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What to Expect in a Channel Partner LMS

What features should you look for in channel partner LMS if you want to run a successful distributor sales training program? Independent learning tech analyst John Leh explains

If you’re responsible for your company’s sales partner performance, I bet you agree that channel education involves a very special set of technology considerations. If not, just ask anyone who’s tried to serve partner audiences with a standard employee LMS. It’s like trying to squeeze a massive round peg into a tiny square hole.

Why Choose a Specialized Channel Partner LMS?

The goal of a partner LMS is to help distributors and resellers sell more – by empowering them to sell more easily, more effectively and more consistently.

Keep in mind that sales partners have the freedom to be fickle – especially if they represent products from multiple companies. You can’t force reps to engage with your LMS. Instead, you must draw them into your learning environment and give them a good reason to stay.

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If you don’t offer instant access to relevant content that’s packed with value, sales partners aren’t likely to show up or come back.

So, exactly how can you build the kind of channel mind share and training participation that lead to a competitive advantage? The right kind of LMS is a foundation that makes a big difference.

For instance, it can help you:

  • Attract and engage reps on their terms
  • Drive ongoing usage
  • Expand your global partner network and
  • Boost sales performance in measurable ways.

As an independent learning tech consultant, I know it pays to choose a system that fulfills your unique partner training requirements. But with more than 1000 available learning systems, how do you find the best solution for your particular needs?

In my opinion, the best recipe for channel partner LMS success is one-part marketing, one-part learning and a whole lot of business savvy. How does that translate into system requirements? Here are the 15 most critical capabilities:

15 Must-Have Channel Partner LMS Features

15) Ease-of-Use

Hello, 2002? Please come take back your employee LMS. Today no one tolerates a slow or confusing online learning experience – especially channel salespeople. Most reps are only occasional LMS visitors, and they’re too busy for lengthy instructions or user training. This is why your partner learning environment must feel simple, coherent and cohesive from end to end.

14) Personalization

One of the best ways to improve usability is through automation that personalizes the learning experience. Everything should be tailored precisely to the visitor’s persona. This includes branding, look-and-feel, available functionality and recommended content.

In the past, personalization was limited to branding and generic user roles (by job, title or location). Now, systems can base personalization on behavioral criteria as well, such as training content progress, past topic and media preferences, social interactions, survey responses and recommendations from others, to name a few.

What’s more, today’s best personalization engines can also leverage a user’s actions outside the LMS environment. For example, some systems can leverage data from a channel rep’s website path behavior, document downloads, tradeshow attendance, product purchases, contract status and much more.

13) Dynamic Grouping

Partner organizations are constantly changing, and so are their reps. That’s one reason why you’ll want to create groups of users whose individual profiles can be dynamically updated as needed. For example, when a salesperson completes a course or receives a promotion, the rep’s data is automatically updated in the LMS.

This significantly improves the accuracy and timeliness of learning status reports. It also lets you develop user segments based on common criteria, so you can offer personalized communication and training recommendations and compare performance across groups.

12) Gamification

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Great channel learning systems drive engagement by motivating learners to complete relevant content through gamification. This includes support for intangible rewards such as digital badges, awards and certificates that demonstrate expertise and give the owner bragging rights.

Gamification also includes the concept of contests and leaderboards, so reps can compete and learn on a friendly basis. For example, you can recognize individuals who are first to complete a course, or teams that are first to complete a certification. In addition, it provides access to powerful tangible incentives such as gift cards, special products and cash rewards for the winners.

In an employee LMS, gamification may only be a nice-to-have option. But when educating competitive channel professionals, gamification is absolutely mandatory.

11) OJT Checklists

An on-the-job-training (OJT) checklist lets you develop an observable training activity that can work alone or embedded in a course, curriculum or learning journey. As the learner performs this activity, a designated observer answers a series of questions on a predefined OJT checklist.

For example, imagine that you’re a home electronics manufacturer. As a product certification requirement, each of your distributor’s reps must learn to perform a routine set-up procedure. This skill must be confirmed by a service manager.

To verify that the assignment was completed correctly, the observer may upload pictures, videos or other materials to the LMS, along with the OJT checklist submission. Channel partner LMS platforms often include an approval workflow for OJT checklist documentation.

10) Mobile Delivery and Mobile Apps

More than any other learning audience, channel reps rely on LMS content for performance support. In the field, reps typically use smartphones and tablets for on-the-go access to product information, how-to videos, maintenance instructions and more. A mobile-first or mobile-responsive system provides easy access to just-in-time learning content without forcing users to squint, scroll or wait until they’re sitting in front of a laptop.

In addition, specialized mobile apps provide capabilities like:

  • QR code scanning for easy access to online product training and information
  • Content downloads for offline consumption
  • Tools to manage and document OJT activities and
  • Support for social learning interactions and other engagement via application notifications and text messaging.

9) Virtual Classrooms

Creating great learning content can be time-consuming and expensive. However, this obstacle can be overcome through live online training, delivered via virtual classroom capabilities.

By recording regular sessions and making them available on-demand, even time-strapped, budget-conscious organizations can build a substantial training library over time. It’s a great way to get started.

Several channel partner LMS vendors offer their own proprietary virtual classroom. However, most systems require integration with a third-party platform.

If you need to add a virtual classroom, look for 2-way integration. This means you can set up and assign sessions from within the learning system. Also, after the event, attendance data can be updated automatically in the LMS.

8) B2B eCommerce

Channel learning programs are often a valuable source of business revenue. By charging partners for training and certification, you can transform a cost center into a self-funded, profit-driven growth operation.

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Although it’s possible to manage B2B financial transactions through third-party applications, the best channel platforms build ecommerce capabilities directly into the LMS.

This includes solo and bulk purchasing features, coupon codes, organization codes, subscriptions, discounts, bundles, specials, shopping cart and checkout functionality, the ability to accept different payment types, payment gateways, taxation support and more.

7) Delegated Administration for Partner Organizations

If you sell content in bulk to channel partners with employees, then you need a channel partner LMS with delegated administration.

Within your LMS, delegated administrators can manage their organization’s users, assign content, monitor training consumption progress and generate program performance reports. The best channel LMS providers offer a subset of easy-to-use administrative tools, dashboards and reports that let partners manage their learning activities with a minimum of LMS admin training or overhead.

6) Remote Content

Many partners have their own LMS. They’re often consuming training from multiple suppliers, so asking their learners to use multiple learning platforms isn’t practical. These organizations simply want your content to run on their system.

However, if you lose control of your LMS content, you won’t have access to critical training-related data. Plus, updating content in other systems is a nightmare. Remote content solves these problems.

Remote content lets you share SCORM, xAPI, LTI and other content packages with channel partner systems, but the content is actually stored in a central location. The content package simply “points” to source content.

This lets your administrators update content in one location, and automatically publish those updates to all channel partner systems. Plus, tracking and reporting from across your sales network is just as easy as it would be if all learners were using your LMS.

5) In-App Embedding

Channel reps need lots of just-in-time performance support. In-app embedding makes it easy to integrate course descriptions, courses, reference content and specific LMS functionality into other systems. This is achieved with special HTML embed codes vs. setting up a full, custom, impractical API integration.

With in-app embeds, you can display learning content in a channel partner LMS, website, proprietary software product, mobile apps and more. That means you and your partners can finally say goodbye to “your LMS is an island” issues.

4) Intra-LMS Authoring

You’re training channel reps to understand and sell your products and services, not to master Microsoft Excel skills. That means almost 100% of channel training content is proprietary your LMS. Therefore, you’ll not only want to import training created in third-party authoring tools, but also to create learning content within the LMS environment, itself.

Like all LMS functionality, built-in authoring is available in multiple flavors, from basic assessment and survey publishing, to page-turner creation features, to scenario-based learning development tools. Some channel LMS solutions even include a content management system and content repository with a full team authoring workflow.

Regardless, you’ll want to find a channel partner LMS that lets you create and maintain content without requiring sophisticated technical skills.

3) Advanced Integration

Channel learning solutions don’t work well in isolation. Instead, they need to share data and content with a variety of other business systems and resources in an always-custom learning ecosystem. I often see integrations with these specialized systems:

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  • CRMs like Salesforce.com, Microsoft Dynamics, Hubspot and others
  • Partner Relationship Management platforms (PRMs)
  • Web traffic analysis tools, like Google Analytics
  • eCommerce, gateways, taxation, accounting and fulfillment systems
  • Multiple authentication and SSO mechanisms
  • Social media and portable learning lockers
  • Customer service applications
  • Marketing automation
  • Virtual classrooms, LCMS, authoring tools
  • Partner HR and financial systems
  • SMS for text notifications
  • Virtual and live proctoring
  • Event management
  • Video platforms
  • Content distribution networks

With strong integration capabilities, you can also embed courses, schedules and additional LMS content into web portals, customer support systems and other digital environments. This gives partners multiple ways to access instructional information in their normal flow of work.

2) Analytics and Dashboards

If you can’t measure, report and analyze partner performance, how will you know if your channel learning program is actually creating business value? Customizable reporting tools help you prove which reps have completed specific courses or certifications, and which have not.

You’ll also want to compare training progress with changes in sales volume or customer satisfaction scores. This will help you correlate learning content with partner performance at an individual or organizational level. The more freedom you have to slice-and-dice the data and create your own reports, the more effective you’ll be at proving your program’s impact.

1) Certification Management

Certification is mission-critical for most channel programs. That means your LMS must be able to award and track points, certificates and/or continuing education credits whenever reps complete a course or curriculum.

Certificates are typically awarded for a limited timeframe. When recipients need to complete refresher credits or courses to recertify, the LMS should automatically notify them, as well as channel program administrators. Sophisticated systems also support prerequisites, equivalency courses and multiple certification paths.

Conclusion

Whew. That’s all? This “top 15” list may seem extensive, but it only touches on the baseline capabilities I recommend for a channel partner LMS. Regardless, it demonstrates why channel education programs benefit from specialized solutions.

Your organization may require additional functionality. For example, you may want to consider globalization/localization, collaborative learning capabilities, instructor-led training management, assessments or evaluations.

But remember:  The ultimate goal of your channel LMS is to drive more and better partner sales revenue. So if you’re in the market for a channel learning system, I suggest taking a step back before you contact vendors.

First, consider your audience segments. Have you evaluated their needs, as well as your own business goals and realities?

Start by developing partner profiles. Then outline the appropriate training and certification journey for each segment. If you document these use cases carefully, they can help you prioritize requirements for a channel LMS that will transform your partner sales performance.

Thanks for reading!

 


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The Power of Partner Education

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What does it take to gain mindshare among busy channel reps? How can you transform them into sales stars who will champion your brand?

Join John Leh, CEO and Lead Analyst at Talented Learning, at this virtual roundtable with channel education experts:

  • Gary Brashear, VP of Marketing, Sales and Customer Success at BlueVolt
  • Laura Pierce, Director of Marketing Communications at Shurtape Technologies

You’ll find out what makes real-world partner programs work. Including:

  • Strategies that position your brand as an industry expert
  • How to link partner education with increased sales and brand affinity
  • Informational tools and content that partners value most
  • Unique ways to engage reps and keep them involved
  • How to establish key metrics, measure progress and analyze results

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John Leh
About John Leh (185 Articles)
John Leh is CEO and Lead Analyst at Talented Learning, LLC. Named among the “Top 20 Global Elearning Movers and Shakers” in 2018 and 2017, John is a fiercely independent LMS selection consultant, blogger and podcaster who helps organizations select and implement learning technology strategies – primarily for extended enterprise applications. His advice is based on more than 20 years of industry experience, serving as a trusted LMS selection and sales adviser to more than 100 learning organizations with a total technology spend of more than $65 million. You can connect with John on Twitter at @JohnLeh or on LinkedIn.

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