James Scott

Monday, 22 August 2005 13:13

The learning curve

Measuring the performance of sales professionals is a fairly straightforward task, with sales numbers and territory indicators providing all the data needed to evaluate success. On the other hand, measuring the performance of sales education and training is a daunting task, because there are no hard and fast numbers available in the training setting.

While daunting, the task is not impossible, as long as the training and educational targets are established and the appropriate measurement tools are in place.

Successful sales professionals use targets to guide their selling strategy and work to gain new sales in target accounts. Sales training must utilize that same approach in order to be successful.

Training targets are called educational objectives, and establishing objectives is an essential first step to any training strategy. Once established, objectives should be used to design and develop training and as a comparison point to measure the effectiveness of the training delivered.

Establishing targets
Using a comprehensive framework like Benjamin Bloom’s taxonomy of learning objectives, sales training executives can map out a training program that guides the sales professional through higher levels of learning as they progress through the training program. Bloom’s taxonomy:

  • Provides six cognitive-learning levels that build upon one another, with each progressive level representing more advanced performance
  • Enables specific training objectives to be developed based upon the level of desired performance
  • Ensures development of comprehensive training objectives and clear performance goals

Bloom’s taxonomy helps the salesperson to:

  • Remember. Retrieve relevant knowledge from memory.
  • Understand. Determine the meaning of instructional messages.
  • Apply. Carry out or use a procedure.
  • Analyze. Break material into its constituent parts and determine how they interrelate.
  • Evaluate. Make judgments based on criteria and standards.
  • Create. Put elements together to create an original product.

Targets for training design
Equally important to developing clear educational objectives is developing a training program that accomplishes the stated objective. Using Bloom’s taxonomy to guide the design of a training program ensures that the objectives are met by utilizing strategies that challenge the learner to perform to the desired level within the taxonomy.

An example of Bloom’s-based training design would be when sales professionals are asked to role-play a sales call, with a sales trainer acting as a prospective customer. In this situation, the sales professional demonstrates the ability to apply factual knowledge previously learned.

Targets to measure performance
Finally sales training executives should determine whether the training targets have been met. Donald L. Kirkpatrick has established a sequenced approach to measuring performance that accomplishes this goal. Training executives use Kirkpatrick’s four levels of evaluation model to measure:

  • The learner’s reaction to the training delivered
  • The actual learning that occurred in the training setting
  • The performance that occurs back on the job
  • The training program’s impact on the organization

An example of Kirkpatrick’s model to assess performance would be when sales professionals are required to take a pre- and post-training assessment that evaluates the progression of learning from the beginning to the end of the training program. This hard data measures actual learning in the training setting and can be used to demonstrate the success of the training program.

Kirkpatrick’s straightforward model provides the feedback and data needed to examine the success of the training program and to make any adjustments as necessary.

A targeted approach to training ensures that not only is the training successful, but the sales professionals who attend the training return to the field ready to perform.

Dan Scott is the senior director of sales training & development at Cephalon Inc. Scott has 15 years of experience training sales professionals, with his previous sales experience providing him considerable insight into the learning and development needs of this unique audience. Cephalon is a biopharmaceutical company focused on developing and marketing products to treat neurological diseases, sleep disorders, cancer and pain. For more information visit Cephalon.com.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:34

Intangible assets

Intellectual property (IP) is one of the hottest commodities of the new economy, in which the value of new ideas for products and business models can far exceed that of hard assets.

IP provides the key competitive advantage by which companies can command a premium in their markets. But many still do not have a clear grasp of their IP portfolio, much less those of their competitors. This information is essential to all business.

Understand the components

There are four basic types of IP -- patent, trademark, copyright and trade secrets. Patents protect inventions of products, processes, software and methods of doing business. Trademarks are words, names, logos, symbols, shapes, colors, sounds or scents that are uniquely associated with a product or service.

Copyright is the right to control copying of works of authorship such as literature, artwork, photographs, Web site content or source code. A trade secrets is nonpublic information that has economic value to a business, such as production processes, order fulfillment methods, product recipes or formulas, customer lists or pricing structures.

Given this scope of legal protection, nearly every business has some form of IP. You would not run a business without knowing in great detail its capital assets and inventory, yet many companies do not have a good system for cataloging and tracking their IP assets and correlating these assets to their products and services.

Valuable patents and trademarks remain stuffed away in file cabinets.

Devise a protection plan

Matching IP assets to products can be done with a database arranged according to a company's divisions or product lines, with links to corresponding IP documents, such as electronic copies of patents and trademark registrations.

Sales of protected products are a logical starting point for the valuation and accounting of IP assets. This information can also be accessed from an IP database, so that management can make informed decisions on filing and maintaining property rights worldwide. In this type of database -- accessible on a company intranet -- management personnel can view IP information and make business decisions with this key information in mind.

Even fewer companies have an accurate assessment of their competitors' IP assets, or a map of the competitive landscape which can be used to avoid infringement and identify unclaimed technology territories. Sophisticated software programs can perform this type of analysis on patents and present the data graphically.

Correct use of such systems requires legal interpretation of the scope and validity of IP rights, particularly with respect to patents.

Execution is the key

Accurate knowledge of your own and others' IP rights is essential for any company which deals with proprietary products or processes. Although the task of constructing a database of proprietary and competitor IP is formidable, the benefits are real and immediate.

This database will help:

  • Clearly identify where the company has distinct competitive advantages as a result of the legal right to exclude competition, which may influence pricing and R&D decisions;

  • Provide a starting point for valuation of IP as an asset class for accounting purposes;

  • Identify and eliminate the cost of maintaining any obsolete IP, or identify underutilized IP which may be licensed or sold;

  • Avoid costly infringement of others' rights;
  • Provide a strategic roadmap for R&D and product development, and even an overall business strategy.

Once such a database is constructed, it is relatively easy to maintain and can be updated with automated search engines which retrieve electronic copies of patent, trademark and copyright documents from the Internet and enter them into the database.

The importance and value of IP demands a structured approach to its management. The days of a company's patents and trademarks being locked away in a lawyer's file cabinet are over.

Manage your IP assets. They are your legal claims to the future economy. Jim Scott is an attorney at Arter & Hadden LLP and a member of the E-Group, a multidisciplinary group of attorneys which focuses its practice on entrepreneurs, Internet, e-commerce and emerging growth companies. Reach him at (216) 696-1100.