The programs initially focused on product information and later expanded to cover sales strategy training as well. The costs of these four total weeks of training, as well as the associated travel costs and opportunity costs of spending time out of the field, were high, especially considering that many of these employees had yet to prove they were capable of making their sales quotas.
Great-West concluded that the portion of the classroom training that focused on products was too costly and failed to optimize learners’ time. Once reps left the classroom, many had trouble retaining the product information they had learned. The company realized that it would be more effective and far less expensive if reps could learn about products on their own, at their own pace, while remaining in the field. This would also allow the company to reserve costly, face-to-face training time for strategic soft-skills training that reps needed to sell the products and were unable to learn on their own.
Great-West needed a way to push product training back into the field in order to decrease costs, while at the same time enabling learners to learn at their own pace, any time they needed to. Great-West realized that online training would allow the company to push product training back into the field, but didn’t want to invest in a massive e-learning infrastructure until the concept had been proven effective.
The company decided to pilot its CBT initiative in a small area and began looking for a low-cost alternative to enterprise learning platforms. After analyzing the market, it selected Trainersoft, a product of OutStart Inc., for quick and easy authoring and deployment of e-learning courses that would supplement its classroom training.
Great-West began its online learning initiative by pushing the product-information portion of the training that traditionally occurred in the Denver classroom back into the field using e-learning. This allowed it to reduce its two, two-week classroom courses to just one, one-week training event, giving sales reps more time in the field and greatly reducing travel and classroom expenses.
Within the first nine months, a small group of employees developed more than 30 hour-long online training modules. Great-West liked that the training could be authored without any programming knowledge. It had complete control of the courses and never had to wait for any programmer involvement.
Pushing product training back to the field not only proved less expensive for Great-West, but it also proved more effective for several reasons. The company realized several huge benefits of this approach, the first being the value of repetition. New sales reps could continually go back and access product information as many times as they needed to, whenever they needed to, at their own pace. This improved their product knowledge dramatically versus a classroom approach in which they were exposed to product training one time and really couldn’t go back.
A second benefit was consistency. By accessing the same courses, new reps were trained very consistently on product information, regardless of when or where their training occurred. A third benefit was that online learning allowed Great-West to make much better use of its training budget. It made better use of the high-cost classroom training in Denver by focusing it on selling skills, delivered by regional managers and the company’s top sales performers. This is the kind of training that really needs to occur face-to-face.
In the first year alone, Great-West estimates that it saved at least $100,000 by eliminating a week’s worth of classroom training that was able to happen in the field. Within the first year, more than 10,000 exams were taken, showing heavy usage of the system. The test scores showed that product knowledge increased for the sales force overall using Web-based training as opposed to classroom-only instruction. And the feedback from the field on the courses was extremely positive.
Although the company’s Trainersoft initiative began in sales with only five licenses, other areas of the company have gravitated to CBT as a result of sales’ success. Today Great-West has 15 licenses and has purchased the Manager LMS. Great-West tracks learner scores, making it possible to test and certify baseline product knowledge of the sales team.
In addition to the benefits realized by sales (lower costs and greater effectiveness),other areas of the company cite flexibility of scheduling among the core benefits. Call-center managers, for example, can now schedule individuals and small groups to take online training, rather than having to put large groups in classrooms to capitalize on instructor availability, which left the phones short-staffed.
Today, Great-West is currently rolling out Trainersoft e-learning to most operational areas, including call centers and claims-examiner units. When the government mandated training on the new HIPAA Privacy Rule compliance requirements, Great-West turned to Trainersoft as well. It is using Trainersoft courses to roll out HIPAA training across the company, as well as to track learners in order to prove and certify compliance.
Today Great-West has more than 90 learning modules online. Its success with Trainersoft has made it easy to sell the value it has brought the company to management, and Great-West has built a business case to grow its Trainersoft initiative throughout the enterprise.
Steven Franklin is associate manager of employee benefits training and development at Great-West Life & Annuity Insurance Co.