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Negotiating skills alone are not sufficient anymore for success in software sales; the sales persons have to be expert users of the software they sell. So a well-trained sales team is essential for effective selling. The traditional sales training programs are delivered in a classroom setting. But, the time spent in a classroom is time away from selling. Moreover, the retention rate for knowledge picked up in a classroom is low, especially if the lessons are designed to be delivered through 'lectures' by a 'teacher'. The Confucian aphorism, "I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand" is borne out by modern studies like the cone of experience. Of course, incorporating labs into a classroom style knowledge transfer session can take care of the 'I do and I understand' part. But classroom labs come with several challenges like differing skill levels of participants, technical glitches, time constraints, schedule conflicts, etc. And, the onslaught of digital transformation (DX) has habituated people to a culture of access from anywhere, at any time. For all these reasons, classroom training has been losing favor with companies. The advent of virtual lab platforms (VLP) like [VLP product name] from [company] is pushing instructor-led training (ILT) to extinction.
VLPs for software products provide a virtual environment for building hands-on experience with a copy of the real-world environment in which the software will be deployed. So they are just like labs delivered in a physical classroom, except that Virtual Labs provide greater freedom of learning.
Here are a few compelling reasons for incorporating VLPs into your sales strategy.
VLPs are cloud-based applications accessed from a browser. So they are available all the time, on any device, from anywhere in the world. The only constraints on access are about security, privacy, and any standards compliance requirements that users' devices and networks must satisfy. The easy accessibility of VLPs aligns them well with the expectations of users acclimatized to mobile apps in this age of DX. And, their availability round the clock means that the real-time deadlines that were necessary for ILT are unnecessary for VLP users; they can complete the lab exercises at their own pace.
VLPs are much more cost-effective than ILT sessions. Unlike physical labs built for ILT, VLPs need to be built just once in the cloud. Apart from the one-time costs for provisioning the cloud environment, there are no per-user costs. Hence, VLPs allow easy scaling and flexible class sizes. Dismantling a dysfunctional lab and starting another one is as easy as a few mouse clicks to shut down the faulty lab and launch a fresh one. This helps to keep support costs down. Of course, there are other savings from the use of VLPs through the elimination of travel expenses and ILT scheduling costs.
There are many stakeholders who contribute to the decision making process for enterprise-class software purchases. In addition to the company execs that approve the purchase, end-users, managers, and IT personnel provide inputs. The software demo for the execs needs to be tailored differently than the detailed hands-on sessions for technical experts. Each instance of a virtual lab is easily customized, so salespersons can expose the feature sets and application scenarios that are appropriate for the audience. Moreover, with VLPs, a CXO does not need to sit through the whole demo. She just needs to be shown how to launch the virtual lab-based demo and she can experience it at her own convenience. Sales teams can also create separate labs for different versions of the software so users can do a side by side comparison of features.
Another advantage of VLPs is the easy availability of usage statistics for generating management reports. Both aggregated and individual usage reports enable you to improve the lab's effectiveness and user experience. User progress can be monitored from a 'control center'. The central visibility into all the deployed virtual labs enables IT to detect and triage misbehaving and orphaned sessions. Note that since VLPs provide a real-life environment for the software under evaluation for purchase, the analytics reports from Virtual Labs is a preview of the eventual use of the software after it has been purchased.
If you want to empower your software salespersons to shorten their sales cycle, you must include a VLP in your sales tools set.