EPISODE 28 – TOPIC SUMMARY AND GUEST:
Today I have the pleasure of talking with someone who is both an experienced learning practitioner and an instructional technology innovator. Our guest is Mike Martin, Chief Learning Officer at SAP Litmos, a leading training platform for customer-focused companies. Because Mike’s background is so diverse and his responsibilities span multiple audiences, we could discuss all kinds of topics. But today, I want to focus specifically on why product training matters and how to deliver stellar training across the extended enterprise.
- For example, when product training is an employee imperative, everyone in the organization becomes aligned with the customer experience.
- Also, for new customers, early access to training makes onboarding more efficient and successful. This adds value and differentiates a product beyond core features and functionality.
Welcome, Mike! Your background as a learning professional is rich and varied. What led you to this current role as CLO at SAP Litmos?
It was an interesting path. It actually started when I was a teenager, working at a summer camp. One year, they built a ropes course, and I became a facilitator.
I fell in love with the idea that we could train people to try things they totally feared, and we could have conversations based on questions like, “What has this experience helped you learn about yourself?”
From the first day I was hooked, so I gained a lot of experience in outdoor team-building and education. But I also wanted academic knowledge of how adults learn. So I got a master’s degree in instructional design and technology. And that led to roles in the corporate world.
In particular, over about 5 years or so, I built the training department from scratch at Build.com. That’s where I met Litmos in 2011, and I remained a customer until I left in 2016.
It was a really great experience, so I stayed connected with Litmos. One of the things I loved most is that they have great people behind the product.
I really appreciated their enthusiasm and their moxie. And if I was going to hitch my wagon to any vendor, I wanted it to be an organization like that.
And then they hired you?
They brought me in to create tools and processes to train our customers, partners, resellers and anyone else who wants to know how to use Litmos and why it’s such a great investment. And I’ve been here ever since.
It’s unusual for an LMS company to have a CLO, but Litmos does. Why is that?
I think Litmos realizes it’s not just a technology company. It’s a learning company.
We need to be doing everything we ask of our customers. That means we need to “drink our own Kool-Aid” and use our product just like they do.
What exactly does product training look like at Litmos?
It centers around what we call the Dojo. It’s a self-paced online product training platform for everybody.
Our customers, our resellers, our partners and even our internal staff learn how to use our LMS by use the same Dojo instance of Litmos. This includes how-tos for all of the features, functionalities and other things they need to understand the product.
So with a CLO behind the Dojo, there’s one person who’s responsible for training our staff in a way that’s really consistent with the training our customers get. This way, we can be sure that everyone is seeing Litmos from a similar perspective and is speaking the same language.
That’s really important. Because, let’s say a service rep gets on the phone with a customer who says, “Hey, I did this training in the Dojo and it said xyz.”
Our rep will be able to say, “Yeah, I took that same training, and I thought the same thing.” Or, “I know exactly where you’re coming from.”
That’s a great way to be sure your team is aligned with a customer’s reality.
Right. The CLO position was intended as a sort of unifying position.
Also, I imagine you connect with CLOs all over the world who face the same challenges of serving internal and external audiences.
Exactly. I love working with customers to understand what’s really going on in their world. Plus, because I bring background from different walks of life, I have an opportunity to look ahead and help figure out next-generation capabilities we should pursue.
What are your customer learning objectives with the Dojo? How broad is your scope?
It’s been an incredible journey. At the end of 2016, we dove into the Dojo to understand what we had and where we needed to be. At that point, there wasn’t much in there.
There were a few courses and traffic was pretty minimal. At that time, there were fewer than 1000 users. Now, in just a few years, the Dojo attracts more than 20,000 active users, and those numbers keep growing.
Just like any good learning designer, my goals were to make sure that anyone taking our product training can become competent and confident in their ability to do whatever they want to accomplish.
In this case, that starts with enabling people to navigate through the Litmos tool and set it up the way they need to, so it works for their business use case. It’s a self-paced method that lets people jump in and take the type of training they want at any point, at any time.
We also want this learning process to grow with them, organically. That means each quarter when we roll-out new product updates, we also add new courses.
This gives everyone access to a single source of truth that helps them understand how to use the tool and make the most of it as it evolves.
Plus, we set-up the Dojo to deliver training in several different forms. We want to offer product training at every level, so no matter what the situation, a customer can gain competence and confidence.
This helps them get excited about the product and gives them a reason to keep coming back.
For example, a customer may say, “I only have five minutes. What can I learn about dashboards in that timeframe?” So we created a set of courses that are just that. They’re 3-5 minutes and they give you a 75% flyover. Those are our “Fast Track” courses.
In addition, we offer a series of deep-dive learning paths we tie to “belts” – White Belt, Green Belt and Black Belt.
Interesting. I haven’t heard this concept expressed before in those terms. But we often see the need for just-in-time instruction versus formal certification tracks.
Our goal is to never leave anybody wanting. Many people just want a quick how-to or a down-and-dirty overview. They’re Fast Track candidates. While others want to learn absolutely everything there is to know. Those folks can go through the belts at their own pace.
So tell me – how do you create and manage all that content? Let’s start with Fast Track content.
Well, we want the Fast Track experience to be exciting and hold attention, so everything is fast and fun. All of this is in MPEG4 format. We use Adobe After Effects and Premiere with animations and voice-overs.
We incorporate a lot of humor into this content because we know that the brain craves novelty. People will tune-in, stay focused and remember something that’s a little unexpected and makes them laugh.
With Fast Track content, we’re not trying to teach people everything. It’s just a whirlwind introduction. Then, if they want to know what every lever and button does, we steer them towards the belt courses.
Great. And how do you approach the belt courses?
These courses require us to go deeper into more traditional instructional design. So we use Articulate Rise and go SCORM for a couple of reasons:
- We can produce content in 1/3 of the time. It’s good enough because you can paint by numbers and they give you various blocks, so it works really well.
- It’s natively responsive for any device.
- It’s super fast.
- I really like the layout.
We integrate some videos and walk-throughs using Camtasia. But we’ll do screen recordings that illustrate a specific task in a quick 15-second clip or longer, if needed.
So, when people earn a belt, is that just for internal use? Or can they share that distinction to demonstrate value within your broader business ecosystem?
Our tool lets people share their badges and certifications outside of the LMS on Twitter and other public channels. We’ve gamified the whole thing, so we see that all the time. It’s great.
I think of product training like making a stew. If I just throw meat and potatoes into the pot, it will nourish people. And if I add carrots, that meal may taste better.
But if I start tossing-in some spices – a little salt, a little garlic, a little paprika – all of a sudden, people start saying, “Wow, this tastes amazing!”
It’s those little things that make the biggest difference. Just those little spices. In a learning environment, that could be something as simple as a graphic that winks at you at the ideal moment. Something that’s a bit out-of-the-ordinary but really thoughtful.
Sure. So what kind of impact are you seeing with this new approach to product training?
Just putting some time and effort into offering product training that fits customer interests has boosted engagement 100-fold.
Wow. That’s fantastic.
We give a lot of credit to our customers for telling us what they want. Much of what we do comes from their suggestions. They’ll say, “Look, it would be great if…” and that’s an opportunity for us to respond.
So how different is the content you deliver to internal versus external audiences? And how do you deal with that?
Since we use the same instance of our LMS for all audiences, we need a line between what internal employees see and others don’t.
But that’s the beauty of the Litmos product. It’s built so you can provide distinct experiences to different audiences – whether that’s segmented by team, or brand or other categories.
We can even do that automatically, through assign rules and other things, so you can give people exactly what they need when they need it – while omitting other stuff that might confuse them. All of these things are built-in to support various use cases.
Cool. And how do you do that with your audiences?
We actually have a treasure trove of content – with Litmos Heroes content and all the compliance content we’ve created. We can tap into that for our employees as well as customers.
Keeping that separate in the system is pretty simple, but we can put all the courses in one place, rather than having to keep two different instances open and up-to-speed.
And it’s not all just product knowledge and compliance. We’re also starting to move into best-practice knowledge.
Mm-hmm. What’s your goal with that?
Well, as you know, instructional designers are asked to do many things. We write content, do graphic design, develop the program, drive reporting and assessments. These are all disciplines that people can study in school and pursue as a professional specialty. But we often need to do it all.
Yep – a master of all trades.
Right. But many people can’t be experts at everything. So we want to make it easier for those people to create awesome learning content that doesn’t suck.
In short, we’re trying to get into more best-practice stuff that helps learning professionals succeed in their roles. It’s not just about LMS features or functionality or compliance.
Great. I’ll be interested to hear how that progresses. So how do you measure the effectiveness of product training?
We use the LMS, itself, to measure rudimentary things, such as who takes courses. But at the end of the day, we want to know if training is adding value. Can customers do things better, faster, stronger? Or is change happening?
So, for example, our metrics include customer satisfaction. We also look at how many support tickets are submitted for different types of product-related issues. So, if there’s a reduction in the number of people who don’t ask us how to do something, it’s an indicator that training is making an impact.
We’re also looking at reducing the amount of time required for kickoff calls, and how well the Dojo prepares customers for those calls, so they can ask smarter questions. After new customers get some of the basics out-of-the-way, they can have better, deeper conversations. So we want the Dojo to help move that meter.
Great! Often, software companies rely on customers to figure things out for themselves. So putting training tools and best practices in their hands as early as possible can really differentiate your brand…
Okay, so let’s look ahead. Over the next 12-18 months, where do you want to add more of the “spice” you mentioned before?…