Learning management systems are often integrated with the channel to manage a channel development strategy. However, it's not always helpful.
How Improving Performance Differs from Delivering Training
First, let’s get on the same page as to what most of us are trying to achieve in the channel: We’re trying to increase sales, improve service, drive down costs and improve customer satisfaction.To do this, we need to optimize the performance of the sales, service and management teams in our channel. We need to optimize performance; not just provide training. Although training is important in optimizing performance, it is but a single component in a performance optimization strategy.
A true performance solution is comprised of the Four Cornerstones of Performance Improvement: Communication, Education, Motivation, and Measurement; but I added a fifth component that’s extremely important to your channel—Alignment! The point is this: if you want to optimize performance you need to deliver a true performance based solution that incorporates all pieces of the performance improvement puzzle.
How Developing a Channel Differs from Developing Employees
Clearly the most significant difference is that your target audience in the channel is independent (indirect). Most of them do not work for you. Instead they work for an independent business such as a dealer, distributor or a franchise. In most cases, they are widely distributed regionally, nationally and often globally.
Consequently, the sales and service people within your channel rarely are in contact with the mother ship. They exist like distant planets in your business solar system. If you wish to reach, manage, and develop these audiences you will need to focus on a single touch point and be certain to make your systems easy-to-use. Remember, these are independent businesses and they can ignore your training and development should they chose to do so.
Employees, on the other hand, are “reached” every day by their direct managers. They are constantly communicated with through meetings, phone calls, interpersonal contact on campus, company publications, performance reviews, and more. They are also usually mandated to take your training. This means that a single touch point and ease-of-use are not nearly as critical as in the channel. No employee ever said “I quit!” because they didn’t like your learning management system. The same cannot be said of the channel.This is the bottom line: whether you are developing employees or the channel, you are delivering the performance methodology. The difference is that with employees you are delivering this through multiple means and ease-of use is not a critical driving factor. While in contrast, to effectively reach, manage and develop your channel you really need an integrated, easy-to-use solution. You simply do not have the “touch points” with your channel that will allow you to deliver a performance-based methodology through multiple mechanisms.
Learning Management Systems were designed based upon the ideology of the 1990’s and are primarily built to deliver formal training for employee populations. They’re good at doing this, but not at much else. As we learned in the previous sections this is less than ideal for channel development where a single touch point is all you can count on to reach, manage and develop your channel.
Contextual Performance Improvement—The Solution for the Channel
As we learned in the previous sections, the channel is not inclined to invest a lot of effort into accessing your training and development systems. If it’s not simple to access everything they need, when they need it, and from a single point of access, you will quickly loose them. You basically have one shot at reaching them and that shot better deliver against all four cornerstones. To deliver less will result in an under-performing channel.
Forrester Research laid out what they refer to as the four phases of learning in a recent presentation. They focus on what they refer to as the emerging “4th Generation,” which is a contextual learning phase. This means that we must provide training and development solutions within the “context” of a person’s everyday business activities.
All facets of the Four Cornerstones, along with Alignment, must be delivered through a single touch point that’s easy-to-use and provides both formal and informal methods of learning—all of which must be available within “one click” of the users’ business activities.
While learning management systems are excellent for delivering formal training to an employee audience, they are ineffective at meeting the unique requirements of the distribution channel. To meet these requirements, a solution must integrate all facets of a performance methodology into a single system available through a single touch point. It must be easy-to-use, deliver both formal and informal training, and must function in a contextual manner delivering all training and knowledge within a single click.