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How to Design a Complex Training Curriculum in 10 Steps

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We’ve barely gotten past the title and this article is already misleading. Make no mistake: there’s nothing simple about designing a complex training curriculum. And it takes more than 10 steps.

These days, we find ourselves working with more and more clients who need support with a major product launch or another rollout of some kind. These projects are huge in scope. Hours of training must be created for a wide range of learner roles.

Situations like these can make tools like our learner persona worksheet a little less useful, to be honest. What’s the point of spending lots of time analyzing the target learner and creating a persona when there are 10+ personas that need to be created? Who has the budget for that? When we took participants through a learner persona activity in our Sales Enablement and Beyond Webinar, the feedback was “We don’t have time create personas because there would be too many. Training can never be designed to meet the needs of all of these personas!”

These challenges are real. But they don’t change the fact that organizations have major product launches, and they need to teach a wide variety of roles (sales, support, customers, etc) how to use these products. For example, a medical device launch needs to include training for sales reps, support technicians, MSLs, every HCP who interacts with the device, and sometimes even patients. Oftentimes this only scratches the surface. For example, a recent medical device product launch we supported had 14 different roles that needed training!

Here is a generalized version of the steps we take when designing a complex training curriculum for a client.

1. Clarify the process

Most product launches have aspects of their timeline that are already set. Is there a launch meeting already scheduled? When is the medical device first used with a patient? These touch points should be included in the curriculum design, with learning solutions created to support them.

2. Identify the roles

Make stakeholders agree on what roles are impacted by the product launch. As I mentioned above, it’s not uncommon for a medical device or pharma launch to have 10+ roles that need some form of training. It will take time to winnow down what training each role really needs, but listing them all out is a good way to start.

3. Look for ways to group similar roles

Every role probably has its own unique characteristics. But are there any obvious groupings? For example, you could group all employees of the medical device company together as one group and all HCPs as a separate group. To get more granular, try separating sales roles from service roles, surgeons and doctors from RNs and healthcare support staff, etc.

4. Figure out who does what, when

This is where things get a little more complicated. You’ll need to map out all the steps each role takes when interacting with the product. How do they sell it, support it, or use it with patients? Are they already slated to attend a product launch meeting or separate training event for HCPs?

5. Decide what success looks like

This part of the process is pretty standard for most learning and performance consulting methods. Before going further, you need to know what your overall training goal is and what learners must know, do, believe or avoid doing to reach that goal.

You might easily have over 100+ individual learning objectives for a complex product launch curriculum. You can reduce the complexity by grouping similar learning objectives into sub-topics.

6. Look for overlapping objectives

Once you have defined learning objectives for each role, you will probably notice some commonalities. For example, Role A, B and C might all have some learning objectives in common. These objectives can be covered in a single learning solution that all of the roles take. For solutions like these, it is important to think about how to branch the learning by role. For example, pre-work eLearning can allow learners to self-select their role and see content that is relevant to them.

7. Map out solutions for one key role

Start with a role that has the most learning objectives to meet. Map out a learning pathway that works within the product launch activities already scheduled, such as the product launch meeting or a training event for HCPs. Consider how pre-work can be used to introduce key objectives, and how training reinforcement tools can sustain the learning.

8. Continue with a second role

Now that you have mapped a learning path for your most hands-on role, try the same process with a second role. This time, look for ways to use the training events and modules you envisioned for the first role to also meet the needs of the second role. Is it possible to make the eLearning role-based, so learners select their role when they begin and take a personalized version of the training? For in-person meetings, can breakout sessions be used to split learners into relevant groups? It’s possible that the modules you imagined for the first role might change to accommodate the needs of another role.

9. Add other roles, opting out as needed

You’ll now be working down a list of learner roles who most likely need less training than your primary roles. Look for places where the learning objectives for these roles overlap with the primary roles. If a module exists with objectives this role does not need to meet, let them skip it. If they have unique objectives that have not yet been covered, consider a learning solution that can help them meet these objectives. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a course; a reinforcement app or tutorial library might do the trick.

10. Create a curriculum map

Sound like lots of information to organize? It is! If you put the learning path of every role on a single chart, it would be almost unreadable. This is why we often create an interactive curriculum map to show the product launch phases and training modules for each role. An interactive map is advantageous because you can click a specific role to only see their learning path.

4 Steps to Sales Enablement Success Using Games

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Sales training professionals play a critical role in their organizations. Whether an organization has highly educated reps selling complex products or sales representatives helping customers in a high turnover retail environment, sales enablement is the key to a healthy sales pipeline.

We find that many organizations have similar challenges when it comes to sales enablement. They need their reps to communicate value, not features and benefits, through asking the right questions and telling a compelling story. They need to avoid competing on price, which is what customers use to make decisions when they can’t tell any real difference in value. And they need to quickly ramp up on new products after they are launched.

These challenges are amplified in the competitive, highly regulated life science and medical device space. If you come from an organization in this space, you are faced with providing excellent sales enablement plus navigating issues such as the healthcare shift from volume to value, a more complex sales process and a shift from 1:1 selling to physicians to strategic account management and selling to the C-suite.

It all comes down to this: Preparing sales reps and account managers for success in an increasingly challenging environment.

It takes a blend of learning solutions to meet most sales enablement objectives, but game-based learning is often part of the mix. For example, a sales enablement curriculum about a new product might include gamified online learning as prework, games and roleplay activities at the launch event and a mobile reinforcement game available post-launch.

If you think a game will work well with your reps, consider the following:

1. What is my business objective?

This should come before anything else!

2. Who are my learners?

Learner Personas, similar to Buyer Personas, provide a semi-fictionalized representation of your target learners. Take the time to create rock-solid personas before designing the training itself.

3. What are my learning objectives?

As with any learning solution, you must have a clear picture of what reps should know/do/believe/avoid doing after the training. This will impact the design of your game.

4. What game mechanics/elements best link to my learning objectives?

Once you know your learning objectives, match them to the game mechanics and game elements that best support those objectives. You should also use your learner persona(s) to decide what type of game your target learners will most benefit from.

Access our recorded webinar to learn more

We cover this information and more in our Sales Enablement and Beyond webinar. It’s part of our ongoing Lessons on Learning Webinar Series.

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!

How to Integrate Product Knowledge Into Your Launch Curriculum

It’s here! The time has come! Your company’s new product is about to launch and it’s time for the launch event. Reps are flown in from all over the country, or the world, to learn about the new product they will be selling. Excitement is high and, ideally, reps will leave enthusiastic and ready to sell. But amidst all the hype, what will they actually take away from the meeting? What will they learn?

Most importantly, will your reps be ready to effectively sell that new product after a day of information sharing? Probably not.

When a new product launches, a huge assortment of new facts and knowledge must be internalized by the reps who will sell and support it. Many product launches consist of a single in-person launch meeting, as described above, or series of regional meetings. Reps receive the new information and are expected to leave the meeting start applying it in customer conversations.

If the organization is highly spread out, the local and country-specific groups will have to make sure the information is accurate and up-to-date as well. This is a tall order.

So in the midst all of the excitement that surrounds a product launch, what is the best way to present the new knowledge to sales reps? How will they become familiar with features and benefits, strengths and weaknesses, and ways to position the product against competitors?

Our Product launch framework

In her white paper on learning solutions that support product launches, Nancy Harkness presents the product launch curriculum as a set of learning solutions broken into three parts. We use this framework with most of our clients:

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Product knowledge has a place in each one of these three parts. The key is placing the right amount of detail in each phase of the launch.

Turn Product Knowledge Into Pre-work

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In the curricula we design and develop, we typically teach basic facts and introductory knowledge via a series of prelaunch solutions. These solutions are usually online and consist of eLearning courses, games, videos, and mobile apps. Reps can start learning about the new product in small chunks whenever it is convenient for them to do so. This way, they arrive at the launch meeting with at least some exposure to the new product knowledge and competitive landscape before face-to-face activities begin.

Cover the Highlights During Launch

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While product knowledge is emphasized heavily in the prelaunch online solutions, we also design in-person activities that reinforce key takeaways during the launch. A product launch event should go far beyond a lecture format and include a variety of hands-on activities, breakout sessions, and games to achieve lasting impact. Only key product and competitor information should be discussed in the launch meeting; information that is “nice to know” should be reserved for resources they can find and locate on the job.

Continuous Reinforcement Via Reference Tools

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Most of the product launches we support are for highly complex products. No matter how effective the courses, games, and in-person activities are, reps are bound to forget certain details without proper reinforcement. Some product information might change over time as well, so organizations need a way to push new content to the reps.

To keep product knowledge top of mind, a content management system can be used to make key guides, videos, and job aids easy to find. In most cases, making these resources mobile-friendly is an absolute necessity for on-the-go sales reps.

View our Product Launch Webinar Recording

Leanne Batchelder and myself partnered with Training Magazine to present a webinar on product launch learning solutions. Learn more and view the recording below.

Designing a Product Launch Curriculum

This is an excerpt from our white paper, Learning Solutions and Your Product Launch: The Secret to Success. Here is a section on designing product launch curriculums:


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Designing the curriculum

Every launch curriculum is different, and has different needs based on what learners currently know, what the product is, etc. For some companies, the launch training begins years before the launch meeting, as the audience needs to learn a variety of foundational information before they even get to the new product information. In other cases, the launch training happens in a compact window right before the product launches in the market.

Many companies define a launch with the internal launch meeting: an event several weeks or months before the external launch that gets sales representatives and others ready for the external launch. Given the “launch meeting” model, we find that there are three phases to the launch training that help ensure success.

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Prelaunch training

Prelaunch training establishes fundamental facts, processes and knowledge. Take learning facts out of the launch meeting itself – it is not the best use of the face-to-face environment. This phase should also focus on facts that learners need to know, not look up – if they can look it up, teach them the skill of looking it up, and give them the right tools to do so quickly. Don’t waste your time having them memorize things that don’t have to be memorized.

Launch meeting

Spend this time on face to face interaction: practice, feedback, talking, doing. If your learners need to assemble equipment, for instance, have them learn about it in prelaunch – and practice as much as possible – but the real assembly often is best performed in person, where real-time coaches can provide feedback. The same is true for many steps in the sales process – learn about features and benefits in the pre-launch training, but practice putting them together and talking with customers about them during the launch meeting itself. Meetings are also a great place to break into groups, plan customer interactions (including managing objections), practice, debrief and practice again.

Post-launch meeting reinforcement

Arguably, this is the most-forgotten and most-critical part of the entire launch process. The learning doesn’t end until the learner is using the knowledge/skills on the job. If you are able to leave the launch meeting and start selling the next day, great! More often, there will be a space of time before the knowledge and skills will be used, and the post-launch reinforcement is critical to making sure they don’t forget. This is a great time to provide further application and practice opportunities—new scenarios or actual customers.

Even after the product is being sold and used, there is often a more advanced level of knowledge or skill needed that couldn’t be taught in the launch meeting because of time, availability, and brain capacity — now is the time for that training, too. And think about just-in-time reference, and training for people who start after the launch meeting.

Tools

Develop reference tools for learners to use to look up the non-critical information quickly and effectively. Ideally, use them in all three phases of training:

  • Prelaunch: have them look up information as part of the prelaunch training; explain them in a staff meeting; ask for feedback on them in preparation for actual field use.
  • Launch meeting: Use them as information sources or proof sources during activities in the meeting; give out “official” versions, whether electronically or in person; practice answering questions quickly using the tools.
  • Postlaunch: send out scenarios for which they have to use the reference materials; gather stories about on-the-job use and share; update and share changes as product and customer information evolve.

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?