When we founded Talented Learning four years ago, we set out on a mission to map the world of learning management technology. Hundreds of new platforms were flooding the market and as a former long-term LMS sales executive, I knew the landscape was changing fundamentally. Our goal was to help learning technology buyers and sellers understand what this dynamic landscape means for their purchasing decisions and the future of organizational learning, itself.
The Corporate LMS Goes Wide
Vendor by vendor, we’ve evaluated solutions – absorbing everything we could find on our own dime. Our analysis has focused on more than just advertised features. We’ve also considered business models, target customers, documented use cases and product differentiators in multiple categories: functionality, technology, system setup, ongoing support and pricing/license models.
We started this journey with a theory about the next wave of learning technology. We thought LMS vendors were focusing more heavily on extended enterprise applications. And now, after reviewing 150 solutions, guess what? We were right. Corporate extended enterprise learning is no longer just a nice-to-have. Now it is a business necessity. And business buyers want to know which LMS vendors are best at making it work.
Anatomy of an Extended Enterprise Learning Platform
In the language of corporate learning, “extended enterprise” refers to training content or performance support sold or delivered at no additional cost to non-employee audiences. This includes sales channel partners, retailers, distributors, franchisees, contractors and — most importantly in 2017 — customers.
Extended enterprise learning is valuable because it addresses legitimate business needs or goals. It is designed, developed and delivered because it makes a predictable, measurable business impact and it creates competitive advantage. That’s a fact. Customers and partners tend to forge more loyal and profitable relationships with brands that invest in their product knowledge and skill. In today’s competitive business world, can any organization afford not to develop lasting customer relationships? This is where strong extended enterprise learning technology makes all the difference.
An extended enterprise learning management system (LMS) is the optimal way to deliver content to external learning audiences. The platform should keep track of unique learning audience segments, individual learners and specific learning-related content — as well as the relationships among these three domains.
For more than 20 years, corporations have relied on LMSs to coordinate, deliver and track online and in-person training. This approach reduced training delivery costs and ensured regulatory compliance. And although classic LMSs did save money, they weren’t engaging or easy to use for learners, managers or administrators. They also lacked ecommerce capabilities that are vital for selling content in extended enterprise learning scenarios.
New, specialized extended enterprise learning platforms are changing all that. These solutions leverage advances in cloud technology to provide an engaging learning experience, sophisticated ecommerce capabilities and the ability to manage diverse audiences at a fraction of the cost associated with traditional corporate LMSs. While classic employee-focused LMSs look and feel like databases, modern extended enterprise learning platforms look and feel more like Facebook. If you’re a customer or business partner, which system would you voluntarily use for learning? No contest!
Do HR and L&D Have a Seat at This Table?
HR and internal training professionals traditionally have neglected external learning needs. Employee compliance and talent development came first and second. Only the most innovative HR/training organizations have embraced extended enterprise learning. But when there’s a learning leadership gap, disconnects often follow.
Here’s a typical situation I see daily. Let’s say you work for company A, where your employee-focused training teams don’t pay attention to external audiences. If you want to train these audiences, what do you do?
Most likely, you move forward with your extended enterprise learning initiative anyway. And more likely than not, your team will choose a different LMS than the one your HR/training folks use. Of course, this can lead to duplication of effort, content and costs, as internal and external initiatives move forward on separate timelines and tracks.
What’s driving this disconnect? It starts with a different point of view. Interestingly, “extended enterprise” learning is a term used only by the HR/training community. It assumes that employee-focused LMSs must be “extended” to serve outside audiences. But in reality there are many LMSs designed specifically for non-employee audiences. For example, you may prefer a channel LMS, a customer LMS, a business training platform or an ecommerce LMS — the choices grow more diverse all the time.
Where does this leave HR-minded leaders? If they don’t step up and proactively address the need for customer, channel and business partner solutions, they will be excused from the strategic learning table.
Measurable Benefits of Extended Enterprise Learning
Unlike internal employee training, measuring the business impact of extended enterprise learning is relatively straightforward. An externally focused LMS makes it easy to track and report training progress and completions for various non-employee learning audiences. You can compare trained vs. untrained groups, or compare individuals in any metric you track (such as renewals, support calls or channel sales performance) to calculate business impact.
The measurable benefits of extended enterprise learning fall into three primary categories:
Extended enterprise learning is about helping your organization make more money by empowering others to drive revenue. If you educate channel partners about your products and how to sell them, they will sell more on your behalf. Similarly, if you train your customers on how to use software they just purchased from you, they’ll more likely get a good start, use the product as intended, succeed in applying it and renew their subscription in the future. You can also sell training content and certifications directly to create new revenue streams.
2) Cost Savings
Educating your partners, prospects and customers through elearning increases customer satisfaction, decreases overall support costs and reduces regulatory compliance risk. You can also decrease training delivery costs by reusing learning materials and eliminating travel and instructor costs. Above all, you can greatly reduce the cost of building and supporting a global network of partners and customers through extended enterprise learning and performance support.
3) Business Process Improvement
You can increase the efficiency and effectiveness of many business activities through extended enterprise learning. For example, targeted just-in-time online learning interventions can help you accelerate product rollouts, expand into new geographic territories and ramp up external sales teams. These are only a few of the opportunities to measurably improve business operating efficiencies and quality.
Few activities in the corporate world have the potential to affect so many topline and bottom-line business metrics. But by committing to ongoing extended enterprise learning initiatives, you have an opportunity to create lasting value. What’s more, if you focus on strategic priorities, you can actually help your organization gain and sustain a competitive advantage.
Offering extended enterprise learning is about helping your corporation (large or small) increase overall sales revenue, improve profit margins and stay ahead of competitors in a challenging global marketplace.
Once considered optional and bleeding-edge, extended enterprise learning is now mainstream and proven to drive results. If you don’t believe me, take some time to research your competitors. You may find that they already have a foothold with channel partners and customers — and are eating your lunch.
However, like all LMS solutions, extended enterprise learning isn’t easy. Developing and delivering content that attracts and engages multiple “voluntary” learning audiences requires a business mentality and skill set that isn’t common among typical HR/training professionals. What should you do to get started and stay on the right path? I invite you to use our free resources, attend our webinars or contact me to schedule a free preliminary consultation when you’re ready to find a platform that fits your extended enterprise learning needs.
Thanks for reading!
Want more insights? Watch our on-demand webinar:
When business decision makers think of training, they typically think of employees first. That’s one reason why so many learning platforms focus on workforce development and compliance.
But business success also depends upon the ability to educate customers, channel partners and others in your value chain.
How can you leverage learning technology to move beyond an “employees only” mentality? Take an in-depth look at this topic with John Leh, Lead Analyst and CEO at Talented Learning and Gary Underhill, Sr. Solution Architect at Expertus. You’ll learn:
- How to understand non-employee “external” audience learning needs
- How to avoid the “gotchas” of multiple audiences
- LMS functionality required to serve multiple audiences
- Strategies for building on an existing employee-focused LMS infrastructure
- Fundamentals of external marketing and promotion
- How to measure success when expanding your reach