For more than five years, I’ve been talking and writing nonstop about the business value of extended enterprise learning. You’d think by now I would’ve run out of things to say. Actually, I’m just getting started. In fact, today I’m doubling down on my advice about investing in extended enterprise learning solutions. Why? Because the marketplace is finally starting to see the upside of educating customers, channel partners, franchisees, contractors and others outside traditional organizational boundaries.
If you aren’t already educating external audiences, trust me, you’re lagging behind others who get it. Early movers are working hard to gain a competitive foothold. Many of them have made measurable progress, and they’re not looking back.
What Makes Extended Enterprise Learning Such a Smart Move?
It’s simple. For instance, think about customer education. Every company has customers. The more those individuals or organizations know about how to apply your product or service in their world, the more they’re likely to succeed. And their success is good for your business.
When your customers succeed, they tend to use your product or service more often. They’re also likely to buy again in the future. Plus, as any good marketer will tell you, retaining existing customers is much cheaper and easier than finding new ones.
So educating your customers isn’t just a helpful thing to do. It’s also a practice that should boost your profits in the long-run.
Other Reasons to Embrace Extended Enterprise Learning
There are additional reasons why this strategy makes good business sense. For example, it’s relatively easy to measure training effectiveness and impact.
Let’s illustrate that point – again with customer education. If you compare metrics for trained versus untrained customers, you’ll find that trained segments tend to:
- Rely less on customer support and contact center resources
- Remain customers longer than their untrained counterparts
- Buy more throughout their relationship with your brand.
Why Is Extended Enterprise Learning Gaining Steam Now?
Why do a growing number of organizations think extended enterprise learning is mission-critical? The answer lies in a combination of factors.
For example, in the past, extended enterprise learning was prohibitively expensive for all but the world’s largest companies. Now, cloud technology, easy third-party app integrations and specialized LMS systems are purpose-built to support external audiences at remarkably reasonable, scalable prices.
That means extended enterprise learning is accessible for as few as 10 participants, or up to 1 million or more. But what’s next on the horizon?
A few months ago, I spoke with LEO Learning in greater detail about this topic. Below are my notes from that conversation to help you learn more about what’s behind extended enterprise learning momentum.
1) How did you become involved with extended enterprise learning?
I was fortunate to earn a master’s degree in instructional technology from an excellent institution, Bloomsburg University. Everyone in that program went on to work in L&D for corporate human resources departments. But I chose a different path.
By chance, I took a job with a marketing communications company that was expanding into elearning. Their clients were all high-tech and telecom companies that wanted to train channel partners and customers more effectively.
These clients were unique, not only because they wanted to serve external audiences, but also because they operated as profit centers. That requires a much different mindset than cost-centered employee training.
2) Could you illustrate the difference?
Sure. For decades, organizations have been training external audiences to help differentiate their products and generate more sales. For example, imagine you sell software products through resellers.
If you know which of these channel partners have completed certification training, you can compare their sales performance before and after certification. You can also evaluate how quickly they close sales or the average profit they generate from each customer. This way, you can quantify the business impact of certification.
I’ve spent my whole career looking at how organizations innovate and push the envelope with extended enterprise learning. In 23 years, one thing has dramatically improved – the quality of training content and delivery.
3) How can an LMS improve extended enterprise learning?
Many learning systems are designed specifically to support channel partners. That may mean you’re training individual sales professionals or even multiple organizations across your value chain.
Here’s an example. Say you’re a senior executive at an insurance company. Independent insurance agents all around the country resell your products. But because they’re independent, they also represent other insurance providers.
You understand the need to invest in learning systems that help educate these agents and keep them informed about your products. You realize that the more an independent agent knows about your products and services, the more of your insurance they’re likely to sell.
And when distributors sell more, everyone wins. That’s why so many learning initiatives are designed to empower channel sales professionals.
4) Where does customer training fit in?
Perhaps even more vital than empowering channel partners is an organization’s ability to educate customers directly.
How can you onboard new customers more quickly and effectively? How can you help them use your products and services more fully and frequently? How can training enhance the customer experience, so people become enthusiastic champions over time and advocate for you in the marketplace?
All of these challenges can be addressed by strategies and systems designed specifically for customer education. The more customers know about your products and services, the better their overall customer experience is likely to be.
That’s why many businesses are turning to customer education as a way to differentiate their brand.
5) What’s the biggest challenge your clients face?
Corporate training has traditionally been considered synonymous with mandated employee regulatory compliance. These programs focused on reducing costs and avoiding risks, and the entire process was treated like a back-office function.
No more. Now corporate learning is a critical business issue that is getting serious attention at the executive table.
Organization leaders are asking, “How can learning help us create business value? How can we achieve a competitive advantage by educating employees, customers and partners? And how can we measure progress in meaningful ways?”
Businesses are interested in developing measurable learning initiatives so they can evaluate outcomes and compare their value with other priorities. When a learning initiative works, they know it makes sense to expand its footprint. When it doesn’t work, they can tweak it or move on. Relevant metrics make all the difference.
6) What does measurable learning look like?
I’m working with one global organization that has implemented seven learning management systems. Three of these systems address customer learning. Three others serve employees. And the seventh platform serves both audiences. But here’s the catch – these systems aren’t even connected.
Actually, this kind of situation isn’t unusual. It happens when decision-makers aren’t aware of other initiatives, or existing systems can’t support specialized use cases associated with external learning audiences. Decisions happen independently, and that’s when redundancies and inefficiencies can take a toll.
Fortunately, now it’s possible to integrate disparate learning systems much more easily, so organizations can bring them together in a centralized ecosystem.
To understand why you should do this, add-up what you spend on all your various learning platforms. Then add the cost of duplicating content and/or recreating content from scratch for all of your programs.
If multiple people are creating content in different ways, there’s also bound to be a disconnect in your messaging, user experience and learning outcomes.
Next, look at the total cost of maintenance and licenses. That should dwarf the cost of a new system designed to accommodate multiple specialized programs.
By consolidating systems and assets, your organization could easily be 10x more efficient, while significantly improving overall learning effectiveness.
7) As 2019 unfolds, what LMS trends do you see ahead?
Mergers and acquisitions are changing the market in ways that are hard to predict. However, change will continue, and smart technology buyers will treat this as a business opportunity.
The learning systems industry continues to become more fractured and specialized, even as mergers and acquisitions drive consolidation. We constantly hear about LMS vendors acquiring a specialized learning technology provider to expand or strengthen their platform’s core functionality and reach.
Learning systems are now so much more than an LMS. Vendors no longer focus on training delivery, alone. Now they provide event management, customer relationship management, marketing automation and more – all wrapped into solutions that are easy to use, easy to scale and easy to integrate with other systems of all types.
Meanwhile, learning technology innovation continues to move in all directions, simultaneously. This has different implications for each market niche. But even with consolidation, I don’t see innovation slowing anytime soon.
With more than 750 unique learning systems vendors on our radar today, there’s no lack of specialized apps, tools and solutions you can combine to create a whole that is much more useful and robust than the sum of its parts. This means the future remains bright for learning innovators, as well as companies who depend on them for their learning infrastructure.
Thanks for reading!
Want more LMS insights? Replay our on-demand webinar:
Convincing employees to engage in training is hard enough. So what happens when you want to educate customers, channel partners and others across your extended enterprise? Relevant content is a start, but it is not enough.
What else does it take to succeed?
Join John Leh, CEO and Lead Analyst at Talented Learning, and Kevin Hanegan, VP of Knowledge and Learning at Qlik, as they explore learning strategies that win extended enterprise hearts and minds. They discuss:
- Innovative marketing techniques to attract external audiences
- Methods for improving content quality and contextual relevance
- How to motivate learners with contests and rewards
- Creative ways to leverage video for stronger engagement
- What custom mobile apps can do to drive continuous learning
- How to measure, analyze and improve your impact, over time