articlethumbnailAre you Ready to Graduate from your Online University?

How the addition of a performance management system can help you maximize field force learning and drive key sales initiatives!

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By Rick Simoni

Ah yes, I remember my first time… it was at an SPBT conference.
“Dead center” of the trade show floor as I recall.

It was a beautiful summer morning. Strolling briskly down the center of each aisle, I purposefully avoided direct eye contact at all cost. The last thing I really needed was a siren-like enticement to spend from my nearly overspent budget.

As I navigated the main aisle, an engaging voice reached out to my left ear.  “Have you ever seen one of these?” The vendor waved his outstretched hand almost mystically towards a large color monitor.  “There’s everything your sales force will ever need… all in one place” Immediately entranced, I followed his index finger upon the virtual tour.

“Let me show you the campus…here is the lecture hall where all your online courses will be available 24/10, beside it is the library where your learners can access any pertinent documents that they may need and right across the quad is the admin building where your students can take their exams, we call it an Online University”

“Interesting”, I replied, “Very interesting. Those were the last words that I can recall before applying to and being accepted into my first Virtual University. I truly believed that I had entered elearning nirvana and that all my online learning and administrative prayers had been answered.

It was only after I had enrolled and graduated with honors from this institute of higher learning that I began to notice a few performance deficiencies associated with my alma mater. As my experience with online learning and administration grew, I experienced a bit of an epiphany. What I needed was a system that managed not only curriculum, but also in-the-field activities.

A system that would let me step beyond managing classes, coursework, exams and documents to a system that would allow our sales training department to quickly and efficiently create processes and tools to track and support the critical activities and infield performance of our sales teams.

I had a few specific items on my wish list; I wanted a system that was:

1. Activity centered- I wanted to be able to quickly create processes online and track their completion.  I wanted to reach beyond course and exam compliance to being able to track the completion of activities and the application of learned information.

2. Able to offer multiple views – As our use of online education and communication grew, I realized that we were serving multiple groups with ever-changing needs. I wanted the ability to quickly change any individual’s view according to their position, title, initiative, etc..

3. Less dependent on “Tech Support”- I wanted to be able to manage and make small changes from my desktop. For most of what was being asked of us, there was no time to sit and wait in an Information Technology “Queue”.  I needed a system that both our internal staff and field force could contribute to and manage if necessary.

Although I didn’t know it at the time, what I was describing was a Performance Management System. A performance Management System could best be described as an online system that can be quickly and easily modified to distribute, support and track processes, whatever those processes may be. However, if well designed, can offer much more than just process tracking.

Performance Management systems differ from online universities or large scale Learning Management Systems in that they are focused not on the completion of classes or curriculum but rather on the support of work performance.

In many cases, a performance management system can take on some of the responsibilities of an Online University or LMS or merely support or compliment an already existing system.

It wasn’t until a few years after the commencement speech that I stumbled upon my first performance management system. I was working with a vendor of management development training who was having a tough time answering my questions about how we were going to assure follow-up after the workshop.

“Here, why don’t you call this company? He said as he handed me a slightly crumpled business card, “I understand that they have sort of a cutting-edge system that I think might help” I did make the call and was thankfully introduced to my first performance management system.

I immediately recognized the system as an answer to many of our long-standing training problems.  Not only did it meet the “Wish list” requirements, but also it allowed us to design and track literally any process that we could dream up. It also allowed us to push communications out to the field along with corresponding follow-up activities.

Our first application was with the tracking of our management development process, but we quickly began to use it for a variety of different needs and projects. Some of the more noteworthy projects included:

New Hire Training

Newly hired sales reps would receive a full box of sales training “Stuff”. This “stuff” included paper-based calendars, training materials and directions. Implementation was handled primarily by an infield trainer who would track completion of the training activities.

Training process compliance was an ongoing issue. A new hires learning process often varied according to the priorities of the in field trainer and sales manager. The variations in the self-paced phase of training created inconsistencies in the knowledge acquisition process. Consequently, representatives were often ill-prepared for the “In-house” portion of their development. Updating the materials and filling and shipping the “Training boxes” also created an additional administrative burden.

All paper-based materials and processes were transferred to the performance management system.  This gave us the additional capabilities of tracking the mastery of the materials as well as managing online testing and competency measurement.

The online performance approach resulted in markedly improved learning outcomes and preparation for the in-house training phase.  It also streamlined administrative tasks while allowing desktop updating and reduction of “Training Box” materials. Additionally, the system featured automatic reporting, this allowed all trainers and managers to pinpoint each learner’s progress in the learning process.

Product Launch

The launch and co-promotion of a new infused biopharmaceutical. Our partner led the launch and developed the training materials and process.  We were tasked with utilizing their materials and duplicating their launch activities with our infield team.

Training Materials were being delivered to us in both paper-based and electronic forms. Product Launch and training completion dates were in constant flux. Online testing was to be conducted by a third-party firm who charged $8.80 per test. This cost alone was estimated to run over $80,000.

Our performance management system allowed us to accommodate multiple types of media and vary the dates for the delivery and completion of learning modules. It also allowed us to provide specific views for individuals. For example, it allowed us to share information and views with our medical science liaisons or sales managers that could not be shared with the sales representatives.

The product launch was a great success. The ability to make desktop changes and updates allowed us to accommodate the ever shifting dates and timelines. Additionally, the online testing capability of our system eliminated the need for the testing vendor and saved the $80,000.

Market Survey

Senior management wanted to quickly explore the feasibility of a new idea and product market. They wanted our hospital sales team to survey their customer base to investigate the total potential target market for a pain medication that was currently being promoted by one of our other divisions.

Due to the time sensitive nature of the initiative, it was imperative that we quickly developed a plan to:

•    Communicate the reason for the survey
•    Define the collection/implementation process
•    Distribute a paper-based and electronic version of the survey
•    Track the completion of key survey activities
•    Electronically compile and distribute the results of the survey

Our performance management system allowed us to provide a single online site for our hospital sales team that explained the reason for the survey, defined the data collection process, provided both an electronic and paper-based copy of the survey, tracked the completion of their survey activities and then automatically compiled the results of their surveys.

The survey execution and data collection process was a success and provided senior management with the justification that they needed to feel confident in proceeding with product promotion in a new untapped market.

The above are but a few of the uses for a performance management system. I’ve personally used it for applications as diverse as support for a national sales meeting, product and competitive news, how-to video clips for a wide variety of tasks, video clips from opinion leaders, online knowledge testing, sales skills reinforcement and the development of a “Sales Portal” to deliver product and training information.

When I think back through the years on all the systems and programs that I’ve implemented to drive sales performance, I can honestly say that my decision to adopt a Performance Management System has absolutely been one of the most significant.

If I can answer any questions or you’d like to share your own story about online systems, please contact me at the email address below.

If there’s one thing that my online education journey has taught me it is this… if you’re starting to feel a bit trapped by the virtual, ivy-covered walls of your Online University…it may be time to graduate!

Rick Simoni is the founder and president of The Sales Company, a San Diego-based organization specializing in the development of sales force competency and performance.  Rick has over 15 years of experience in the design and delivery and execution of world-class development interventions. He has worked for leading medical manufacturers including Johnson & Johnson, Élan Pharmaceuticals and Beckman Instruments.