Training is often neglected in CRM projects, which is a shame since much of the user acceptance and productivity improvements rely on a good training program. Since training is a relatively minor part of the implementation in terms of the effort required to make it work, it's worth planning for it to make it successful.

What Should the Training Cover?

The training should help the end-users accomplish their tasks using the tool. Therefore, it needs to present the business process being automated, matching each step in the process with the appropriate manipulation in the tool. If the process is changing, the training needs to present the new process, together with the benefits expected from it. The training should always be task-oriented. Don't waste the attendees' time with a tour of all the features of the tool: the vast majority does not care about them. Instead, demonstrate how to accomplish each task using the tool. How does one enter a new lead? How does one record an activity on a lead? How does one create a forecast? How does one create a new service call? Annotate it? Close it? If the tool includes a customer portal, make time for a short overview of how customers can use the portal, even though it's not a task for the end-users per se, since it's good for them to understand the customer's experience and how it ties into what they are doing. Leverage the use cases to create the training. By definition, the use cases should cover all the various tasks the staffers would accomplish with the tool, so much so that, if you find that a particular task is missing from the use cases when you create the training you need to go back and add it to the list. Training is a great and underutilized testing ground. CRM training must include hands-on work. You will probably want to start with a demo for each task, but it's critical that attendees have a chance to apply their new knowledge in a realistic environment. A CRM training class with no hands-on exercises is pretty much useless. Use the test system for the training, since cleaning up after the students on the production system is a pain (l learned this the hard way). It's fine to create training-only accounts so you don't have to create accounts for each and every user on the test system, but make sure that the permission scheme is set up properly so the students can practice exactly what they will be allowed to do in the production system and nothing more. Realistic hands-on practice is yet another way to improve the testing, especially in the tricky area of permissions. I recommend testing attendees at the end of the training session, for instance by having them perform various tasks that culminate in an alert or a predefined result that the instructor can test. For instance, sales reps may be asked to march an account through the sales process. Don't be content with having the users play around the system; you need to check that they really know what to do. When in doubt, make the training a little too basic rather than a little too complicated. If the attendees are using the tool every day, they will undoubtedly become curious about more advanced features, and they will discover them on their own. Keep the training reasonably short: each staffer should spend no more than a couple of hours, a half-day at the most, unless there is a significant process change.

Who Should Create the Training

Training for end-users is best viewed as a part of the implementation work. Few tool vendors offer end-user training at all, and the ones that do only offer training for the vanilla product, which is unlikely to match what you are delivering and which does not include the process training you need. Some integrators have staff in place that can create and deliver end-user training. Others, especially smaller ones, do not. Regardless, you can easily engage the services of a free-lancer to create the training if your own organization does not have the required talent on board. It's best to find someone who has experience creating process and tool training materials. In particular, if you have an internal training organization that specializes in product training you may find that the skills are inappropriate for developing task-oriented training. Before rolling out the training, make sure that the training materials are carefully reviewed and critiqued by a representative sample of the users. The super-users are a logical group to conduct the review, and indeed their participation in the project makes them very well equipped to serve as subject-matter experts. However, by the time training comes along the super-users are typically too well educated. Consequently, they will recommend adding more and more material and advanced features to the training, making the training too advanced for the needs of the end-users. Therefore, it's very helpful to supplement the super-users with a small set of "fresh" end-users to make sure that the training materials are not too difficult and too advanced. The delivery of the training can be handled by professional trainers or by internal staff. I like using internal staffers to deliver the training. In particular the super-users make good trainers because they have a lot of process knowledge and they are credible to the attendees. It's not always possible to tear internal staffers away from their normal tasks not only to do the teaching (that's the easy part really) but also to learn how to deliver the training. You may have to get creative and use a combination of internal and external resources. Actually, because of scheduling constraints, it's not rare to have to have to rely on a rather large team of instructors with varying levels of ability, some of whom will need help answering tougher questions during the training. Set up a mechanism to get the questions handled by an expert either during the workshops themselves or very quickly afterwards. In addition, collect such Q&A information on a central web site for everyone to access.

When Should It Be Delivered?

People learn best when they have a short-term need, and they retain best if they can practice. Therefore, the ideal time to deliver training is about a week before rollout. This is a hectic time for the project team, and the concentrated schedule makes it hard to assemble a proper team of instructors, but it's worth sticking to it because of the learning benefits. If you must schedule the training over a long period of time because of instructor shortages or other constraints, be prepared to deliver a quick review a few days before the rollout. So far, the topic of training has been covered as if training is always delivered in a classroom setting. Now is the time to state emphatically that a classroom setting is not the only way to deliver training. Classroom settings are very effective for tool training, but they are also inflexible since you need to bring together students and instructor in one place, and to supply the required venue to boot. If classroom training is not possible, web conferencing is an effective alternative (you do need a visual component so regular phone conferencing falls short). If training will be delivered from afar make sure that it includes a solid test component. Even with the flexibility of teleconferencing you can count on the fact that some of the end-users won't be able to attend for various reasons, and of course new hires will require training down the line. Therefore, I heartily recommend creating a self-paced training document. The self-training document can be used for the classroom training as a refreshing change from PowerPoint slides, or create a few PowerPoint slides if you can't live without them. After the training sessions, the document can be used as reinforcement for the attendees and also in stand-alone mode for users who cannot attend a training session. For self-paced students, ensure that that an appropriate online environment is available to complete the work. I find that many students also use the self-paced training document as a reference, especially if it includes an index, since they are already familiar with its organization and therefore can navigate it well. In addition to it you may want to create a quick reference guide for the tool. A one-page summary of often-performed tasks is something many users appreciate and use.