IIMS 94 contents
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Integration of multimedia training and management information: A powerful marketing tool

Simon van Wyk
The Shirley Spectra, NSW

I am going to talk about the implementation of Interactive Multimedia training with the franchisees in the blind making business. I think you will find the presentation interesting, as it demonstrates multimedia can deliver real benefits to business. Multimedia can be looked at not just in terms of its cost, but should be considered in terms of its benefits.

First a little bit about our client. They market a range of window furnishings, venetian blinds, verticals, and components of the blind making industry. In addition to supplying components, they market two well known brands direct to the consumer. The branded products are made by company owned and franchised blind makers. The sharp end of the blinds business is a commissioned representative selling and measuring in the home. All blinds are ultimately sold by a representative who measures, quotes and sells in the home.

Apart from a business ability to generate sales leads, success and profit in the blind industry is tied directly to the skills of the sales person. A survey discovered that blind makers were converting under half their leads and rampant discounting had lead to a decline in the average order value. Anyone who has bought a blind will know that huge discounts or 2 for 1 deals are the order of the day. It is clear from this that huge gains could be made if conversion rates could be improved and order values increased.

The best way to increase conversion rates and order values was through the training and development of the representative in the home. So what of the traditional training methods. Traditional methods of training in the industry are inadequate on a number of counts:

  1. They are unstructured and therefore ad hoc in their application and unmeasurable in their effect. A training day any more than twice a year is unusual. This training is held as part of a new product launch or product upgrade and will only be as good as the person delivering the training.

  2. They take no account of existing individual skill levels and therefore. may be de-motivational. A product manager may present to a room of people, some of whom are new, others experienced. The experienced people consider the training beneath them, while the inexperienced may not understand at all.

  3. They are inefficient and uneconomical, in that they are usually undertaken in an off job seminar format, which incurs costly travelling to a venue by trainers and the opportunity cost of pulling sales representatives from their territories during valuable selling time. Say the training manager earns $60,000 add $10,000 for a car, $25,000 for secretarial support, superannuation, travel, accommodation, materials venues and product management time, it does not take long to come up with $200,000 per annum.

  4. When carried out by 'outside training consultants*, they lack relevance and tend to be "motivational" in content and ineffective in the medium/long term. There seems to be nothing they present more than the preaching of a sales evangelist. There is nothing the blind makers dislike more than a sales motivator who used to sell real estate and now wants to tell them how to sell blinds.

  5. Because they are unstructured, they lack consistency of knowledge and skills imparted and are not goal oriented.

  6. Our client has a large number of geographically dispersed franchisees who, despite their best efforts, never got sufficient or regular enough training. With 18 separate products, just keeping up to date presented major difficulties.
We recognised that multimedia training had the potential to address all the shortcomings of their current training and was the solution to their problem.

The major objective was isolated. This was to raise the product knowledge and selling skill levels of the window coverings industry and in so doing deliver increased sales and profit to their business as component supplier.

Then with our client, we established the scope of the project in broad terms and developed some rough costings. We did this by developing simple flow charts to establish the nature and extent of the material required. As there was no formal training in place, this had to be done from scratch. There were no training manuals or videos to help in the development of this material.

Hardware selection came next, we surveyed each of the franchisees and found a vast array of machinery, from an IBM 38 at one site to a Commodore Amiga at another. Most of the rest were old ATs. Not one colour screen, CD-ROM or graphics card anywhere. Our hardware selection was Mac LCIII with CD-ROM, for the following reasons.

  1. All existing hardware was unsatisfactory and we could start with a clean slate.

  2. None of the blind makers was particularly computer literate and the system had to be simple. Apple Macintosh computers are still easier to use than Windows based PCs. This simplicity however, has its downside. It is easy for people to inadvertently drag vital elements of the system into the trash.

  3. 12 months ago the authoring tools in the Macintosh environment were superior to those in the PC.

  4. We knew that implementation was going to be hard so we needed a degree of standardisation in the field. If someone phones in with a problem we at least know exactly what he has sitting on his desk, and we are not faced with a number of outlets each with a different sound card or memory configuration.

  5. We chose CD-ROM because it was easier and cheaper to deliver than laserdisc. While laserdisc gives a better quality video image than CD-ROM, we recognised we could avoid the shortcomings of QuickTime with extensive use of stills. In addition many of the product modules were purely stills. To produce these as video for laserdisc would be prohibitively expensive and being 4 hours in length would have required 8 laserdiscs. Laserdisc players are more expensive than CD-ROM players and the discs are more expensive to master. CD-I was only just available and not really suitable, particularly bearing in mind the fact that our client wanted to assess and track progress in the system.
When we started the project the entire hardware package was about $9,000. Today the same package is $6,000. How do you get blind makers, ie, small businessmen, to invest in this technology in the middle of the recession?

A management information system was developed. This system ran on the same Apple platform and helped manage all aspects of the blind making business from order intake to costing. The package was highly specific and dealt in a simple way with all the problems of these small businesses. For example ask a blind maker with a good business when he took an overseas holiday and he will tell you he can't because he is intimately involved in the systems of the business. With this management system he can get away.

By bundling the training and management information together, we had the irresistible package and the project began in earnest. Detailed flow charts were prepared which covered all elements of the program.

The program is called SMARTY. SMARTY overcomes the inadequacies of current training methods by tailor-making training to the needs of the individual. SMARTY is an acronym, describing the program as follows:

  1. It is SPECIALLY designed for the individual.

  2. The performance of the trainee is MEASURABLE.

  3. Trainees work at their own pace and therefore the performance improvement is ACHIEVABLE to any acceptable standard.

  4. The performance improvement is quality based but RESULTS oriented.

  5. Whilst training may be undertaken at the convenience of the individual, performance improvement goals are set within a given TIME FRAME.

  6. The program is definitely not training for training sake and the YIELD in terms of employer, employee and consumer benefits is real.

How SMARTY works

SMARTY is designed so that a new person can be trained to the point where they can walk into a home and effectively sell and measure the entire product range. There are challenges for the experienced person as well.

The elements of product knowledge, selling and technical skills necessary for a sales representative to carry out his or her job to a satisfactory job standard have been itemised. Performance in each element is measured in percentage terms, from 0-100%. The elements are boxed into separate modules, ie.

At the end of each element eg, Vertical Blinds from the Product Knowledge - Interior Products module, the trainee is able to undertake an immediate self appraisal of his/her understanding of the segment. Relevant questions are selected at random by the computer and appear on the screen. The trainee by using an on screen cursor, selects an answer and is immediately informed if the answer given is correct. Should the answer be incorrect, the computer will display the correct answer and refer the trainee back to the segment of the program.

Finally the computer will tally the score achieved by the trainee and this information is relayed back, on screen, to the trainee. At the same time the details are recorded for printout by sales management.

This information is then transferred to the Performance Appraisal sheet of the trainee and following analysis by sales management, a training program may be designed for the individual concerned, for improving below standard areas. The program may take the form of further interactive computer training or field accompaniment by sales management, or probably both. SMARTY will isolate those areas where weaknesses remain. These can be dealt with specifically with face to face instruction if necessary.

The Performance Target program for the individual is specific in detailing those areas in need of attention and the performance improvement desired. The program is undertaken within a stated time frame, at the end of which, the individual undertakes further training and appraisal on the SMARTY system. Hence the process of performance improvement is continuous and measurable.

The most important part of SMARTY is the financial and strategic advantage of the product. The program represents a significant investment in production. It will, however, pay for itself quickly. The costs are partly re-couped by selling the software program to the franchisees. However the big pay back is derived from an elevation in sales performance, in terms of average order value and sales leads conversion.

The product has allowed wholesale blind makers a new freedom to pursue their marketing strategy. These blind makers do not sell in the home, but make products for curtain shops, decorators and hardware outlets. In the past these blind makers found the development of additional wholesale customers extremely difficult because they did not have the resources to train these people, now they do.

In future training can be targeted much more effectively. Say for example, there is a new program. A training module can be sent out in advance of the launch. The module can include attitudinal as well as technical elements. By the time the product is launched the exact nature of what the communication task is will be understood. Perhaps everyone understands the product but think it is a waste of time. They then deal with the attitude. The opposite is obviously also possible.

The traditional reason for not developing this type of training program is cost. I believe that if you carefully examine your current costs of training and the savings and benefits that develop how this sort of program you will find, like our client, that the program is affordable. Because interactive training is so quantifiable a cost benefit analysis is relatively free of wild guesses and estimates, and as a result is much less risky.

Implementation is perhaps the hardest part. No matter how specific you are with your hardware requirements the local dealer will try and sell you a slow CD because it is cheaper, a clone VGA monitor instead of an Apple one, and the blind maker will immediately load hundreds of games onto the system. These things have in fact been the major challenges of the implementation. The blind makers have found the system is well used and they have had no trouble getting people to use the system.

Development of the program was in Authorware Professional. We identified that, given the size, complexity and need to track people in the system, Authorware would provide the best solution. Sequences are built in Macromind Director with pictures from Photoshop and graphics from Colour Studio.

What have we as producers learnt from this program? It is not possible to quote this type of work until a complete flow chart with all the scripts is complete. Multimedia is much harder than video to produce, and it is much harder to specify a production schedule. The results of well produced and well planned multimedia are startling and worth the effort.

A final word on style. The audience for this program are not interested in reading text from a computer screen, and we have deliberately made the program more like a video. We have been in the video/audiovisual business for 20 years and believe that good communications and high production values make good multimedia.

SMARTY has given this group of franchisees something they have never been able to afford themselves, staff training. This means that they are now tied in a little closer to our clients' company.

Author: Simon van Wyk
The Shirley Spectra Australia Pty Ltd
104 Alexander St, Crows Nest NSW 2065
Tel. 02 438 3077 Fax. 02 438 5030

Please cite as: Van Wyk, S. (1994). Integration of multimedia training and management information: A powerful marketing tool. In C. McBeath and R. Atkinson (Eds), Proceedings of the Second International Interactive Multimedia Symposium, 564-566. Perth, Western Australia, 23-28 January. Promaco Conventions. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/iims/1994/qz/vanwyk.html

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