I was reminded very powerfully this week of how important it is for us, as manufacturers to continue investing in the training of our partners. In today’s hyper-paced world of product innovation, we’ve become conditioned to spend no more than a few seconds studying, before getting hands-on with a product. That works for the most part with single-purpose consumer products, but can lead to disastrous outcomes with multi-purpose, programmable and configurable devices.
Many years ago I had the privilege of working with an incredible team of engineers to realize my vision of the affordable and adaptable fixed-architecture digital audio mixer. The way I saw it, the 8x10-I/O combined with true matrix mixing, group controls, assignable GPIO and both Global and Parameter-Specific pre-set recalls, along with individual input and output processing, was what the world was waiting for. This thing could do everything; you just had to learn how to use it. Alarmingly, most people never did.
Back to the present and this week’s experience of walking a partner through our product line in what we call “Technical Sales Training”. Our KLIK Boks line of wireless presentation systems allow users to share the screen contents of their computer of mobile device with a display screen, using Wi-Fi. A concept that was alien a mere 5 years ago, has now entered the mainstream thanks to Apple’s AirPlay, Google’s Chromecast and several other less-prominent but otherwise capable streaming protocols.
My presentation of the training session started out with Bob and Andy (fictitious names) decidedly cool about the training and the product. It turns out, they were at a trade show the previous week, where they saw and demonstrated the products for the very first time, and things had not gone well. Both gentlemen were very professional, but I could read between the lines and their first impressions had not been good. What felt worse was that I had a “reasonable” explanation for every one of the roadblocks they’d hit during their demos.
By the end of the session, I wasn’t sure that the message had been fully absorbed—we spent much of the hour jumping off the track to address specific “issues” that the guys had encountered during their demos. Just as we were wrapping up, Andy asked if we could repeat the session the next day, when he would have an opportunity to put a system together and configure it as we had talked about in the training session. That was an unexpected display of commitment that frankly caught me off guard, but I agreed instantly.
The following day’s session started out well but quickly devolved into a long-distance troubleshooting session involving Zoom, iPhones being held up to screens and frustration. Two parties with the best of intentions were now knee-deep in a quagmire that threatened to put an unceremonious end to this effort. It was only then that it hit both of us, almost at the same time; we needed to reboot this effort and set aside all of the distractions, agree to a base configuration and start from the beginning in our training session. Session 3 is now scheduled.
Today’s session started on a far more stable foundation; Andy had his two computers ready, the Router was configured, the devices were properly connected, all software was installed, and the session began. We followed the curriculum and one by one, the points were addressed, results were replicated and we moved on to the next item. Each time, Andy would ask a question or two, then reflect back on his prior experience and summarize with a condensed response to a hypothetical question that he might be asked. We had achieved alignment.
By the end of this third session, Andy exclaimed that his objective for the following day would be to completely dismantle the demo system and start all over again, connecting, configuring and testing. It’s a rare breed of individual that shows that much commitment to learning something, but it is precisely what’s needed if one’s intent is mastery as opposed to mere familiarity.
As a manufacturer, my take-away is that instead of relying on our customers’ personal initiative to invest in learning, we need to make our training more structured, systematic and less casual. We must offer a path to learning that includes several small wins, allowing people to master one topic at a time. That’s especially critical when the product is complex, highly configurable and intended to serve multiple use-cases. While the impulse is to just jump in and “get your feet wet”, more often than not, slow and steady wins the race.