Presentation counts when marketing your training program

If you're trying to get students in your classes, what you say is key to accomplishing this goal, and how you say it is important, too. Find out how to promote your product like a marketer in this article on changing perceptions and attitudes.

By Linda Stephens

When we decided to use some basic marketing principles to promote our training program, we started with something we could accomplish without spending a dime; we changed our attitude. If we wanted enthusiasm, we needed to be enthusiastic. If we wanted cooperation, we needed to be cooperative.

In this article, we'll look at some concrete steps we took to put the principles of attitude and perception to work in boosting the profile of our training program.
In the first article about marketing your training program, I explained how marketers use the concepts of attitude and perception to package and position a product for success. Attitude is contagious and pervasive. A positive, enthusiastic attitude is easily passed on to our learners.
Changing the approach
One of our first attitude adjustments was how we worded our correspondence. As a follow-up to our published training schedule, we sent e-mail reminders of upcoming classes. When we changed our attitude, our correspondence went from sounding like morning announcements over the intercom in junior high school to important bulletins that have an attitude of excitement and enthusiasm. Attitudes are contagious.

We wanted to encourage learners to feel pride in their accomplishments when they completed class, so we designed certificates and congratulatory memos to reflect that attitude. Because we also wanted management to feel the same pride, we designed memos thanking managers for supporting their employees' learning efforts by allowing them to attend training. We wanted the attitude toward training to be one of cooperation among management, employee, and trainer, so we took an encompassing approach in all of our correspondence.

This is a sample of an e-mail we send to managers of the people in our training classes.

What enticing language or presentations do you use to let colleagues know about your upcoming training sessions? What techniques have been the most successful for you? Send us your ideas and your tried-and-true methods.
Changing the appearance
Our next steps involved packaging and positioning. Previously, we published schedules by simply printing the schedule on whatever color paper we had the most of, stapling it together, and mailing it out to managers for distribution. Employees sometimes didn't receive the schedules, and the ho-hum packaging did nothing to create the perception of value. We were devaluing a great product with poor packaging and positioning.

We redesigned our class schedules on a tri-fold brochure format, printed on special color paper designed for that purpose. The paper is not terribly expensive and is available from a number of sources, but we got ours from Paper Direct in Nashville, TN. Because we wanted our students to perceive training as something they wanted to strive for, a way for them to achieve their goals, we chose a design that reflected the attitude we wanted to encourage, a "reach for the stars" attitude.

After designing our own layout, we were able to print the schedules on a standard copier. The result is a beautiful, full-color schedule in a convenient, tri-fold format that costs very little and looks like it was professionally printed.

Changing the position
Instead of relying on overworked managers to distribute the schedules, we sent each manager one preview copy of the schedule. We then placed literature racks in all employee break and lounge areas to display the colorful schedules. Purchased at a local office store, the literature racks were not expensive and made a very professional presentation. E-mail announcements let employees know the schedules were available and where to find them. Now every employee had access to the schedules, and the high visibility made them more aware of the training program and reminded them of training each time they were in the lounge.

Pricing was our next issue. We don't charge training back to employees or departments, so you might think that there was no price to work with. In truth, every time employees enroll in a class, they've spent something to do it. They've spent the time it takes to enroll, time away from work, energy to focus on the new knowledge and skills, and effort to catch up on work they missed while they were in class. We didn't want to make enrollment too costly in terms of time and energy spent, but we wanted to make sure the cost of attending class reflected the value of the training.

To make the training appear just a little more expensive than much of our competition, we required that each employee enroll specifically via e-mail or written request, rather than just a phone call or a drop-by-the-office visit. We established a no-show policy, notifying the employee's manager if they failed to attend a class, reinforcing the value of a seat in a class. Written enrollment confirmation to each student served as a receipt for the time and energy spent to enroll, and reminded them of their commitment to attend. Finally, in the congratulatory memo that accompanied a student's certificate, we mentioned again the "time and energy you invest in gaining and improving your skills," reinforcing the fact that it did cost them something to come to class.

Borrowing a subtle trick from advertising experts, we also built the cost of not training into much of our communication with employees. We used phrases like, "Get the skills you need to succeed!" and, "Be ready for the future!" The implication, of course, is that not taking advantage of training would limit their success or force them to face the future unprepared. When compared to the cost of not training, the cost of training is an excellent value.

Measuring the results
Has our marketing plan worked? Over the two years since we began actively marketing our training program, every measure has shown improvement.

Management is supportive and involved. Enrollment is up significantly, indicating that students are confident about training. Class evaluations and student comments indicate a high level of satisfaction with the training. Post-training quizzes indicate that students are learning the skills. We know the skills are being used on the job because our support calls reflect higher skill levels and more advanced features being used.

As a company, we've gone from a workforce that was predominantly PC illiterate to a company where PCs have replaced terminals, typewriters, adding machines, and fax machines. Well-designed Access databases have replaced boxes of index cards, and employees continue to come up with new ways to solve old problems using the skills they've learned in PC applications training. Best of all, I get calls from employees thanking me because the skills they've learned helped them to get promoted to better positions or more interesting work.

That works for me!

Linda Stephens is the IT technical trainer for a midsize electric utility in Chattanooga, TN, and a Certified Technical Trainer. She designs and delivers core PC skills, Internet essentials, e-mail, and Microsoft Office 97 training to approximately 250 of the company's more than 400 employees.

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