Winning the Sale with Stakeholders

Buying Wedding Bands

A few weeks ago my fiancé and I were shopping for wedding rings. We had seen the ring we were interested in online but were hoping to see it in person to make sure it was the right one. Because of some email correspondence with Lynette from Long’s Jewelers, we ended up at a wedding band event where Lynette arranged to have the ring we were interested in for us to see. The week of the event, I confirmed this with Lynette and she told us to ask for her when we arrived and she would show us rings. We arrived at the event, and after looking and about a dozen rings, made a decision to go with the ring we were initially interested in. Lynette was offering to sell that for a little over $100 more than the online price…but we still chose to buy them from her. Why, you ask? Well price is just one cost when buying something.

Cost ChartTime – Lynette made our trip to the wedding band event efficient. She knew where the ring we were interested in was and took us straight there. She also showed us other rings that were similar and ones that offered some of the same features we were interested in.

Effort –  When I first emailed Lynette a picture of the ring we were interested in, she did the legwork to find out who made that design and arranged to have it at the show. We didn’t have to traipse all over the place find and look at rings. We were able to show up at one place and see what we were interested in.

Emotion –  Lynette made the experience stress free, offering expertise and advice but not pushing us to rush a decision. When we first arrived, I told her my exact goals for this visit and she immediately made those happen and we ended up buying our rings that day. She took time to focus on us and make sure we knew we were important to her.

In order to have a satisfied customer, you need to make sure that your customer doesn’t exceed their budget in all of these areas. While Lynette’s monetary cost was higher, she met our needs in all the areas of cost and won the sale.

Selling Performance Solutions

As instructional designers, we are working with stakeholders to develop performance solutions to meet their needs. When we develop and sell a solution to them, we need to make sure it is within the monetary budget but we also need to make sure that we don’t exceed our stakeholder’s budget in any of the other areas of cost:

Time Be sure to value the stakeholder’s time and make the most of meetings with stakeholders, and do the legwork and solution development outside of meetings.
  • Use meetings to understand needs, goals, and other information
  • Use email to collect data and share information to be reviewed in meetings
  • Have proposals , plans, and implementation completed in a timely manner and when promised
Effort Limit the efforts you require of stakeholders to that which only they can accomplish.
  • After understanding the issue, do any necessary data collection to further understand and determine solutions
  • Determine the best “success” criteria and determine how to measure that after a solution is implemented
  • Take care of material development and implementation of the solution
Emotion Make sure stakeholders know that you understand the issue and want to find the best solution for them, that you value the opportunity to be of service to them.
  • Be able to define the issue and outline stakeholder’s goals
  • Involve stakeholders in important decisions, not every decision or issue
  • Follow up on the solution to make sure it was successful and met the need and ask for feedback that can be used to improve future solutions.


By making sure that stakeholders do not exceed their budget in all areas of cost, we develop satisfied customers. This means we will have their trust for the future and they will see our value as a resource. Our solution may not always be the cheapest, but they will know that we are giving them the best we have to offer.

Training Gluttony

859476_656278311603_743478685_oThe local ice cream shop near me has what is called the “Brain Freeze Challenge”. The idea is that if you can eat 8 scoops of ice cream, 6 liquid toppings and 4 candy toppings (essentially 3 pounds if ice cream and toppings) in thirty minutes, you win a free t-shirt…ice cream gluttony. Feeling daring this week, I went there with a group of friends and two of us decided to take the challenge…

After finishing, I couldn’t help but thinking how this experience was like attending an intense training session. At the end of the bowl of ice cream I was beyond full, I had no desire to have any more, and while it was pleasure at first, by the end, I just wanted it to be over and in a few days, many of the details of the experience will be lost. This is very similar to how I feel after attending an intense training or conference (what I would call training gluttony). I arrive, excited about the information I am about to learn and I start eagerly. Somewhere in the middle, my brain gets overly full and I start to think about it all being over instead of taking in the information being presented.

Sometimes these training sessions are a necessity, so how do we help learners not succumb to training gluttony?

Let’s look at ways to avoid the downsides of training gluttony:

  • Change Activity/Topic every 20-30 minutes
  • Take regular breaks
  • Develop familiarity with the material beforehand*
  • Provide resources to remind participants of covered material*
*These are also discussed in my post, Learning Beyond the Session

Change Activity/Topic every 20-30 minutes

While a great deal of research has been done on attention span, the results are varied based on many different conditions. From the point of lectures, they have found that scores on quizzes on the material after a 20 or 50 minute lecture do not have a significant difference. Research has also shown that after 20 minutes, the amount of reported time not focused on the speaker increases. Keeping these in mind, changing topics or activities, helps learners have increased attention and keep periods of inattention down.

Take Regular Breaks

During learning activities, a lot of information is being absorbed. During breaks, or periods away from the learning activity, memories about the information is strengthened and the brain has time to process and develop connections between the new material and previous knowledge. Research has suggested that breaks should occur every 90 minutes.

Develop Familiarity With the Material Beforehand

When people are familiar with a topic and the material being covered, their brain is better able to process new material. When learners are going to be participating in training gluttony, it is helpful to provide resources ahead of time that will help them to become familiar with the material. This could be related articles and/or videos, foundation material about the topics to be covered, or just an outline or agenda that will instigate their brain to consider the ideas ahead of time.

Provide Resources to Remind participants of Covered Material

Often times information exists in our brain but we can’t access it, or don’t remember it. Proving materials such as job aids, notes, or graphic representations triggers that material that we are not easily accessing. When our brain first heard the material, it may not have had time to determine and file the information into the correct type of memory in the brain. The tools provided to the learner will help them recall the material later when their brain will have time to properly organize the material and develop connections to other information

When a day-long or multiple day training is necessary, with careful planning, we, as instructional designers and trainers, can help learners to not succumb to training gluttony. By providing the right materials before hand, structuring the time appropriately and providing supports afterwards, we can make sure that while our learner’s may feel full, they can manage and process the experience and maximize retention and enjoyment of the experience.

Oh, and in case you are wondering, I finished my ice cream with 8 minutes to spare…

Learning Beyond the Session

Anticipatory set…follow-up…extend the learning. These are just a few of the ideas that run through my brain from my days an an elementary school teacher. But as I plan my upcoming training session in Chicago, I am reminded that these aren’t just for kids. Building your training session beyond the actual event, increases retention of information and engagement.

Let’s look at how that will be incorporated in my upcoming session:

The Scenario

I am heading to Chicago to do two full days of training, one for stores managers and one for branch managers. The training will cover different tools in the company’s proprietary software that can help them accomplish important aspects of their job. Most of the participants are new hires in the last six month. So basically, I have each group for a seven hour day, and lots of information to cram into it. My plan is to use different techniques before and after to:

  • Increase engagement in the session
  • Improve information retention
  • Reduce the amount of new material covered during the onsite training
  • Build confidence in the new material

What Comes Before

Thinking about extending the learning began right in the planning session for the training. As I discussed the needs and goals for these learners with their managers, I was already thinking about what steps I could take before I arrived in Chicago to prepare them for the session. While there are many things that can be used, for this session I am going to:

  • Selected appropriate on-demand learning to be completed before the session. I create a number of eLearning modules which cover basic aspects of our proprietary software and I selected a few that were relevant to each groups’ specific job responsibilities. By having them do these before the session, I am making sure they have the basic building blocks covered, so that I can build off of them instead of starting from scratch. This gets them thinking about the tools in the system and ensures they are familiar with how it operates. Since they will have covered some material in advance, I can draw on this common experience in the session and use it to do some followup activities on that material spread throughout the rest of the session. Another side benefit that has come of this is that because our LMS is new, many of the learners are experiencing it for the first time and as they have questions about logging in, etc, I have been able to talk and connect with many of these employees that I have not met before.
  • Get them to come to the session ready to share a current challenge they face. Several days before I fly out for the session, I will be sending each group of learners an email inviting them to write down one of their greatest job challenges and come to the session ready to share it. This gets them preparing themselves to receive answers and solutions at the session. They start thinking about what they are hoping to get out of the session and when I have them share these at the beginning of the session, I will also know what their goals are. Many of these I will be able to directly connect to the different topics that are already planned or I will be able to weave them in. For the one or two that don’t connect in, I will be able to use those in the follow-up sessions. During the session, engagement is increased because the participants are listening for the solutions to there challenges and they feel they have had a role in shaping the direction of the training.

What Comes After

It is never a good idea to dump information on learners and run. Certain questions will come up during a training session, but until participants put it into practice, all questions won’t be answered and the participants need to know they can still get answers. Of course I always provide contact information and welcome questions, but I also have planned follow up:

  •  Post Session Coaching Sessions. During the weeks following my trip I will offer two webinar coaching sessions for each group. This will allow us to deal with any questions not answered from the sessions and provides an opportunity to follow up on how implementation is going and address any additional questions or issues that have arisen. Offering this accountability and forum builds confidence for the learners in the material and their ability to use it. Additionally, this provides a space for this group to gather again and create further bonds that encourage them to reach out and support one another.

Let’s Review

Let’s just review how engagement and retention will be increased through these activities:

  • Participants are exposed to material before the session and have time to reflect on it
    • They have foundational knowledge
    • They are ready to receive the type of information to be presented in the training session
    • They have common experiences that can be used to for examples during the on-site session
  • Personal connection has been made with the learners and a bond of credibility and respect is being built
    • Participants know that I (the trainer) is already invested in their success
  • Participants come thinking about what they can and hope to gain from the training and engage to hear the answers
    • As common goals are shared, bonds are created among participants developing into a potential support network
  • Participants have a role in shaping the training and their goals become the focus
  • Participants report on their implementation of the learning, providing accountability
  • Space is provided to ask follow-up questions as the learning is being used
    • The group nature of this means that discussions remind participants of more topics and ideas than would be individually thought of
    • Participants hear others’ success stories and challenges and are able to use the material more effectively and confidently

In the busy life of an instructional designer/trainer, it is easy to fall out of the practice of maximizing your training with pre and post activities. We need to remember that preparing participants for a session, getting them focused on the topic and how it directly affects them and then following-up on sessions to make sure learning is put into practice has a huge impact on the ROI for training. The goals are constant, while the methods that work for different organizations vary.