Areas of Expertise

Onboarding Sales Professionals with Online Simulation

In a previous blog, I described how we created an award winning onboarding experience for the legendary consulting firm: Booz Allen Hamilton. And in the one prior to that, I outlined our secret recipe. (If you missed that blog you may want to take a look now, because I’m going to showcase new ways to provide context, create a strong first impression, ensure engagement and fun, and reflect the client’s culture.)

Today I’d like to tell you about an ambitious “Level 4” simulation we developed. That is, it uses a gaming engine with rules and probabilities, as well as deeply pathed scenarios that mimic real-life customer interactions.

We built it for a retail client who was looking for an immersive, updatable experience for their Sales Representatives in an accurate store setting. And given the fast-paced nature of this retail space, our team’s goal was to build an experience that could be easily updated.

We developed a solution that uses a “mashup”of several technologies. It’s broken into several components which all work together to speed learner development: the Overview, the Virtual Store and the ASK System.

The Overview of the course is a 3D model of a typical retail store.  It showcases all of the devices that can be found in the stores and provides links with detailed information and videos. Facets of the store, such as the demonstration area, use green screen video of a narrator in front of rendered virtual elements to instruct on its use. Because change is constant in a retail environment, all of the devices can be easily updated or changed, and the information provided in many of the links often points to materials that exist elsewhere to simplify maintenance.

After exploring the Overview, learners are invited to navigate the Virtual Store and interact with customers. They “walk” through the environment by panning with the mouse or using the arrow keys. As they encounter customers in the store, they can click on them to begin a sales interaction. There are dozens of scenarios, each representing a different sales conversation with multiple endpoints. They focus on a range of relevant sales concepts: either a service, a detailed portion of the sales process, or the features and functions of a new product. As they interact with each customer, the learner can experience a range of up to nine animated emotional states.

Learners are evaluated on sales and customer satisfaction. Relative success in one scenario can cause other “virtual” customers in the store to be angry or happy, which affects subsequent interactions. Feedback is typically provided at the end of the interaction.

In the ASK System, we filmed and indexed approximately 100 videos of our client’s associates to support best practices, tips, and advice on selling. The videos serve as a virtual coach and can be accessed at any time via search or in response to frequently asked questions. Using tagging and scoring, the videos (and associated FAQs) intelligently arrange themselves based on rating and “relatedness” to the video that is currently being viewed.

Together, the Overview, the Virtual Store and the ASK System provide new learners with a comprehensive, risk free learning environment in which they can hone their skills. And because the content is kept up to date, learners are encouraged to return often to use it as reference and to learn about new devices and sales techniques as they are introduced.

It’s another great example of how virtual tools are creating incredibly robust learning solutions at a price point that wasn’t possible even five years ago. The world of learning is changing fast. At Blueline Simulations, we’re committed to staying on top of it, and bringing you the very latest and best technologies.

We’ve got a few more learning tricks up our sleeves. We’d love to show you, and then help you imagine the incredible levels of efficiency, engagement, retention and organizational change that are available to organizations like yours.

Challenger Sale: Selling With Insight

I am very proud to say that I was taught SPIN Selling by the pioneer of that method, Neil Rackham himself. That was nearly 25 years ago, and since then I have dedicated my professional life to uncovering my customers’ unique needs and solving challenges for them; and to teaching others to do the same.

So I was, of course, brought up short by a colleague of mine who told me that the future of sales had changed and that I needed to change with it.  She simply said: “you absolutely, positively, must read The Challenger Sale.”

Secretly, I wondered if the train had left the station without me on it. So I dutifully ordered the audio book and while my wife and oldest son slept on our fall trip to drop him off at Wake Forest University, I immersed myself in a new world of selling.

The basic premise of the book for me was simple: “today’s customer values insights and education every bit as much as they value service and your knowledge of their business and its unique needs.”  Said another way, “you don’t have a great value proposition unless you can bring insights and value that they didn’t know they needed to the first conversation.”

Wow!  Talk about a wake up call!  This was completely transformational to me.  And on the way back home, I pondered Blueline’s value proposition and asked myself the question: Does Blueline bring insights and value to its prospective customers?

The answer is yes and no. We do, but we didn’t used to lead with it.  Our focus has always been on asking questions so that we had a clear understanding of need and then formulating an opinion about the best way to solve for that need.  And that’s still a good model.  But today’s customers demand that you prove yourself by bringing insights to them before they will commit the time to help you to understand their challenges.  That’s as true for my customers as it is for yours.

So we set about to rethink our initial interactions with prospective clients.  Today, we start by making the case for using business simulations and the case for engaging their people.  We share insights about the evolving demographics of their workforce and the often-misrepresented role that engagement plays in changing belief systems, retaining knowledge, and transforming skills.  Further, we make the case for a mix of technologies that maximize the impact of a three-pronged learning strategy that includes reference, immersion and community.  And by doing so, we earn the right to explore the unique requirements of our client, and to put forth a recommendation.

Today, we have set our sights on transforming the way we serve up these insights and others via our web site.  I hope that you will return often and explore the fruits of our labors in the coming months.

Meantime, if you are wrestling with how to meaningfully implement the Challenger Sale, the team at Blueline has been there and done that and would be delighted to share our insights with you.

Simulation Develops Results Focused Leaders at Fortune 300 Company (Part 1)

In my previous life as the head of Alltel University, and owner of its leadership development programs, I went in search of a capstone training event for the program we designed for 300 Directors and Vice Presidents across the organization. Having provided 360 assessments, external coaching, and internal workshops to this group on its Core Leadership Values, I wanted an immersive experience that would build strategic thinking skills and adaptable decision-making in a competitive and dynamic environment that would test participants behaviors against the Values, as much as their Executive acumen.

Extensive research went in to understanding the current market offerings in the simulation field, as I felt this would give us our best chance to provide a memorable, yet practical experience for our attendees. Participants in the program represented various organizational functions including customer service, sales, legal, marketing, engineering, products and finance.

My challenge was that there were dozens of providers to sort through! All touted their simulation solution as the “most advanced, “ “easiest to deploy,”  “best immersion,” and so on. I simply did not have the time or experience to be able to sort out the best from among these providers.

Then, through a combination of circumstance, timing and a little luck in the evaluation process, I came across Blueline Simulations. What was intriguing about them is they had already done all of this research to identify the simulations and providers with the highest customer satisfaction. On top of this work, Blueline offered program and project management resources, so by working with Blueline, we could do everything from negotiating terms to planning our implementation to conducting the simulation itself.

While there were several companies that made the final cut of proposals, it was clear that for our needs, Blueline Simulations was the best choice for this initial opportunity, and had the capability and capacity to grow with us. Together with Dan Gregory at Blueline Simulations, we selected Executive Challenge™, a competitive, multiplayer simulation that puts participants on the leadership team of a virtual company.

In my next posting I will share the nature of the program, how we customized it for Alltel’s needs, and what the outcomes were in delivering the simulation. Stay tuned!

Do your high-potentials think and act like business owners?

Introducing Business (Acumen) Challenge™: A one day simulation in which competing teams strive to grow their businesses effectively by making investment decisions, funding their strategies, and evaluating their results in terms of real-world financial metrics. Participants prepare for this classroom or virtual classroom experience by building their basic financial knowledge through an optional online program called Fluent in Finance™.

Sign up for our 50-minute public webinar at 1:30 pm EST on February 21st. Register today to reserve your seat!

During the info session and demonstration, you’ll get an exclusive sneak peek at Business Challenge™ and get to see first-hand how this revolutionary new program will change the way you groom your next generation of Managers!

Looking for more? Discover our complete set of leadership development experiences first hand through a series of 50-minute webinars hosted by Blueline’s Managing Partner and it’s Director of Leadership Innovations.

Taken from The Words of That Great Orator Paul Harvey: And Now, The Rest of The Story.

We’ve shared with you in recent posts about our overall work with onboarding and specifically our onboarding work with our client partners at Booz Allen Hamilton. In this post we want to disclose the results of our combined efforts there and the tools that we are utilizing in our current and future work in the onboarding space.

Since the onboarding program at Booz Allen Hamilton launched in November 2009, more than 8,000 employees have participated. Survey results both objective and subjective reveal that the more engaging and interactive program has netted positive results in many areas:

1. Reduction of risk and better adherence to compliance starting in week one. New hires have an improved awareness and understanding of critical firm compliance policies which enhances decision making that could vitally impact the firm’s credibility and legal culpability.

2. Productivity gains attributed to the job readiness of new hires going through the program. Data collected from internal surveys reveal higher (6% average increase) levels of perceived job readiness and impact among new hires participating in the enhanced onboarding program relative to the legacy program. When asked if new employees receive the onboarding they need to perform their roles effectively, employees rated the program a 4 out of 5 or higher 75% of the time. This is a full 23 points above the benchmark norm.

Booz Allen Hamilton estimates that for each day the organization’s new hires are not productive, the firm could lose up to $1 million dollars in potential revenue. Clearly the new program has contributed significant monetary gains.

3. Attrition rates for employees with tenure of 6 months or less have been reduced by four percentage points since the launch of the enhanced onboarding program. This is six percentage points below the norm of similarly-tenured staff at other benchmark companies.                                                                                                                                                            When new hires have a good understanding of the organization and the culture they are joining, in addition to insights about their journey ahead based on immersion into simulated real life situations with real life decisions, they are more grounded and well-suited for what lies ahead – not surprising.

4. The firm has experienced increased levels of new hire affiliation and engagement. A few of the most revealing facts include:

* Greater than 95% of participants acknowledge the program had a positive impact on their impression of the company. This has contributed to the decline in attrition as mentioned above.

* Interactivity and networking components are two of the most commonly mentioned positive attributes of the enhanced onboarding.

* Program surveys indicate that the firm’s enhanced onboarding program is outperforming the legacy program in 6 out of 7 survey question categories, including environment, logistics, guest speakers, instructors, objectives, and ROI.

* 96% of participants have rated the enhanced onboarding curriculum, ROI, instructors, and program logistics higher than comparable components of the firm’s legacy onboarding program.

The complete and immersive approach to onboarding at Booz Allen Hamilton promotes accountability while creating value for new hires, their managers, and the firm in a variety of ways.

But we haven’t stopped with this success. At Blueline Simulations we customize solutions to meet the unique needs of our clients. And those needs are varied when it comes to onboarding programs. We want participants to be engaged. We want attrition rates to be low.

We want the solutions that we create to be the best that have been experienced and we have lots of creative solutions for accomplishing that.

Gone are the days when live classroom training that involves travel, meeting space and logistics are required.

By making the most of remote meeting technologies such as GotoMeeting and Adobe Acrobat Connect, the possibilities are limitless! We are taking advantage of these tools and others like them to facilitate training remotely.  The use of storylines and journals, live and archived interviews, individual and team assignments completed remotely or live, chat, polling, remote whiteboard and breakouts all ensure that the level of engagement and retention remain high.

We look forward to sharing more with you about our successes and ideas in future blogs.