Pepsi, I grabbed the call center girl, Lisa, shoved her into the switch room and locked the door.  (I locked the door so the restless natives couldn’t get in, not so Lisa couldn’t get out!)  I looked at the terrified Lisa and she looked at me.  I said….”We can do this.”

We cracked open the book and went from page to page.  I showed her how to troubleshoot.  How to take the information you know and keep refining and adding on until we hit the issue.   In the comfort of that switch room, she engaged.  She was sharp and got it.  She kept asking questions, making me think and I asked her questions, making her think.  Together, we narrowed in, found the problem and solved it.

When we walked out of the switch room exhausted but pleased,  Lisa was standing tall.  That was the day I knew she had a spark and a burning intelligence that needed a comfortable environment in which to light the fire.  She needed confidence.

For 5 years, I worked with Lisa to help her with systems administration, troubleshooting, switch programming and even switch installation.  With every project, she gained confidence and was able to stand on her own a little more.   She went from shy self-proclaimed “worker bee”   to strategic project manager and engineer.  I watched her go from hiding in the back of a room for a meeting to sitting at the table next to the big boys and holding her own in technology discussions.

Admittedly, there were a few moments along the way that I just wanted to grab her by the shoulders and shake her screaming “You are SMART, You are CAPABLE, you can DO THIS!”  I would wonder why I would have to say it over and over again.  Even though she knew it on the inside, she needed to hear it out loud.

Lisa is a professional Telecommunications Engineer today.  She didn’t KNOW she could understand switch technology.  She never thought she could.  That’s where I was able to help.  I showed her something she never thought she could do.

I never specifically set out to mentor Lisa, but just fell into it.  In our male dominated environment I certainly never HAD a mentor so never really considered that it might be a good idea to BE one.  But since my experience with Lisa, I truly value helping provide the confidence that allows someone to step into their zone of genius a little faster than they may have done otherwise.

The Client Bill of Rights (Something Every Outsourcer Should Have)

As a client of a service bureau for most of my professional life, I was constantly tortured by my vendors with things that I think they (as a matter of course) take for granted.  As a vendor now, It’s time to articulate and repeatedly reinforce these things with my organization and emphasize the need to put common sense practices into place. 

Here are my top items:

1.      Just say NO to production environment updates:  No production updates, EVER, EVER, EVER without partner approval in advance.  No one is even allowed to “BREATHE” on the production environment……Not (EVER)….Say it with me…. E-V-E-R!!! 

  • No applications changes without partner approval in advance.  E-V-E-R!
  • No database changes without partner approval in advance.  E-V-E-R!
  • No changes to production reports without partner approval in advance.  E-V-E-R!

2.      Provide regular status updates:  Partners are only going to bug you, call you or hunt you down if you don’t communicate (and they won’t be happy doing it either).  If they know what’s going on, they can fend off their angry users and will not have to bite our heads off later.  Status update means 5 bullet points in email….it does NOT mean ‘War and Peace’ on a special 50 page status form.

3.      Check the integrations:  It’s technology…. if you touch one thing, everything else breaks.  Make sure you are talking to all the other developers that code could impact.  Consider all the other touch points in the system as you code.

4.     Test it first:  Unit test and integration test before handing it over.  If it doesn’t successfully take a sales order or enrollment, put it in the database and it shows up on the internal and field facing reporting in all account classes…. DON’T SEND IT TO THE PARTNER FOR TESTING.

5.      It’s not done until there’s a report and a UI:  There isn’t a piece of code that will be written that doesn’t require or impact a report either for internal use or for the field.  Factor this into development every single time.

6.     Partners “heart” SQL:  When analyzing or auditting, send the partner raw SQL to show how it was done.  If we don’t have a report written, just send the SQL to the partner who can turn it into a report themselves.  Watch out for over-writing any existing reports.   

7.      We “heart” questions:  If you don’t know something or have a question about how to do something…. ASK!!!!  Don’t assume you know what the partner wants (that would be just too scary!!)

Successful Implementation of Distributor Web Tools

 This article was created to support the integration of web tools in the direct selling environment.

Click here for the article.

Ensemble: all the parts of a thing taken together, so that each part is considered only in relation to the whole. (www.dictionary.com)

Distributor Web Tools.

If you want to be a successful direct selling organization, you have to have them, right? The field representatives certainly want them, and tools support the field reps in doing what they do best—recruiting and selling! But this article is not about Web tools technology or the features and functions of Web tools. This article is about what Integrated Management Services (IMS) calls the “ensemble.”

The “ensemble” project refers to all the activities on the periphery of an implementation. It’s the business rules, business processes, cross-functional teams and decision-making associated with the application features and technology. For a Web tools implementation to be successful, the ensemble pieces must be taken into consideration both during the planning phases and the project launch. They can make or break a technical project (and sometimes your career!). The ensemble is often neglected in the planning phases of Web tools project in favor of the technology alone.

A clear trend exists in which direct selling companies will spend money on the technology but certainly won’t spend the time or put in the human resources to make implementations successful. Ironic, considering how valuable implementation is in any business!

The most successful direct selling companies are providing Web-based tools to their field. The productivity of the salespeople is the lifeblood of the business, and no expense should be spared in delivering that support. Let’s take a look at some of the ensemble pieces:

Goals and Organizational Buy-In  

No project discussion is complete without mentioning the importance of assembling an effective project team. Web tools require effort from all aspects of the business, including marketing, sales, field support, graphic design, customer service, I.T. and management. To have a successful product launch you need that critical cross-functional team, which includes professional-level project management.

What’s the goal of your implementation? Ancillary revenue? Field support? Field training? Product sales?

Whatever your objectives, the features of the Web tools should line up with actions that drive the business (sales, recruiting, retention, growing managers and leaders), with the overall content and messaging in line with corporate objectives.

A significantly overlooked aspect is the importance of corporate buy-in that starts with and filters down from senior management. If the message isn’t clear or there is a lack of cohesion around a strategy, conflicts will show up in the product, leading to confusion in the field. The results are supportive tools that fail to make an impact on improving performance. Performance metrics should be put in place to track progress against goals and, if metrics dictate, adjustments should be made to a plan.   

Product Marketing and Content, Content, Content!

To keep the field engaged there must be targeted content…and lots of it! As we mentioned before, it must be content with a message that promotes the right field behaviors and supports the field in doing what they do best.

There has to be a very solid marketing strategy to keep the field interest up with a regular series of communications, e-mail, newsletters and training sessions keeping them excited and engaged. Promote the use of the tools with sales and marketing campaigns or other incentives. As a saleable product, have new features or reports lined up for each quarter and heavily advertise the benefits. The field will expect ongoing improvements and additional features such as new reports, Web page templates, e-newsletter templates or e-cards.

Field Steering Committee

A field steering committee is critical to the success of a Web tools implementation. Select a cross section of distributors who can provide feedback about the direction and the product offering. Make sure you get not only computer-savvy distributors, but include some who are not so computer-familiar. This will help flesh out areas of the tools that require additional training or online documentation. Also make sure that you have both leaders and nonleaders so you get the perspective of the various levels.

Communicate the business goals of the Web tools implementation to this steering committee, and let them help create a more effective plan for marketing. Cultivating a sense of ownership from this field group can create field advocates who will then help sell the product for you.

Field Training

Field training is critical to succeed with the not-so-technical folks. The greatest and most sophisticated system in the world is wonderful, but if the field doesn’t understand it you can lose them all. There should be plenty of online documentation, help files and FAQs. There should be some Web tools training sessions at all events as well as new-consultant training and new-leader training. There should also be monthly Webinars and conference calls to keep the distributors updated. Consider adding in basic word processing (Word), spreadsheet (Excel) and presentation (Powerpoint) software training also. Close the loop by making sure that your field support function is up to speed and can answer any additional questions that come up as a result of the training.

Data Management

Have your technical folks involved from Day One (even if they don’t want to be!). Nearly every Web tools feature requires an interchange of data from your internal distributor databases to the tools system. Creating a solid and scalable architecture up front is critical to success.

One of the key elements of the tools should be interactive reporting allowing the field to sort, filter and be alerted to changes in their key performance statistics and those of their downline. It is critical that the data used for the Web tools reporting is consistent with all other reporting, including commission reports and statements. These reports include personal volumes, group or unit volumes and earnings.

Product and Vendor Management

In some cases, businesses may build the Web tools application themselves using in-house resources. This is a pretty big and time consuming effort but affords the controls and flexibility you might not get otherwise. If you decide that software development is not your core competency, there are many vendors who can provide the desired application suite.

Field Support

Field support is a fairly straightforward matter but is often created as an afterthought or rolled into some other customer-service function. You need to have a reliable and effective support mechanism for the field to get fast and simple answers to the questions they can’t get online or from training. You will need to provide not only online help, but phone support and an e-mail box to drop questions into.

Wrap Up

The hard part about an implementation like this is usually not the technology. It’s the ensemble. And there are so many critical pieces to the ensemble that require just as much attention as getting the technology right does. Done correctly, company performance improves; done incorrectly, the field is in revolt. A bad product or product launch can destroy both field confidence and momentum. So are you confident in your plan for launching a Web tools initiative now? Let’s look at a final recommendation.

Consider these questions:

  • Do you have plenty of cross-functional and dedicated headcount to successfully launch this product?
  • Does this team have direct selling industry experience?
  • Do they know how to design, launch and market products for a volunteer army?
  • Do you have goals and a marketing plan to obtain your goals?
  • Do you have a field steering committee?

Web tools can bring amazing performance and financial benefits both to an organization and the field. The ensemble takes a lot of work, the right resources and the right capabilities. It’s important to focus the necessary attention on the implementation from the start and through the life of the product to get the benefits.

Kris Shenk is a Vice President of Business and Technology with Integrated Management Services Inc., a strategic business consulting firm specialized in helping direct selling companies with technology, operations and sales/marketing support. Kris has completed numerous Web tools implementations and is partnered with many of the major Web tools suppliers as an approved project manager and integrator. She can be contacted at kshenk@imsconsult.net.