Inqune on the Seismic Blog

Our friends at Seismic profiled Inqune on their blog today.

Classroom learning applied in “real” situations is an effective way to determine the rep’s level of understanding. But training will not stick without the ability to reference content and materials used for learning. Reps need to be able to easily search for and locate specific resources while they are in certain selling scenarios, whether in the mock stages or on calls with real prospects. Inqune values and recommends tools that allow for training materials to “live” where reps need them most and where they will be able to easily access them. When reps have the materials they need exactly when they need them, they are demonstrating that onboarding processes have stuck and that education is continuing.

Do You Want to Give a Lecture?

156974010You’ve been asked to give a talk, a lecture, a presentation. You promise yourself: it’s going to be different this time! But it’s not: you procrastinate, you throw together slides at the last minute, and then there you are, standing in front of a crowd of politely-nodding attendees, doomed to forget whatever they came to learn from you. After a half-hearted Q&A, your host thanks you for your time and you head home, with a sneaking suspicion that you wasted everyone’s afternoon.

There is another way.

When you set out to prepare a talk, start with these questions:

1) Does it have to be a lecture?
Just because you were invited to give a talk doesn’t mean you have to show up in front of the room and drone. Can you distribute some information beforehand and then facilitate a discussion? Can the material be conveyed through a game? Are there people in the room who you could invite to share their experiences? Even if you can’t replace all of your content with this sort of engagement, start your planning by considering how some of it might be moved out of a lecture format. More detail on these sorts of engagements in a future blog post!

So, some of it HAS to be a “straight” talk, does it? That’s ok!

2) Determine the core purpose of your presentation.
If your audience leaves with three new thoughts, what do you want those thoughts to be? Should they have acquired a new skill? A new model for thinking about the world? A story about the way events happened, or are going to happen? Make sure the scale of your goals are proportionate to the time you have, and know that the fewer goals you have, the more focused and useful your talk is going to be.

2.5) Re-consider your scope.
If, in setting goals, you realize that you have WAY too many, strongly consider revising your scope. Sure, you may have been asked to explain the history of telecom since 1830 and how that relates to the current market environment for Skype sales, but cut yourself some slack: Consider what you can actually do in your allotted time, how you can best address the topic in ways that are helpful to your audience, and don’t be afraid to scale back your objectives. Sending your audience home with one great idea is much more useful than sending them home with a forgettable, unfocused overview.

3) Evaluate how each piece of information serves your goals.
The most common problem with talks & lectures of all sorts is content overload. You will avoid this trap by considering how EACH point you make, and EACH image you project, serves the goals you set up in step 2. Don’t get caught in the trap of including lots of extraneous material for “context” unless “establishing context” is one of your stated goals.

4) Mix up your media.
How can photographs, illustrations, and video support your goals? Which of your points are going to be more memorable if presented visually? Choose striking graphics, visual metaphors, and short, punchy videos– never more than 2 minutes.

5) Put fewer words on your slides.
If there is a lot of text that you need your audience to remember, put it on a piece of paper and give it to them. You may want to put your points on your slides to make them memorable, but know that lots of words on your slides distracts from the words you are saying by inviting the audience to read rather than listen. How many words on a slide? 10 is ok. 5 is good. 3 or fewer is ideal.

6) Remember to engage.
This comes back to point 1: What can you do other than lecture? Giving your audience the opportunity to talk, move, experiment, and dynamically engage with your content isn’t just a matter of “maintaining interest.” It is a crucial aspect of learning and retention.

7) Get excited!
You know what you have to say, and WHY you want to say it. The last crucial piece is a GREAT delivery. Use dynamic body language and varied vocal tone to show them that what you have to say is fascinating– and they’ll gladly come along for the ride.

At Inqune, we LOVE coaching our clients into giving better presentations to train, engage, educate, and improve performance among sales and services teams. Learn more at our services page, or contact us!

In Good Company

521134709The Inqune team works in a variety of environments. Alana tends to work from home when she isn’t on site with clients, while I have an office on the 31st floor of Portland’s Big Pink, though I will sometimes revert to spending an afternoon typing in a coffee shop. Janine has a cool basement studio. But most of us, most of the time, work alone.

To communicate, we connect via Skype text and chat. We talk with clients on the phone or via GoToMeeting, or travel to meet them in their spaces.

There are many advantages to working solo: you control the temperature, the soundtrack, the snack menu, the break entertainment. But there are disadvantages, as well.

In my experience, working alone for an extended period tends to exacerbate my bad habits: forgetting to eat, procrastinating, browsing the internet at excessive length, and worst of all: letting tricky problems paralyze me, as I wait for inspiration to strike.

In the past few weeks, I have invited a friend and fellow business consultant, Gavin White of Genius Engine, to join me for work sessions in the Portland office. Having him in the room presents some challenges: when one of us makes a confidential client phone call, the other must step out to the office lobby, for instance.

But the benefits are extensive. We keep each other on task, providing a sort of accountability that is hard to reproduce with someone with whom I am working remotely. He reminds me of basic human needs (isn’t it time for lunch? isn’t it time to go home?) and keeps my working soundtrack diverse.

Most valuable of all, though, is his creative presence in the office. We both love mixing games with business processes to help solve our clients’ challenges. We are each connected to extensive networks of friends, advisors, and professionals. We are widely read– in orthogonal areas. And when I have a problem that I am puzzling over– it can be revelatory to turn to the person next to me and ask, “Hey, how would you solve this?” without intermediary technology. (I like to think I provide a similar service.)

I like working alone– I appreciate the uninterrupted focus of an extended working session when I’m in the zone. But these past two weeks have reminded me of the value of in-person creative collaboration, as well. There’s a lot to be said for working in good company.

5 Costumes to Celebrate Your Company

Who doesn’t love Halloween? I know a lot of sales managers are stressed today – it’s the last day of the month and many decision makers are heading home early to get their trick-or-treaters dressed and ready to go.

You probably have at least one team that organized and dressed up for Halloween today. But if you didn’t, there’s still time to grab a few office supplies and get into the holiday spirit – and celebrate your company.

1) Team Brainstorm162587173

All you need are a ton of post-its and a fifteen minute team meeting. Pop a team meeting on the calendars and you’ll have everyone a little on edge. You can start the meeting off in a serious manner:

“I called you all here today in order to discuss my costume. We’re going to brainstorm what I should be for Halloween by writing down your ideas, HR appropriate, on post-its.”

After you’ve given them time to write down their ideas, stick the post-its all over yourself.

Proclaim: “I’m a brainstorm!”

*To make them hate you a little less, provide candy and beverages.raincoat

2) Company Values.

You learned them in your onboarding sessions, but how often does your team think about company values in their day-to-day performance. Make yourself a living reminder! Honesty. Integrity. Fun. Transparency. Use images to illustrate or pick one image & run with it.

 

509961837

 

3) Red-lined legal agreement.

It’s always fun to work with legal! Cut red paper into thin lines, print out some legalese and attach those redlines.

 

 

 

3) Discount462571781

Ain’t nothing but a number right? What % are you? Do you need management approval? Slap an “approved” label over the number you choose

 

 

4) Chairman’s Club86519312

Use this one to rally your reps for the last months of the year. You can be before or after, but make sure you create a mocktail to carry around, have flip flops and a trophy.

 

 

5) The Competition103802193

Pick a competitor. Dress up as them, pin on their logo, and don’t forget to throw on some FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt). Print out some screenshots to call out their shortcomings: manual data entry, no custom reports, etc.

I Don't Mind the Weather

Take it from me: Projects have weather patterns.

The Inqune Portland HQ are on the 31st floor of the US Bancorp Building, better known as Big Pink. From this vantage, I can watch the weather come and go: storms roll in over the west hills, sweep across downtown, cross the Willamette River, and blow out again, drenching the East Side as they go.

IMG_6597Our projects also have weather, and just as I can see the storms come and go over Portland, so can I predict and anticipate the stormy sections of our projects.

We start with sunshine: Closing a deal is exciting for us, because we love knowing that a prospect agrees that we can help them. Often dark clouds roll in soon after, as we work our contracts through legal negotiations, but skies brighten again with the project launch: the client gets to open up and tell us their problems, hopes, and expectations, and we get to work with them to brainstorm solutions to them. We interview lots of people– and given our clients, those people are usually really cool– and learn the ins and outs of how the business works. And then we get to present our findings to the project team, which is often really cathartic: like a summer rain breaking a heat wave, having the triumphs and pain points of your company mirrored back to you can be a tremendous relief.

As we start building content, storm clouds inevitably roll in. Maybe some information from discovery that seemed clear when we gathered it shows its thin spots as we try to turn it into curriculum. Maybe internal process changes at the company invalidate our work-in-progress and we need to make changes. Maybe we just hit a creative block for a bit. Regardless, the process of getting all scoped content to the first review stage can be filled with squalls.

IMG_6600But storms pass, and as we begin validating content with the client, the weather usually improves. It can get foggy– waiting for materials to come back with critiques and improvements, smoothing the review-revise-approve process flow, keeping a large team of people on schedule– but the work gets done and, as we come up to project launch, we get to enjoy the rainbow that comes after the storm.

IMG_6602Managing our projects is a bit like watching Portland weather from the 31st floor. The vantage point makes a storm seem predictable, observable, and beautiful, in its own way. And keeping in mind that the storms will inevitably come– and go again– is a good way to keep our heads as we slog through the rougher parts of project work.

Communicating at Dreamforce

IMG_6495We are back! After a thrilling few of days at Moscone Center taking in the sights and sounds of Dreamforce, today the Inqune team is returning to our desks, reaching out to the people we met, kicking off some “as soon as Dreamforce is over we will…” projects, and getting ready to end 2014 with a bang.

In one of the first conversations we had at Dreamforce, an old friend said to us:

Every person you talk to here is trying to figure out how to make a million dollars off of you in the first five minutes of conversation. Let it go. Connect.

He was right, both in his observation and his advice.

To be clear: Dreamforce is a business event; more than that, it is a business event dominated by people in sales. It is entirely appropriate to be focused on our careers, companies, and products in this context.

BUT.

Business relationships are still relationships. The person you bump into at a conference MAY be the person who makes you a million dollars– but if they are, it will be because of shared concerns and mutual trust.

So, the next time you are at a conference, give the person you bump into on the show floor a break. Choose to be the person who listens to what is going on in their lives. Choose to see them as a person. Choose to have a real conversation. And, if the conversation turns up a problem that you might be able to help with (or vise versa): Set up a call or a meeting OFF the show floor when you can engage the problem together.

We hope you had a great Dreamforce!

My Bike Commute Makes Me a Better Consultant

1462590_10202513680382617_1678198969_oIt is the annual Bike Commute Challenge here in Portland, Oregon, which reliably gets wobbly fresh commuters on the roads and gets me thinking about why a person might choose to start commuting by bike for the first time.

I’ve been a bike commuter for as long as I’ve been in town: my family sold our car two weeks after arriving. So for me, the bike ride– complete with a cargo bike preschool drop-off for my kids– is pretty routine.

Riding bikes has obvious large-scale advantages: Reducing our fossil fuel usage is good for the environment, and reducing traffic in our cities makes them more pleasant and more functional places to live. Gridlock is bad for everyone. Riding a bike every day also makes me a better consultant. Here are three reasons why.

1) It connects me to people

Being on a bike is vulnerable. In my experience, when I am driving, I tend to relate to other drivers as though they were their cars. “Gah, why did that blue Civic cut me off?” On a bike, it is easier to connect with other road users as people– lots of visibility means lots of smiles, waves, hand signals, gestures, and so on. I feel like riding a bike in traffic every day makes me a better communicator, and more aware of our shared humanity, every day.

2) It makes me flexible

Due to an office mix-up, my bike wound up locked in a closet to which I do not have a key last Friday evening. I was the last one out the door, and so was stuck with no bike to get home. Fortunately, getting around primarily by bike means I’m used to having a back-up plan– because bikes break, I get sick and injured, or whatever else might complicate my travel. Last Friday I took a bus, but could have also grabbed a Car2Go or, with a bit of extra time, walked. Not owning a car makes me more aware of my transportation options, and better able to switch from plan A to plan B.

3) It helps me wake up… and cool down

Working life with small children can result in a lot of groggy mornings: working or socializing late and then slapping at the too-early alarm. In those moments, especially when there is rain or heat or snow to contend with outside, getting on the bike is the last thing I want to do. But research and experience show that physical exertion before work makes you smarter faster, and I know my bike commute does that for me. Similarly, at the end of a long work day, having 20 minutes in the saddle helps get me ready to be “mom” again when I get home, without lugging all my work baggage with me into playtime.

Does your commute change the way you think about your job? Tell us about it!

Digital Content Delivery 101

At Inqune, we build great training content. We work with our clients to build curriculums for their new & existing employees. Instructional decks that inspire instructors and students alike. Sales tools to give their teams that needle-moving boost. Enablement resources that turn sales teams into product evangelists.

178593372When we got started in 2012, this was the end of the line for our involvement. Except in the rare cases where we were doing content delivery, we would simply hand over a folder of decks and documents to the client and invite them to get their training programs underway.

What we’ve learned since is that it is crucial for our clients and their teams to have access to the materials that we create in an organized, useful, referenceable way. Now, we almost never plan an engagement that does not explicitly include some manner of digital content delivery.

I’ll outline the options from simplest (and cheapest) to most-fully-functioned.

Shared Folders

Whether it is on the company intranet or using Dropbox, Google Drive, or Box.com, the simplest way to make sure that your teams can access their training materials before, during, and after training is by hosting them in a shared folder system. If you want a simple, easy-to-implement, no-fuss solution, hosting materials in shared folders may be for you. Here are some tips to making the most of this kind of content delivery:

  1. Get the permissions right, every time. Take steps to ensure that when someone is added to a team or training group, they also get permissions to needed materials.
  2. Organization is key: think about how your team will use the materials, and make sure that folders and files have clear, obvious, searchable names.
  3. If your system supports it, adding tags or labels to documents can make materials even more searchable.
  4. Spread the word. Make sure that everyone on your team knows that these materials exist and where to find them.

 

Company Wiki

As with shared folders, a company wiki can be hosted internally– Mac OS X Server ships natively with Wiki tools, for example– or externally, through a service like Google Sites or a tool like . To make the most of your wiki, remember these tips:

  1. While you can host all sorts of materials on a wiki, we have found that they work best when most content lives natively on wiki pages, rather than existing in presentation decks, word processor documents, or in images. This vastly improves the speed and searchability of your content.
  2. Only use the features you need. Wiki templates often come with blog, news, and calendar features. If those don’t integrate with the way that your company spreads news & keeps schedules, take the time to remove them, or your site will look unfinished & sloppy.
  3. Keep it current! It is easy to build content into a wiki and then let it go stale, or worse, out of date. Make sure that someone on your team is assigned to keep the wiki up-to-date.
  4. Manage permissions! Who should be able to change your content pages? Who should be able to comment on them? Wiki systems give you fine-grained control and visibility into who is making what changes.
  5. Publicize it. This is crucial and easy to overlook. If your team’s most-asked questions are answered there, make sure that you include the link when you give answers. Better yet: Have all-team meetings when you launch the site, and make all-team announcements when you make value-add updates.

 

Learning Management System

If your training materials are multimedia, should be worked through in a particular sequence, and would be improved with quizzes and tests that report out to a supervisor, then you need a Learning Management System. Both local and cloud services exist, with a spectrum of features. Many of our clients have purchased Litmos to fill their learning management needs: this clever product is less fully-featured than more established players in the space, such as Blackboard, instead providing a simple, functionality-centric, and incredibly-user-friendly tool to keep your team’s training interactive and up-to-date.

  • Most LMS systems are primarily useful for leading learners through courses, and then allowing them to revisit those courses. If you also have sales tools or other reference materials, you should consider supplementing your LMS with a resource library built out in shared folders of a wiki.
  • Attend to your reporting. Who should receive quiz results? Direct supervisors? Mentors? Division heads? Have a meeting with all interested parties to decide, and check in later to make sure that these choices are still working for everyone. Note: If a quiz is simply to self-check, it is not necessary to send anyone the results!
  • Brand it! Make sure that your LMS site feels like part of your company. Add logos, colors, graphics, and so on to show your learners that even when they are building new skills, they are still part of the team.

There are lots of factors that go into figuring out how you want to get your content to your team. We’d love to talk to you about what will work best for you!

Lessons from Back-to-School Night

burlap sewing
Last night was Back-to-School Night in my four-year-old son’s Montessori classroom. The children had each made a list with their teachers of the activities that they wanted to share with their parents, and after a brief welcome from their teacher, they started buzzing around the room, gathering their favorite puzzles, paints, and other supplies.

The first item on my son’s long list was Burlap Bead Sewing. He brought a tray with small squares of burlap, a jar of beads, a needle stuck in a cork, a spool of embroidery floss, and a small pair of scissors. And he talked me through each step:

“First you measure the thread as long as the table top. Then you snip it with these scissors. Then you thread the needle, and tie the ends together. You might need to ask for help with the knot. (I helped with the knot.) Then you put the thread through the burlap. Thread a bead onto the needle, then make a stitch. Then, do it again.”

He worked, slowly and carefully, until there was a long line of beads stitched into the fabric. He asked for help tying the final knot, and then sat back, proud. “Isn’t it beautiful?” And it was. After appreciating it, I moved to help him clean up so that we could see the next activity on his list, but he stopped me.

“No, mama. When you’ve had a lesson, you have to do it right after. Or you won’t remember.”

And so I sat down in my son’s tiny seat. And I sewed a line of beads into his burlap square. Teal and orange: mine was an Inqune-themed embroidery project.

Four year olds are not so different from thirty-four year olds– but when teaching, we often treat them as though they were. Doing is a crucial part of learning. When we design trainings, it is crucial to keep in mind that “activities,” “games,” and “practice sessions” are not auxiliary elements that we throw in to “make it fun” or “keep everyone’s attention.” Using new knowledge as soon as we have been exposed to it builds crucial pathways in our brains.

And that’s what I learned at Back-to-School night. That, and a refresher on easel painting.

Three Things EVERY Sales Kickoff Needs

Brain We’ve got Sales Kickoffs on the brain: Lots of our clients start off their year with a big event to galvanize their sales teams and start the year on the right foot. They bring us in to add an educational element to these fun events, taking advantage of having the whole sales organization in the same place to train them up on needed skills or enable them on new products and features. We love SKOs. They are fun to plan and let us create pithy units to create real learning experiences for our clients.

Of course, the content of each SKO is carefully tailored to our clients’ particular pain points: We like to do new product enablement, active listening skills, objection handling games, and more. Here are some things that we think EVERY SKO needs.

1. INTERACTION

We know that your leadership has lots to say, and your message is important. But here’s the other thing we know. If you deliver your message in a way that lets your team put it into practice, they’ll have more fun… and their retention of the material will be much higher.

2. RECOGNITION

Run your numbers, and recognize your top performers in front of the whole organization. It will make them feel great, it will remind you of what is going well, and it will drive your team’s work ethic.

3. PRIOR PLANNING

You made a schedule and you put presenters on it. But, every year, they run over their time, and the whole event gets derailed. Participants get impatient and irritated, and there’s not enough food. How to solve this? Get every presenter to give at least one dry-run of their presentation a week before the event. This means prior planning, including having the deck done before the much-loved last minute. But it also gives everyone a chance to get their banter down, and makes clear if your CMO is trying to fit 3 hours of material into a 90-minute slot.

So: Draw your team in with interaction. Recognize their efforts with awards. And respect their time with a healthy dose of prior planning.

How are your sales kickoffs going so far this year? If you are in need of a little help… drop us a line!