Published On: September 15, 2016By
An LMS designed for channel learning connects the dots between organizations and business partners who sell their products

One of the best things about being a learning technology analyst is that I get to meet so many smart, passionate people who are pushing the boundaries of the LMS and business success as we know it.  Every day I speak with founders and senior executives, sales and marketing teams, as well as customers and prospects from all over the learning solutions sphere.

From the multiple perspectives, I learn about new use cases, evolving technologies and novel ways to approach complex business challenges.  I see and hear details of real, measurable programs that blend formal, informal and social learning.

Buzzwords like gamification, xAPI, virtual reality, adaptive content, microlearning, simulations, community building, global ecommerce and content curation come to life.  It’s genuinely fun – and fun loves company.

Recently, I was lucky to capture one of these sessions in a joint educational webinar and interview with channel learning expert Brett Strauss, Founder and President of Media Defined, the maker of NetExam LMS.

98% of Media Defined customers use NetExam to build and improve their global channel and partner networks. This includes companies like Dell, Oracle, Honeywell, AT&T, Saver and Stanley.

It only takes a few minutes with Brett to understand why world-class organizations trust NetExam to support their partner learning initiatives.  With 20 years of channel solutions experience, Brett is not just any LMS technologist.  He is a partner development expert who actively works with channel organizations to drive meaningful business results.

To give you a taste of our discussion and a great example of LMS specialization, I’ve shared some Q&A highlights below.  For more detail on the ins and the outs of a channel LMS, I invite you to join our member-based resource site, the Talented Learning Center to replay the full 1-hour webinar.

How do you define channel learning and why is it important?

Brett Strauss:  When you rely on external businesses to help sell your product, you’re basically putting your brand in the hands of somebody who doesn’t work under your roof.  So it behooves you to make sure that those people are representing your organization very well, that they’re very educated, that they’re being straightforward, and that they have all the information necessary.

Otherwise, your customer will have a bad purchasing experience.  And if they have a bad buying experience, they won’t blame your channel partner.  They’ll blame your company.

Is there a difference between a traditional HR LMS and a channel LMS?

Brett Strauss:  HR LMSs are really built to help get an individual from the mailroom to the boardroom in 10 years or less.  It follows them through that learning program, as they advance up a ladder and there’s a great need for that in the industry.

But a channel LMS is more about “How do I get a partner organization from 2 million in sales to 5 million?”  The basic structure is built around groups of individuals, not a specific individual – that’s a big difference.  Another important factor to remember with employee training is that you can control their training behavior.  With partners, you don’t.

Why is channel learning different from employee learning?

Brett Strauss:  With employees, you can tell someone to complete some training and they have to comply.  With channel partner training you have to create an experience by combining benefits that can be earned along with encouragement and innovative ways of getting training in front of people.

That’s because you just don’t have the same kind of control.  When people work for a third party you can’t make them do what you want them to do.

So then, making somebody want to do something is a lot tougher than making them do it?

Brett Strauss:  Yes, it is.  Well, we like to say there are really only two ways to get people to do training – bribes or threats.  You can’t threaten a channel partner.  There’s no guarantee they’ll do what you want.

But you can certainly bribe them.  And there are subtle ways to bribe people; very subtle ways to lead them where you want to go, and reach the organization’s training goals.

How do your customers convince channel partners to consume training content?

Brett Strauss:  I encourage all of my customers to create a very simple 10-minute onboarding course for all partner new hires.  It can include basic topics like:  How do I submit forms?  Where do we get paid?  When do we get paid?  Very basic information.

But the critical thing is that you put training in front of your partners on day one.  You’re setting a precedent that says, “We’re going to educate you, we’re continually going to push knowledge to you, and we expect you to consume, learn and use that information.”

What’s a good example of measurable channel learning benefits?

Brett Strauss:  Training is a fantastic way to weed-out your channel.  If people are not willing to take the time to do a 30-minute course so they can learn how to represent your brand, then you need to take a really good look at whether that’s a good partner for you.

It’s a simple thing, taking the time to learn about your products.  But those who don’t bother, we affectionately call them “deadwood.”

Think of the people who sign up for training and never log in, never come in and do any type of knowledge assessments, never take any exams.  There’s real value in knowing who those people are because you can adjust your relationship with an individual like that instead of throwing money at a relationship that’s not going be fruitful.

Also, organizations can use the LMS to compare sales performance before and after training.  It has direct benefits by indicating how to shape channel learning programs.

But it also means companies can inform partners about why training has value for them.  For example, they can tell partners in advance, “You can expect a 3.6% increase in sales after you complete this training.”

Could you tell us about your work with Dell channel programs?

Brett Strauss:  Dell took certification data out of NetExam and revenue data from Salesforce.  Then they combined it and analyzed it.  They found that certified partners were over 143% more productive and delivered more value than non-certified partners.  Now, this is an interesting number.

As you would probably expect, people who go through training are better at doing their job.  That’s obvious.  But by pinning a hard number to it a company can tell business unit decision makers, “Look, we’re getting much higher ROI from certified partners, why not invest more in our certified partners and less in non-certified partners?”

What is an example of informal learning in the channel?

Brett Strauss:  A large amount of knowledge transfer is informal.  Not everything fits neatly into a lesson, a learning objective and an exam.  So we developed a mobile application that lets organizations easily track informal learning and give credit for consuming it.  But it’s more than that.  By tracking informal learning, you build a more complete profile of an individual, even when they do not move through the LMS.

Let’s say I have a meeting in a conference room with 10 people.  It’s impromptu – it wasn’t planned.  At the end of that event I realize these people did some good work.  Some useful knowledge was transferred and I want to give them credit.  Everyone pulls out their phone and I scan each one so I can give them credit for participating.

What is a partner relationship management (PRM) system and why integrate it with an LMS?

Brett Strauss:  Some CRM platforms like Salesforce have a PRM.  Actually, Oracle does too.  It’s basically like a CRM but it is specific to the channel partner relationship.  In the same way there’s a difference between an HR LMS and a channel LMS, there’s a difference between a CRM and a PRM.  As I mentioned before, we have two ways to engage people in training – threats and bribes.  This is where the bribes come in.  But this is where bribes can actually benefit both organizations.

In a perfect partner ecosystem, you encourage people to do training by letting them earn some type of privilege they’ll receive upon completion.  For example, if you offer a higher commission margin on a deal to anyone who is certified that encourages partners to complete certification.

But of course, if you offer that kind of privilege you need to be able to deliver on all elements of the offer and deliver instantly.  If someone completes a specified course and expects the extra 2%, then they need to be able to go close the deal and immediately receive that privilege.  You accomplish that through the full integration between your PRM and your LMS.

Thanks for reading!

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About the Author: John Leh

John Leh is CEO and Lead Analyst at Talented Learning and the Talented Learning Center. John is a fiercely independent consultant, blogger, podcaster, speaker and educator who helps organizations select and implement learning technology strategies, primarily for extended enterprise applications. His advice is based upon more than 25+years of learning-tech industry experience, serving as a trusted LMS selection and sales adviser to hundreds of learning organizations with a total technology spend of more than $100+ million and growing. John would love to connect with you on Twitter or on LinkedIn.

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