Tell me if you’ve heard this one before …
You find out that your CEO has declared that all customer-facing teams need to be trained on the product … immediately. The Customer Education team has been tasked to accomplish this.
A common driver of this is as follows: As your company has grown, the number of people who intimately know your product has fallen. Maybe there were layoffs or attrition. Customer facing team members can’t tie customer value to features or don’t feel equipped to deliver a demo. For many smaller teams, this often requires putting any plans on hold.
So what do you do?
This article provides a guide for handling this request.
Step 0: Breathe
If you're like a lot of training people you have a very "operations" mindset. This means you like to plan and are resourceful. Unexpected or disruptive projects might make you want to flip a table.
But take a beat. These kinds of projects are huge opportunities. The door is being opened to the C-Suite and if the mandate comes from the CEO, it is a great chance to develop that relationship.
Before responding to this project, recognize that indeed it might be a different path than you expected, but it can also be a major tactical opportunity.
Show up like a professional.
These doors might only open once.
Step 1: Clarify
When this request comes up, be sure to clarify very specifically what the goal of the training is. If possible, reach out to the CEO directly and share a 3-sentence blurb about how you understand the request. Get them to agree or modify this request. You will use this specific clarification later as a stick to fend off other teams from adding in their adjacent or unrelated priorities.
To move quickly, you need a very small, very well-defined bullseye.
If you can’t put the objective in 2-3 sentences or the goal definition is different across multiple leaders, then resist building anything until you get word from the person or team making the request.
Step 2: Align
One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to charge off into this project on your own. When CEO-level initiatives like this are started, it’s common for multiple teams to all react independently in an effort to show they are responsive. This leads to duplication of effort and territorial disputes which can both be frustrating and slow the process down.
Look for people who represent gate keepers in the process of delivering internal training, particularly to sales and customer success. Common gate keepers are people who:
Own the sales enablement calendar
Influence sales operations priorities
Own the partner program
Own product marketing
Even though the CEO may have authority over a company, these people retain significant positional power. They have numbers to hit and many competing priorities. Involving them in the process as advisors will help you move quickly.
Setup a kickoff meeting
As soon as you learn about your new high priority project, set up a kickoff meeting with at least the sales enablement leader and product marketing leader. They likely have a rigid schedule of planned activities which will be disrupted by your training cadence.
Establish the schedule
In your kickoff meeting, identify a few times on the calendar when your training can be delivered. These will become the box you need to fit your training into. The goal is to create as little disruption as possible.
Identify regular team meetings
You will need to announce the dates, plans, and expectations as quickly as possible. Not everyone will have heard the new mandate. Ask all customer facing teams when they meet and ask for 5 minutes on their agenda at the next meeting. Ideally this will be at the beginning of the meeting. Try not to be pushed to the end and promise you’ll stay within your 5-minute time allotment.
Start work on a baseline quiz
Create a 20-question quiz that consists of questions a person should not be able to answer unless they either have a deep understanding of the product or have completed your training. Make these questions either multiple choice or true/ false. Don’t have open field text questions.
You will use this same baseline quiz twice. Deliver it prior to the training and immediately following the training. See below to learn why you should do this.
Step 3: Communicate
Make sure people are aware of what is coming. Even in small companies, when a CEO says something needs to be done immediately, it often means that it will take a few weeks to actually launch. Use this time to your advantage by communicating clearly & regularly to all teams.
Make a 1-page presentation that summarizes your training initiative. Plan to deliver this directly or via a team leader. The slide should consist of the following:
Links to relevant resources
People likely won’t take any action and that is okay. An awareness communication is done to accomplish just that: Make people aware.
Plan to join the team meetings again a week or a few days prior to the start of the training activity. Remind people about the expectations and share a link to the baseline quiz.
Step 4: Design & deliver
You should assume that the majority of attendees will not have completed any prerequisites. The goal is not to measure compliance to your expectations and process, but rather knowledge of the product. Prerequisites will help some folks but others may show up completely fresh.
Require 100% completion of the baseline quiz
Before you begin your training, make sure everyone has completed the baseline quiz. This will be used to measure the impact of your training. It is not optional. You will need people’s names or email, and their score.
Require people demonstrate the material
It helps to have a final activity or demonstration as the goal of the training. Passive learning is easy to ignore if the stakes aren’t high. And the point of this kind of training is to equip your learners with the ability to speak externally about the product.
Have a real customer interaction
If possible, arranging to have someone who represents the customer involved in your training can be an incredible reality check for participants. This might be a sales engineer or someone from the customer success team who used to do that job, or maybe a friendly member of your user community. In many cases, internal team members never speak to a customer unless they are selling or servicing that account. This type of interaction also brings a degree of respectfulness and legitimacy to the learning. A target user backing up what you say brings credibility to the experience.
Step 5: Show your impact
Following the training, have all participants complete the baseline quiz again. You should expect scores prior to the training to be in the 20-30% range. After your training, you should see these numbers up in the 80-90% range.
Create a spreadsheet that shows every individual who was tasked with attending your training, separated by team. Show the following:
Did they attend the training
Score of baseline quiz 1
Score of baseline quiz 2
Then communicate with each executive leader of these teams to ensure you have 100% completion of the baseline quizzes. This is a great opportunity for you to show up at the weekly / monthly executive meetings and elevate your position in the organization.
Expect to do a follow-on training for people who could not make the initial experience. The goal should be to demonstrate that your training moved the average score of the baseline quiz up materially.
If anyone on the executive team questions the value of the quiz, invite them to take it themselves.
How long does this take?
You should plan on this kind of program to take 4-6 weeks to complete at a minimum. This is largely due to scheduling the training and developing alignment across teams. For larger companies, this may take 4 months with multiple training events.
What to avoid
Don’t measure attendance. You need to show a change in knowledge or behavior. The former is easier with a quiz. The latter can be more complex, but if you have solutions such as Bongo, you might be able to do AI-generated scoring of demo videos.
Don’t do this alone. It is very common that these initiatives end up with multiple teams doing duplicative work. Make sure you involve several team leaders before setting your schedule. It is entirely possible someone else might be in a better position to deliver the training or that another similar initiative is already underway that the CEO wasn’t aware of.
Keep the scope narrow. You might find yourself thinking: This is a great opportunity to teach everyone about these other important aspects as well. Or you might have other adjacent teams wanting to expand the scope to account for their own projects. Return to the clarification step and keep things tightly focused on that. If anything, other initiatives are a great opportunity to highlight the need for more recurrent training.