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eLearning Still Needs To Be Sold Or Is That Bought?


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What’s as ineffective as relationship selling? Relationship buying! It appeared the problem was solved. Two martini lunches and deals done on the golf course all but disappeared under the scrutiny of a more transparent, post Sarbanes-Oxley world. But eLearning providers are for-profit businesses and deals still must be sold. So have the eLearning sales professionals all become personality-less question & answer machines while the eLearning buyers have all adopted sophisticated, measured and validated purchasing processes? Well, not quite, let me provide some background.

We’ve all been there, we’ve been asked to breakfast, lunch, dinner, baseball games, concerts, and golf outings etc. Upon surveying our workspace we were told that they too had families, thinks ours is adorable, and have sisters, aunts, uncles and father-in-laws that all share our same Alumni status from XYZ University.Sometimes the process was fun and served the two parties well; a less than knowledgeable and ill- prepared eLearning sales “professional,” meets an equally unprepared, often first-time buyer of eLearning, what better way to ease the awkwardness of the whole situation. Ignorance truly was bliss. Yet the world changed, eLearning market competition increased and corporations wanted more for less and as a result of high profile corruption, governments dictated transparency. There would be no more small talk and gifts, but the upside would be lean, efficient and accurate purchasing. Well, almost.

 

eLearning Buyers and the Relationship Buying

So the small talk was over and this new breed of eLearning sales professional was all business (pun intended). Where did they get all this information about your company? Was the office bugged? And the questions, oh the questions, after 20 minutes of probes you were ready to turn in your resignation. After all, you didn’t really deserve your job, you couldn’t answer more than a few of these questions and unlike high school, no one to copy from. It wasn’t fair! They’d been trained how to sell to you and you were sure the CIA was involved, but what about you? No one had trained you to be a black belt eLearning buyer, and therefore you became a relationship buyer. If you couldn’t answer their eLearning questions and didn’t know what to ask them, you asked your friends, neighbors, and professional colleagues who they’d recommend. As long as you were asking people you respected, your chances were good you’d make the right eLearning choice. Wrong! If that didn’t work you’d ask the eLearning sales professional to name others that were using their eLearning product, again if some big names came out of their mouth, this had to be a fit. Wrong! The problem here is that the learning needs of a multi-national manufacturing venture may not line up well with your 300 employees with little more than one degree of genetic separation from your beloved founder. The eLearning buyers are outgunned by the eLearning sales professionals and they’re falling back on relationship buying. The can was getting kicked down the road.

The Internet has the ablility to make us great buyers of learning services

The Internet has moved on from being paperless brochures espousing each company’s greatness. With software-as-a-service, platform-as-a-service, the cloud has made the Internet an interactive experience and just as income tax software made us all accountants, and legal software made us all nearly attorneys, the Internet has the ability to make us all great buyers of learning services. Emerging companies such as SkillBeagle are soon to provide the means for each of us regardless of our backgrounds to carefully identify specific needs of our company, document and communicate those needs, express budget requirements, timeline needs, compare eLearning vendors, all at the click of a mouse through the use of simple wizard driven tools. But what about true objective decision-making and a meritocracy based playing field for providers? The power of the Internet in “Match.com” fashion is quickly becoming the best way for providers to document their capabilities and for a truly objective data base to provide a short list of best-fit decisions for buyers. Will it replace face-to-face meetings all together, not likely, and I’m sure there’ll still be an occasional free lunch in there too, but the Internet is going to change how eLearning and organizational development is procured regardless of the touchy-feely, human nature of this service.