Product Training represents a unique moment in any GTM strategy where the rubber hits the road and teams who can often work towards competing priorities align on bringing innovation to market. A product or feature’s launch success depends on the ability of one side of the organization to communicate their vision internally, align on the end-user benefits, and equip their colleagues with the toolkit that allows them to be successful in the market. Product Training serves as this conduit, a forum to pass the baton of enablement.
Training should be considered in two distinct stages:
- Product Training focuses on the nuts and bolts, or features and benefits, of what you’re delivering to the market. The goal is to transfer an adequate understanding of the fundamentals of how our offering works. This post focuses on Product Training – the transfer of knowledge from the technical to commercial sides of the business and assets that outline how we deliver results.
- Sales Training takes these capabilities and applies them to a user’s problems, equipping sales and CS teams with tangible in-market messaging, techniques, and tools. The objective here is to empower salespeople through the development of skills and exploration of new opportunities. Both activities consider market dynamics, personas, and competition, and both are supported by associated enablement.
Effective Product Training manifests in an efficient GTM strategy, an educated commercial team, and a target market that has been heard and communicated with. While Product Training can be used as a strategic competitive advantage, it also poses the risk of sunken time, organizational misalignment, and undermining GTM flow when done wrong. As a unique forum that ties multiple teams and goals, the stakes are high, and taking the time to get set up for success is a worthwhile effort. Below are 10 hallmarks of effective training strategies that avoid the common pitfalls.
1) Define Success
Taking a tiered approach to KPI measurement of product training enables facilitators to evolve the program over time. Looking at the individual, team, cross-functional, and company levels means that sessions are tailored to individuals, while also being tied to company-wide goals. For example, a key result at the individual level could be to improve product knowledge comfort by 20%, and this would link to a company-wide goal of improving time-to-money of integrations by 5%.
A good training program will affect much more than the obvious mission of a more educated workforce. Success should look at the ability to impact the pipeline, customer NPS, employee development, efficiency gains, retention, time to money, and the list goes on. Off the bat, three good barometers of success are:
- Product Velocity – Post-training, what is the adoption of our new product/feature?
- Knowledge and Skill Retention – Through regular testing and real-life scenario tracking, how well is the audience absorbing and communicating the new information?
- Engagement – How are our internal (employees) and external (prospects) stakeholders responding to the new system and what impact is this having on their KPIs?
As part of this process, it is important to conduct a skills gap analysis to understand our baseline competency, which will steer what direction training takes. Once you’re up and running conduct semi-regular surveys to establish what could be going better and overall satisfaction.
2) Establish your remit
Scope creep is an evergreen threat to clear, concise training. A regular forum with an audience often spanning multiple teams and skillsets is often a hot commodity for multiple stakeholders to get their message across. Before descending into a free-for-all, the Product Training owner should establish a charter that formally outlines the objectives and swim lanes of focus that guide sessions. A sample charter, which touches on several of the components outlined in this article, can be found by filling out the form at the bottom of this article.
Training scope should be determined with heavy involvement from the audience. Modern sales organizations see functions like sales enablement, sales engagement and certification broken into distinct functions. All should be consulted to assess the pain caused by the problem you’re trying to solve and ensure that Product Training is best placed as the forum to deliver a solution.
3) Determine stakeholders and roles
“Should I invite integration engineers for this topic? Why isn’t the CMO in this session? Am I optional for next week?” Determining the role and involvement of everyone in Product Training at an early stage will save a lot of back-and-forth communications. This should be defined on the team level (CS/BD/Product/Engineering/Ops, etc.), as well as the individual level for key input areas.
A basic framework like RAPID decision-making allows everyone to understand their position and responsibility to the broader group, and each stakeholder should have an attendance commitment (mandatory, optional, occasional) ascribed to their persona. For example:
- Owner – Single person in the organization responsible for the agenda, managing all content presented, and executing on all follow-up commitments
- Example: Often owned by Product Marketing/Management
- Referrer – Anyone in the organization who wants to request a topic to be presented. These requests can stem from either the technical or commercial sides of the business.
- Example: Customer Service Representative
- Presenter – The subject matter expert who is best equipped to provide the training OR a surrogate who has been trained by the SME and may have a more relevant lens
- Example: Sales Enablement Manager supported by a PM
- Content Creator – Single person responsible for building all Product Training assets that have a uniform look and feel and clear market-use definition.
- Example: Product Marketing Manager
- Audience – Anyone who should be in the room on a regular basis
- Example: Strategic Partnership Manager
Underpinning this framework is strong executive sponsorship. Training programs, like many organization-wide endeavors, live and die by the enthusiasm and commitment of a senior champion who rallies their team around adoption. New programs should come with a business case that ties activities to business metrics, a clear vision of where we are going, and finally, a launch in partnership with your sponsor(s) to communicate its value to the org.
4) Know your audience
Product Training presents a challenge in translating material from a product-driven focus to a sales-driven focus. This necessitates an understanding of the audience – their pain points, priorities, knowledge level, etc. Delivery must treat colleagues as users, as failure to understand and empathize with your immediate audience will result in more serious misalignment down the funnel. Based on initial user surveys, PMMs should create personas for their core audience segments that map needs with value-driven by training. All content should concisely communicate back to a core success metric for each group.
5) Understand how learners learn
Context is key when delivering technical content to a non-technical team. The ever-present struggle of providing just enough detail can be hard to consistently solve, but the context will always make the complex digestible.
Consider the position of a business development manager who knows they have one hour a month to get up to speed on the latest and greatest developments on what they are pitching on a daily basis. In order to grasp what’s coming their way, they need a concise frame of reference that informs them what users, product, and market this relates to. Deeper dives into technical context (e.g., last month we discussed latency optimization, today’s update on network migration spun off from that work) allows for content to consistently map back to bigger picture thinking. Taking a nodal approach to learning by building knowledge atop knowledge allows networks of topics to grow naturally, rather than disjointed updates appearing in a vacuum.
This network approach is further optimized with training curriculums that compound learning on complex topics. For example, Active Recall, facilitated by regular references to previous presentations, compounds significantly greater knowledge retention than simply sending teams to a knowledge base and hoping for passive expertise development.
6) Templatize your sessions
Effective training relies on the marriage between engaging delivery and structured content. While every company presents unique profiles that merit unique templates, some good rules of thumb include:
Create standard deck templates – Knowing that content will come from multiple sources, establishing base assets for people to build off makes it easier for readers to digest.
- Limit breadth & depth of content – Even if your time regular allotment allows for more topics to be discussed, ensure you are prioritizing high-impact subject matter. For example, an hour-long session generally should have no more than 4 topics of 15 minutes to ensure time for questions and comfort with the material.
- Match content to personas – No topic should come to training without a clear understanding of the internal (sales/CS/BD/ops) and external (integration engineer, buying manager, CEO) audience that it impacts. This should be outlined upfront, so the audience is actively putting the lens on your contact of what this means for them personally.
- Create supporting assets & resources – When possible, record your training sessions, and always ensure that in-depth follow-up emails and documentation are circulated immediately after your session. This should include a synopsis of the content, the so-what, any objections/questions, and the accompanying next actions.
- Brand your sessions – Product Training should be an event for your audience, one that energizes them and leaves them feeling emboldened to achieve success. Establishing a name, engagement tactics, rewards, all help translate that this is a session worth their time, that real work has gone into, and is simply not just another meeting. Bribery in the form of baked goods and good coffee is a bonus.
- End with “So what?” slides – Invariably there will be people receiving the presentation who are less than 100% engaged. A summary slide that condenses your key point into one sentence, and clearly outlines what actions are to be taken, ensure that the lowest common denominator in the room leaves with the bare necessities.
7) Handle objections proactively
The greater rigor invested in vetting content before it is distributed widely, the more likely it will succeed in the market. It is incumbent on the Product Training owner to wear multiple hats and stress test the material ahead of time. This could look like a dry run where they are the audience and pose clarifying questions that they anticipate from an internal or external audience. It could also take the form of building supporting assets that serve as an accompanying FAQ. The goal is to for the audience to see presenters truly understand our external stakeholders and are thinking about what’s being brought to market so that obstacles to selling are pre-empted.
8) Circulate supporting assets quickly
The most effective time for the audience of Product Training to utilize their newfound expertise is immediately after the session while energy is high, and recall is fresh. To capitalize on this hot zone, supporting materials should be ready to be brought to market immediately. Push your presenters to share all collateral within 24 hours and to have time scheduled for follow-up Q&A. For those who can’t make the live session, ensure a video recording and detailed notes with all salient information are sent the same day so all attendees have a predictable route towards learning.
9) Build a wiki
The half-life of expertise at Scaleups is a fleeting thing as new innovation replaces old and the challenge of keeping up to date rolls on. To allow teams to make sense of this ever-changing world, a comprehensive knowledge base or wiki, targeted at the various personas in your audience, will prove an invaluable tool. Key elements of this resource are:
- Change log – Understand what updates were made when, and who they affect.
- Technical documentation – Empower the team to go as deep as possible. The wiki should serve as their cheat sheet for the tricky off-the-cuff questions on your product.
- Required reading – While wikis can descend into a black hole of knowledge, ensuring everyone has the same base level understanding of how we work is critical.
- Certification – A helpful reinforcement tactic can be accrediting learners on what they’ve just mastered. Some examples of companies that have made this certification public include Twitter, Salesforce, AWS, alongside internal-only universities like Bluecore, AppNexus, and Atlassian.
As with all learning programs, Product Training should be treated as an endeavor in continuous optimization that flexes around its user’s needs. Be sure to note what’s working and what’s not. What causes the most debate and engagement? What moves the revenue needle the most? What format empowers us to do our best work? What sessions bring our competing priorities closer, so we are marching in lockstep in a single direction? Listen to your stakeholders and build a training course that delights them rather than one seen as a necessary evil.
Product Training effectively executed can be your GTM secret weapon, activating the vision of the company in the market and empowering commercial teams to become domain experts who crush their number. Take the time to get set up for success and build a program that transforms your sales strategy.
A sample Product Training charter can be found by completing the form below.