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Why Product Managers Should Include Training in Their Launch Plan

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Everyone like surprises – at least good surprises like surprise birthday parties, surprise company lunches at work, finding a surprise twenty dollars in your jeans, etc. Then there are bad surprises… like when you take that first sip of coffee and it’s way too hot or when your computer crashes at work and you lose everything.


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And then there’s the really bad surprise when you’re a product manager and you find out your company’s sales reps are misrepresenting the product you so carefully developed!

When sales reps don’t have the knowledge and skills they need to sell your new products, all the time and money you spent goes down the drain. So how do you avoid bad surprises when you’re planning your next product launch?

Training. More Training. And reinforcement, too.

Most sales reps don’t receive sufficient training on new products they are expected to sell. They rely on marketing collateral and PowerPoints to learn, which barely scratches the surface. And when sales reps don’t know how to effectively articulate the value of a new product, they wind up missing opportunities with buyers.

However, the right training can make a significant impact on the success of your launch. It has to be designed in a way that helps learners remember by teaching and reinforcing key skills and knowledge. You have to identify what you want sales reps to learn and when to introduce each learning objective in the curriculum. Then decide how and when to reinforce this knowledge.

We recommend a three-phase product launch training model:

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Product launch training examples

Keeping with our theme of three, here are three examples of product launches where we worked with product managers to help them create and sustain a successful product launch:

1. Gamified Product Launch uses the power of story

Our client partnered with us to design a gamified blended learning curriculum for the launch of its innovative medical product. In addition to custom eLearning and instructor-led components, our Knowledge Guru platform was used to engage participants, reinforce knowledge and assess knowledge transfer prior to the launch events.

The Goal: Sales reps and accounts managers can effectively uncover unmet needs and convey the value proposition of the product to meet those unmet needs through the use of powerful and compelling stories.

The Results: The training curriculum has driven strong business results and has set a new organizational standard for product launch training at our client’s organization.

See the curriculum

2. Launch with innovative theme connects learning through all three phases

A life science company was about to have a global product launch with a highly complex product. The product launch training curriculum we developed used a three-part framework to drive knowledge retention long after launch. The training used a fun racing theme throughout.

The Goal: Sales reps can confidently communicate the points of differentiation that drive the value of the product based on each customer’s needs.

The Results: The client is getting ready for another global product launch, and is using the same structure and methodology because of its “proven success.”

See the curriculum

3. Global launch uses performance support, video, and games to support reps

We worked with a life science company to create a three-phased launch with easy-to-access performance support tools and engaging pre-work.

The Goal: Make sales reps both confident and competent.

The Results: Sales reps were excited by the training and launch countries invited to the pilot chose to use the materials, translating the global versions with minimal customizations.

See the curriculum

Product Launch Training Template

We have created a simple worksheet that allows you to go through the process of planning a product launch curriculum using the three-phase launch model pictured above. At the end of the worksheet, we included ten characteristics of a successful product launch curriculum to help you visualize what type of learning solutions might be used in each phase.

The worksheet is available for free download here.

10 Steps to Successful Product Launch Training

We often support clients with complex products to bring to market. The product launch training can be even more complex. With so many different customer types and messages, it can be a lot to cover.

So if you want your training to drive results, it must be carefully designed and implemented. Doing one without the other is a sure way to fail.

Careful consideration must be made to identify the right goals during the design phase, get necessary buy-in and design solutions that help the right groups of learners acquire the right knowledge and skills at the right time.

Characteristics of Successful Product Launch Training

Every product launch curriculum design project is different, but certain characteristics remain consistent across most projects. Product launch curriculums that have these characteristics are much more likely to contribute to a successful product launch.

1. Performance-focused

A successful product launch curriculum will have a clear, measurable, actionable performance outcome. Also, the outcome typically focuses on a specific metric the organization desires to achieve.

2. Instructional goal(s)

In addition to a performance outcome, the curriculum should have a clear instructional goal. The goal will guide the creation of learning objectives for the various solutions in the curriculum.

3. Organized into topics

Since most product launches are complex and relate to multiple different job types, the content must be chunked into topics. Branding should be created around each topic that is consistent throughout the curriculum. This will help learners make easy connections.

4. Organized into phases

We design most product launch curriculums around three main phases: pre-launch, launch, and post-launch. Pre-launch materials present introductory concepts, product knowledge, and competitor information. Launch provides an opportunity for hands-on practice and a time for building some “buzz.” Finally, post-launch focuses on reinforcement and usually includes just-in-time reference tools.

5. Includes multiple learning paths

It’s highly unlikely that all of the employees who will take your product launch training have the exact same role or position. Make sure your product launch training materials are relevant and customized to each target audience: managers, sales, support and sometimes even the end user.

6. Broken into chunks

You likely have multiple topics to cover in your product launch training. Consider breaking the topics into manageable chunks, and spread them out in the different phases. Varying levels of detail should be present in each phase, but the content must all connect.

7. Blended

New product launches, especially when the product is complex, are too important to deliver through a single format. So we recommend a blended learning approach that combines eLearning, games, video, apps, instructor-led training, and performance support tools into a cohesive collection of learning solutions.

8. Supported throughout the organization

Your L&D department or an external vendor cannot create effective product launch training materials without buy-in and information from your marketing and product development departments. Sales will also want buy-in on the approaches used to train reps.

9. Helpful to on-site trainers

You will need to include “train the trainer” sessions in your curriculum so that individuals are prepared to lead the on-site activities at your product launch event. These learners will have special needs that differ from those of individual reps.

10. Measured with assessments

It is important that facilitators can accurately determine the progress learners make. You can also show learners the progress they have made throughout the curriculum with an assessment, which helps motivate them to continue. Finally, you can show stakeholders that the product launch curriculum has been effective.

Putting it all together

By executing on these ten characteristics, you can be sure that your product launch will be a success. Sales reps will go out with the confidence and competence they need to succeed.

But some of these tips can be harder to implement than others. It’s important to communicate the value that this training can provide to all stakeholders. We know it can be hard to drum up the extra resources needed to reinforce the learning, but what’s the alternative? Sales reps forgetting that customer type B has no need for product feature A and blowing a six-figure sale.

So now that we’ve covered the bases, reach out to us if you need any help planning, creating, or implementing your own product launch training.

Need help getting started? Our Product Launch Training Template will help you identify learning objectives and practice structuring a product launch curriculum.

Your Product Launch Training Questions Answered

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Recently, several hundred people joined Leanne Batchelder and myself for a webinar on product launch training. Hosted through Training Magazine Network, the session is called Learning Solutions and Your Product Launch: How a Curriculum Drives Success.

This was one of the best webinars I have helped present because of the quality of questions participants asked. Clearly, product launch training is a high-priority issue in many organizations. People are eager for new tools and approaches to make it easier.

Take life science and medical device companies, for example. In the article 5 Trends in Life Science Learning, which appears in the Spring ’15 issue of LTEN’s Focus Magazine, authors Ann Stott and Rich Mesch list “Rethinking product launches” as their number one trend. The reality is that organizations across many industries have an ever-growing number of new products to launch each year. With less budget available for each individual launch, yet more information for sales reps to learn than ever before, there is a huge need for effective product launch training strategies.

If you missed the webinar, I encourage you to access the recorded session or download the white paper. We answered as many questions as we could during the webinar both to the whole group and through the chat, but we were not able to get to everything. I pulled more questions out of the chat transcript and have answered them below.

Your Product Launch training Questions Answered

Question: What are the audiences that should be trained? What about customer training?

Answer: What roles are involved in selling, supporting and using your product? We typically conduct an analysis to determine what the different roles are to be trained. It typically includes sales reps, sales managers, marketing managers and possibly customers.

Question: Product owners often believe that EVERYTHING about the product is critical. Whose word do you take to sift critical from reference, etc?

Answer: We gather lots of information from front-line staff through interviews, surveys, focus groups, etc to find out what information they actually need to use on the job. We take these findings and share them with the key stakeholder(s). When you have the data to back you up, it is easier to convince a product owner what is truly critical versus just nice to know.

Question: Reinforcement has different meanings. Can you tell more what you mean by reinforcement?

Answer: Learners need an easy way to reference product features, benefits and competitor information long after the launch has ended. This should be in an easy-to-access location. However, just providing access is not enough. We often recommend creating a “culture of reinforcement” by positioning key employees as “product champions” who proactively share product information and re-focus reps on the product post-launch. Other times, the local countries will have control over reinforcement and you will just have to provide them with tools.

Question: How do you address the learner who scoffs at games? Do you develop a more traditional information dissemination option for the ones who take themselves so seriously?

Answer: It would be far too resource-intensive to make two parallel tracks. Your analysis should help uncover what the right approach is for your learners. If your learners are divided into multiple roles, you will likely be presenting different information to each role. This could be an opportunity to modify an approach slightly for each group… but you will run into budget issues if you create completely different solutions for everyone. The research, and our experience, shows us that games or gamified approaches work very well especially with the sales and marketing audiences. Learners that stakeholders believe will not respond well to games actually do quite well with them.

Question: How long did it take to create the product launch training curriculum shown?

Answer: It took 9 months to design and develop that 2nd global product launch project. Analysis took 3 months, and development of all the tools took 6 months—including the pilot and train the trainer. Timeline is really dependent on availability and stability of content, access to the actual product and number of reviews. We had a team of 5 on our end—Project Mgr, Instructional Designer, Writer, Programmer and Graphic Designer. Sometimes one person can play multiple roles depending on the tool.

Question: Can the prelaunch be ongoing in regards to content? If parts of the product being launched are still being finalized but other parts are solid, can you begin the prelaunch training and build onto it after the remaining parts are solid?

Answer: I think you could do that as long as you’re absolutely certain you are not going to have to go back and rewrite something based on new decisions made to the product. We often stagger our development deliverables, as this helps ease the burden of reviewing so many components at one time. We also want to be sure we are consistent in naming conventions, branding, product messaging across all tools. You don’t want to risk slight variations of content that could confuse learners. Organization is key!

Time for Training? 11 Rules for a Better Product Launch

Launching a product? The following is an excerpt from Nancy’s Harkness’ new white paper: Learning Solutions and Your Product Launch: The Secret to Success


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There are as many ways to learn about a new product as there are new products! Consider the following decision points:

Prelaunch Training:

  1. If you are limited on time, specifically analyze what learners have to know, versus what they can look up. Focus your training on the few key items that your learners need to know and recall—incorporate practice and repetition as much as you can in your tight timeframe. On a parallel path, create a robust support system so that they can quickly and easily look up what you did not have time to teach them before launch.
  2. If your new launch is similar to one learners have experienced in the past, do not start from the beginning. Use the knowledge they already have—tell them what is the same, and what is different, from what they already know. Reinforce their current knowledge, and focus your repetition and practice on the new or changed information or skills.
  3. When you have a large volume of information to teach, give them time to learn it. Weave the information together to increase retention: teach a new concept, then harken back to a previous concept, then reinforce the new one and move on to a different idea. Make sure you have time to repeat and use the information. It is tempting to touch on each concept once and move on because you have “so much to cover.” Do not give in to temptation! In most cases, mentioning something once makes the teacher feel better, but it does nothing for the learner. They forget unless they repeat, use, and get feedback.
  4. Use stories, not bullets, to help learners learn. Can you create a metaphor for your key product concept? Do you have customer success stories to share? Can you create a learning agent to guide the learner through the launch? Give learners a story to connect the product to real usage!
  5. Prelaunch training used to be dry—a set of fact sheets or a series of research results. Facts and research results are often critical to product launch success, yes. But putting them in the context of product success, customer problems and needs, and real-world results takes dry fact and ignites it into memorable learning.

Launch Training:

  1. Whether gathering sales reps for a company-wide meeting or conducting smaller training events, remember that one experience rarely creates lasting change. A launch meeting alone is less successful than a series of events that help learners incorporate the learning into their daily sales or support routines.
  2. Make sure the launch event is a learning event as well as an excitement and entertainment event. Hype only lasts until the next hype; learning creates lasting change.

Post-Launch Training:

  1. Post-launch training is better called “using launch information.” If the first use is long after the launch event is over, how do learners practice between the event and real life? What normal events—meetings, training, conversations, newsletters—incorporate the new information and skills? How can reinforcement become part of the way you do business?
  2. If your product launch is delayed after training, what are you doing to keep the information in memory? Do your learners need to retrieve it and use it on a regular basis? Are you expanding their knowledge base and skill level as you learn more in anticipation of your launch? Or, if they do forget, how will you reestablish their learning later?
  3. What are you doing to support the efforts of local leaders? What are their learning priorities, and how are you making them happen?
  4. As you begin launch planning, think about follow-up systems. Is a key skill finding information after launch quickly? If so, build the support system first and incorporate using it into every aspect of the launch… don’t just save it as an afterthought.

Learning Solutions and Your Product Launch: The Secret to Success (White Paper)

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Your product might be ready to launch, but what about your sales and support reps? A slick launch meeting is not enough for them to really know your product, and a quick skim of your marketing collateral is not the ideal preparation for talking to customers.

The time, effort, and energy that goes in to a product launch are too valuable to waste. No matter how good your product and its message are, its success or failure will still rest in the hands of your sales and support teams. They must have the skills and knowledge to make the launch successful.

Nancy Harkness, Vice President of Learning Services at Bottom-Line Performance, has authored a new white paper on the use of a curriculum to support a product launch. In Learning Solutions and Your Product Launch, Nancy draws on her work with some of our largest clients to explain what a curriculum is, what it can do, and how an effective curriculum is often the secret to a successful product launch.

What you’ll learn

  • What is a curriculum, and how a blend of learning solutions can work together to reinforce product knowledge, selling skills and proficient usage of a product.
  • What a curriculum can do to help learners build skills and knowledge around what they sell and support. You’ll also see what a curriculum is not meant to do… like change the market environment or fix a bad product.
  • What you need to know to develop a curriculum starting with a broad vision, measurable goals and a realistic picture of the circumstances surrounding your launch.
  • How to design a curriculum using a repeatable three-part framework that drives knowledge and skills retention.
  • How to avoid common mistakes that can derail a curriculum design project, and the steps we have taken with our clients to turn challenge areas into successes.
  • Rules for a better launch that offer specific guidance for your product launch curriculum.

Are you ready to launch yet?