Doing product knowledge right

If you’re in retail, you know that despite all the cuts you need to make, you can’t cut back on supporting your front-line sales team. More than ever, they need to know how to connect with customers, recognise opportunities to sell and have the product knowledge information at their fingertips. But you’ve got to do it faster and cheaper than ever. How can rapid e-learning help? Get the design right and you’re on your way.

Here are six steps you can take to rapidly design effective product knowledge e-learning.

1. Engage them upfront:


You’ve only got a few moments upfront to grab the learner’s attention. Retail environments are hectic and e-learning will be competing with multiple demands on their time, so it’s important to get the engagement right. You can do this through:

· Shocking facts or stats, e.g. 'Did you know that 55% of our customers are not buying the product that best meets their needs?'

· Stories and examples: You could start with an example of how to effectively understand a customer’s needs through open questioning – the ‘Let’s show you how it’s done’ technique. Or take the opposite approach and start with an example of a missed opportunity where the customer service assistant didn’t make the sale. Get the learner wondering if they make similar mistakes, and what they can do about it. Better still, get stories from customers and lead with those.

· Challenging current perceptions: Lead with a series of questions or statements about a product – for example ‘The monthly fees are expensive’, ‘It’s complex to use’, ‘It’s for business use’ – and challenge the learner to agree or disagree. Start a dialogue with them and make sure they realise they won’t be sitting back in this e-learning.

2. Make it fun:


There’s a lot you can do to bring fun and energy to product knowledge e-learning. One effective technique is to use a range of games and quizzes. These can be used to check that product knowledge is being embedded and used to address customer needs. We’ve found that you can play to the competitive nature of salespeople by combining these quizzes with competitive league tables so that staff can see how they score on product knowledge against other staff in other stores or locations.

3. Keep it short:


Establishing a time limit of 15 minutes for each e-learning module is desirable. That may sound short, but limiting yourself in this way forces you to develop very concise messages that maximise the learner’s time. Remember. less is often more.

4. Show how it works:


If someone is selling, say, a camera, phone or TV, they need to be able to demonstrate the key features. One way of doing this is to simulate the actual controls as part of the e-learning. The learner can then be asked to perform a certain task and be given guidance when they make an error. We find that videos and animations, particularly with technical products, go a lot further than just product specs towards achieving this goal.

5. Tell stories, share examples:


Many companies have stories of sales success that can be used to motivate learners and help them recall key information. We recently worked on a series of product knowledge modules where we had access to a series of ‘secret shopper’ videos, allowing the learner to see for themselves how well (or badly) other salespeople handle tricky customer queries. These add to the authenticity, and help to embed the practicalities of selling products in the real world.

6. Put it into practice:


You need to create opportunities for learners to show they can handle client situations, successfully identify a need and position the appropriate product. These should follow the flow of a goal-based scenario by:

· Setting up a goal: Make sure it’s authentic – not ‘Understand the product’ but ‘Talk to the customer, identify the best product for their needs and close the sale’

· Provide supporting information: Access to product information and the ability to ask questions of simulated customers

· Provide meaningful choices: Create conversational options for interaction with the simulated customer

· Provide coaching and feedback: Use a coach or customer characters to provide feedback on the learner’s ability to convey the benefits and handle objections

· Connect to relevant stories: Share examples of how others have handled the same situation

Follow these design steps and you'll be on your way to effective product knowledge e-learning.

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