Archive for ‘Uncategorized’

November 29, 2012

Sharing a cartoon by Eric Burke

eThe more I work with application developers, the more I realize how hard it is to make things easy..

Cartoon by Eric Burke

December 8, 2011

If you can’t sell it – neither can your channel

I’ve met with some very smart leaders that believe (at least initially) the channel will be their magic bullet for overcoming the frustrations of an expensive, inefficient, unpredictable sales force.  The conversation usually goes something like this:

CEO:  “Our product is so far ahead of everything else in the industry that we should be selling it for twice our current price.” 

Me:  “So with that kind of value proposition you must be killing it -right?”

CEO:  “Well, not exactly..  As soon as we get past <XYZ> hurdle with our sales and marketing, then our growth will really start to kick in.”

So at this point in the conversation, I understand that I’m only seeing the tip of the iceberg.  If the CEO is a product guy, it is not surprising that he believes the main roadblocks to his growth are sales and marketing issues.  And by the way, the opposite is also usally true – leaders that evolved from sales and marketing DNA believe most of their problems are product-related.   It would be great if reality would align with their beliefs, but real solutions are almost always a messy combination of both. 

So, as the product-centric CEO thrashes around trying to solve his “sales problem” the mirage of a friendly channel starts to look pretty good.  Just think!  No more frustrating conversations with salespeople that don’t REALLY understand the product.  Lower fixed costs for a team that isn’t performing up to expectations.  No more expense reports for questionable dinners or demands for new laptops.  No more complaints about the support team or the comp plan.  And as an extra benefit, customer distractions and headaches would be kept to a minimum because partners would be responsible for support.

After carefully adding up the “gives and gets” of a channel program, the CEO reluctantly agrees to share 30%, 40% or even 50% of the revenue with partners.  In return it’s only fair to expect rapid revenue growth and relief from the headaches associated with pre-sales and post-sales support.   His team will finally be freed up to focus on it’s real mission, which is building great products.  If the company is well-funded, the next move will be to build a business case based on “conservative estimates” of market penetration and kick off a search for a well-connected channel guru who can put together an effective program. 

However, if you put yourself in the shoes the channel partner the perspective is quite different.  Of course when you explain the benefits of your product to them, they nod their heads and seem to agree.  But in their mind the very first thing they want to know is how much demand is out there for your product.  Are their customers asking for it?  (probably not).   Is the company providing “qualified” leads?  (again probably not – keeping in mind that their definition of a qualified lead is an order that needs to be fulfilled or a sold deal waiting for implementation.) 

If you take a step back for a second, this attitude is understandable.  Most companies have a hard time supporting a direct sales team even when they receive 100% of the deal revenue.  And their team is focused on only a single product line.  The channel partner’s calculation is less forgiving.  He is being asked to support the sales effort for your product on, say, 40% of the deal revenue and his team must split their attention between two, three or twenty other product lines.  While there are economies of scale that can be leveraged, in general they are less able to afford hand-holding customers through a long and risky sales cycle.

No matter how great your pitch is, potential channel partners will put your opportunity into one of two categories:  

The first is a product line that will bring them a significant number of profitable new customers with a minimum of effort  This is the holy grail and the reason why Cisco, HP, Microsoft and Google have no problem recruiting new partners. 

The second, less compelling category is a product that will help them sell more and earn more profit from their existing customers.   This could be a product that enhances their current solution or a product that helps them serve customers more efficiently.  In all likelyhood this is the category you will fall into.  When you practice your pitch it is very compelling.. “So Mr. Partner, even if you attach our product to only 10% of your current customers in the first year your profit will increase by 38%!”

But if you’re in the partner’s shoes, your existing customers are your biggest asset and no matter how compelling the pitch, you are wary about “leveraging” them for the benefit of another company, no matter how compelling your spreadsheet is.  So unless your current sales and marketing efforts are producing an excess of real qualified leads and has a stack of bottlenecked projects waiting for implementation resources, the chances of finding a channel partner in shining armor is very slim.

Despite these hurdles, hundreds or thousands of small and medium companies somehow manage to develop productive channels every year.  Rarely do they find the channel is a magic bullet that saves them from the frustrations of their own sales team, but with the right approach they can develop a ‘win-win’ channel program that results in a better, faster path to new markets.  

Interested in developing a high-impact channel that sells?

December 8, 2011

Innovations and Best Practices in E-Learning

4 Oct 2011
training magazine

As published by on 4 October 2011

How to make your LMS work harder for you.

By Chad Hoke, October 4th, 2011

The first thing you want to ask yourself when considering, implementing, or switching to a new learning management system (LMS) is: Will it be easy to use?

Think about the majority of your LMS provider’s users. How tech-savvy are they? Don’t over-estimate your users’ tolerance for complexity. One of the most common complaints we get from companies is that their usage is far less than they expected.

The best LMSs are built from the ground up for those who don’t typically use a computer every day. That means virtually anyone can easily navigate and complete training. Instead of visiting the site once and leaving frustrated, they achieve some early success and are willing to come back for more.

What to Look for in an LMS

Let’s look at the little things that can make e-learning easier on the learner and you, the administrator. These are features such as single sign-on, which allows the platform to integrate into other third-party applications such as other Websites, company intranets, portals, or existing training sites. The idea is to seamlessly integrate the LMS so a learner only needs one username and password for all company-related Web logins.

Next, you want an LMS whose look and feel is customizable, so the LMS becomes an extension of your brand. This is especially useful to manufacturers, for example, who frequently drive other vendors, value-added resellers, distributors, and other third parties to their online universities for e-learning. Employees also find that a seamless transition from their company’s intranet to their LMS creates less of a barrier to participating in training.

Another feature that makes e-learning easier on the administrator is having control over security permissions. Learners at a company or organization need different levels of access to information. You want to make sure your LMS allows your company to maintain those security preferences.

Auto-enrollment links allow the LMS administrator to customize a URL that can automatically enroll learners in a course or course category. This feature removes the need for the learner to find courses or join a group on his or her own, making it easy for learners to begin training.

Other Features to Consider

You want an LMS optimized for your industry. The BlueVolt LMS, for example, is optimized for the extended enterprise. We serve the entire ecosystem of an industry—for example, in the construction industry, this means we provide training from the original equipment manufacturer to the product distributor to the contractor to the installer and the association/buying group. This ensures consistency of training (and ultimately, product knowledge) throughout the channel.

Does your LMS enable course sharing? Many extended enterprise businesses have training needs that reach beyond their employees. They also would like to train their sales channel, their supply chain, and their contactors or installers, but getting online courses to all those distributed people is a challenge. BlueVolt’s course-sharing feature allows customers to share their courses with other BlueVolt customers. And inversely, customers can see and request courses from others on the LMS. This is an easy way to add fresh content to a university or training center, which is a critical factor in motivating users to return again and again.

Next, take a look at your LMS provider’s development process. Do they have a quarterly or yearly development and release cycle? At BlueVolt, we update our software every two weeks; sometimes they’re major updates with new features requested by our customers and sometimes they’re minor enhancements. And because we’re a Web-based LMS, our customers don’t have to reinstall the software or download anything. The updates are automatic.

What about incentives for learning? Something we’ve found unique to the e-learning industry is providing rewards for learner engagement. Our program, called $BlueBucks, provides dollar-for-dollar rewards for successfully completing a course. These rewards are easy to implement and redeemed in the form of online or offline gift cards to hundreds of national retailers.

$BlueBucks have been proven by BlueVolt customers to increase online course enrollment up to 10 times. Some of our learners, especially those who work for distributor companies in the construction trade industries, earn hundreds of dollars per year by combining their $BlueBucks from successfully completing courses from manufacturers in their industry. These manufacturers pay for the rewards so their distributors’ employees are well-versed on their products and more likely to facilitate successfulsales to the end-user.

Creating Compelling Content

Now that we’ve reviewed some key things to consider when choosing an LMS, let’s look at some tips on content (what goes inside the LMS to facilitate learning). After all, a great LMS is no good if the learners don’t use it because the content isn’t compelling.

Here are five tips for creating compelling content:

  1. Find your company’s Subject Matter Experts (SMEs): These are the people who always have the answers to your questions. Put that knowledge to work! They can help write FAQ’s, fill in information (see #2), and create training materials and resources.
  2. Create templates: Instead of continually creating new courses, create a generic template to simplify future course development. By providing a template with a few questions to fill in, it will be a snap for others throughout the company, like SMEs, to help you create a course.
  3. Draw on newbies: After developing training materials, during the testing and Q&A process, use new employees or customers to help review the training. They will offer a fresh set of eyes on the material and be able to call out topics that are confusing for someone going through the training for the first time.
  4. Assign administrators: Allow department heads, managers, or product people, anyone who can help administer your LMS, administrative access to the appropriate parts of the system. They can run reports for themselves, enroll students in classes, and much more. This gives administrators more ownership of the training program, while reducing your administrative overhead.
  5. Reward feedback: No matter how hard you try, you will always miss something. Encourage your learners to find mistakes and provide feedback on your training. When they do, make sure to thank them—either through a simple e-mail or a $5 coffee gift card. You want extra eyes watching for mistakes, and your students will feel pride in improving the quality of your training program.


Online learning is constantly changing and improving. The best LMS platforms stay up to date with current technologies, make adding your e-learning courses easy, and, most importantly, give your users a reason to keep learning

December 8, 2011

Improving On-The-Job Safety with Online Training

By Chad Hoke,  Oct 20th, 2011

BlueVolt article on

As published on on 19 October 2011

It is easy to forget how dangerous the workplace can be – especially in the high-stakes world of construction and building maintenance. Tragically, this week alone 88 workers are likely to die in construction-related accidents and a staggering 63,461 are likely to get injured!  With better training, a surprisingly high percentage of these casualties of work are preventable – and when businesses and employees work together to improve safety, the payoff is huge.

For workers, the fallout from an injury can range from inconvenience to catastrophe. Even a common back injury can trigger a spiral of unpaid bills, job loss and family stress.  More serious injuries can devastate a lifetime of savings.  Not only are injuries unfortunate for workers, they are also expensive for businesses. One large powerline commercial contractor based in the Pacific Northwest found that his company’s average cost for one on-the-job injury, such as a burn, fall, pinched finger or hand, to be $26,000. That number adds up quickly and can result in high costs for businesses, negatively impacting their bottom line.

Injuries also take a bite out of company productivity, taking employees away from the jobsite or workplace. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, falls are the second-most leading cause of time away from work — 13 days on average. This time away adversely affects both the employee and employer.

Training is a key to preventing these annoying-at-best and devastating-at-worst injuries. Some states (such as New York, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Missouri and Nevada) require Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) training for all construction contracts and public work projects.

No matter your state’s requirements, safety training is an important part of any job, especially in the construction, electrical and manufacturing industries.

Unfortunately, safety training is all-too-often overlooked because it can be inconvenient. Workers have to rearrange their schedules to sit in classrooms for hours, or even over multiple days, to fulfill training requirements. This can cause training to fall by the wayside because there aren’t always enough hours in the day, or the class is only offered at a time that doesn’t work with an employee’s (or employer’s) schedule.

But thanks to modern technology, hundreds of safety courses are now available online, including many OSHA-approved courses. Gone are the days of simply clicking through a boring slideshow online and calling it “e-learning.” Online training courses have changed dramatically in the last few years and many now feature sophisticated learning technologies such as interactive games, quizzes and product simulations. With the right Learning Management System (LMS), e-learning courses can include these and other features (such as videos or tools to enable real-time collaboration among multiple learners), to keep employees engaged and promote learning.

The more engaged a learner is, the more likely he/she is to retain that knowledge. And knowledge is power when it comes to safety training.

An online course is a much more convenient option for learners as well. As opposed to traditional training courses offered in-person, their online counterparts are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week from anywhere with an Internet connection. The learner is also able to take the course at his or her own pace, spending as much time as necessary on new or complicated theories instead of being subject to the needs of 30 other people. Which would you prefer?

With some LMS platforms, the course doesn’t even need to be completed in one sitting. Learners can take as many, or as few, breaks as needed to finish. Participants can also revisit courses and learned materials to ensure crucial safety skills are up-to-date (such as fall prevention techniques). Certain LMS platforms will also report completion results directly to the state board or OSHA (where applicable) for the learner, ensuring seamless license renewal.

There are certainly e-learning skeptics who claim that e-learning isn’t as effective as an in-person course. However, the U.S. Department of Education has found that people who learn online generally perform better than attendees of in-person courses.

Proper training is essential to the workplace and on-the-job safety and online learning is a smart way to complete it. It’s more convenient for the learner, enables stronger knowledge retention and, most importantly, keeps everyone safer on the job.

By Chad Hoke. Chad Hoke is vice president of sales and marketing at BlueVolt.

December 7, 2011

Increasing Sales Through E-Learning

Training Industry Exclusive

By: Chad Hoke , July 20, 2011

As published on on 20 July 2011

When most people think of online training, the first thing that often comes to mind is a static slideshow presentation with monotonous voiceover. Many also associate online training with human resources as a means to ensure safety in the workplace or keep up-to-date with essential job skills or processes.

Recently, however, companies are increasing their efforts to integrate online training into their sales and marketing efforts. How? Some companies simply bring product training online, thus boosting reps’ product knowledge, which greatly impacts sales.

And the nature of how sales and marketing staff can participate in online training has dramatically changed in the past few years. Instead of simply watching a sales presentation or series of slides on a computer screen, users are now encouraged to interact with their company’s Learning Management System (LMS). Sometimes this interaction takes the form of quizzes or games, and sometimes it’s in the form of earning rewards for online course participation.

Webcasts are also becoming more interactive—many live webcasts now allow for instant feedback as well as question-and-answer sessions that reach all participants and can be saved for future reference.

But what’s the bottom line? Sales personnel are beginning to participate in e-learning and their increased knowledge is improving their ability to sell.

So, how does e-learning impact sales?

No two companies will have the same approach to e-learning or the same LMS capabilities. But for those seeking to rev up their existing sales training, the goal is the same. And according to a BlueVolt study of cross-industry distributors, 81 percent of respondents agreed that online training does increase sales.

For many product manufacturers, for example, an e-learning program can help get the word out about new products and those products’ unique features, benefits and applications. When building an online training course, the manufacturer has complete control over the messaging that goes out to its distributors. This allows for consistent training and ensures the message that is delivered throughout the sales channel– from buyers, sellers and ultimately the end-user – is as accurate and compelling as possible.

From a financial perspective, this message consistency and delivery (via e-learning) can greatly impact sales by extending a message throughout the entire channel and reaching more sales people. While there will always be a place for live, instructor-led training, online training can help lower expenses such as travel– and still reach a broader audience.

After creating an online university to deploy new product sales training, North America’s largest producer of residential ventilation products, Broan-NuTone, was able to reach more partners. They also dramatically reduced travel and saved more than 90 percent on training expenses.

For the distributors of these specialized products, online training provides expert product knowledge. Not only does this strengthen the link between an informed distributor salesperson and the customer, it creates opportunities for increased sales. The same BlueVolt survey respondents agreed that more than 80 percent of sales present add-on opportunities and strong product knowledge at the point-of-sale can increase the number of add-ons they sell.

After national independent tool and fastener distributor co-op Sphere 1 began using its online university to deploy sales training, one of its members – distributor Big D Bolt & Tool – switched from carrying a competitor’s brand to American tool manufacturer Wright Tool’s product. This was directly a result of effective training. According to Big D Bolt and Tool owner Bob Coursey, “The training really illustrated how Wright Tool is better and [the sales team] understood why the product made sense for our customers.”

Sphere 1 also incorporated incentives for taking courses into its online university, which motivated participation and increased enrollment. BlueVolt’s $BlueBucks incentive program is proven to increase course enrollment up to ten times.

Manufacturers’ distributors also reap financial rewards from switching to an online platform. The historically standardized approach to training requires everyone to be in the same place at the same time so a sales rep can present training face-to-face, disrupting both the workday and the workflow. With online training, distributor employees can instead take online training whenever and where they need or want to.

Online training maximizes return-on-training time because learners:

  • Train when it is convenient with their schedule—whether from home, the warehouse, or while out on the road.
  • Learn at their own pace. Learning online isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Sales team members can skip what they already know and spend as much time as they need on what they don’t know.
  • Review previous courses. Even after completion, courses are available for future reference, which continues engagement and extends the learning cycle.
  • Receive training that is focused on the product, with an emphasis on product features and benefits. This maximizes the effectiveness of the training, because what is most important is clearly laid out and retained by the learner.

Additional benefits of e-learning

The benefits to online learning go beyond just the product manufacturer or the manufacturer’s distributors. Even the end-user, such as the product installer, can benefit from e-learning and having the same in-depth product knowledge. For example, a strong understanding of the product can significantly improve on-the-job safety for electricians who must stay up-to-date on hundreds of rules and regulations according to the National Electric Code.

Research shows that online learning is just as effective as, if not more than, taking an in-person course. In fact, a study by the U.S. Department of Education found that students who learn online generally perform better than those who learn in face-to-face courses. Additionally, the American Council of Education recently found that U.S. employees cite continuing education programs as the second most important reason they stay in their jobs.

Chad Hoke is Vice President of Sales and Marketing at BlueVolt, the leading provider of online Learning Management Systems (LMS) for the manufacturing

July 8, 2011

What You Should Know About eLearning

10 Jun 2011
electrical business magazine

As published by Electrical  Business June/July 2011

A look at the past, present and future of online learning, By Chad Hoke

In the not-so-distant past, training in the electrical and other construction trade industries meant an automatic trip to the nearest training facility to take a course on a new product or updated safety protocol.

These typical learning scenarios – whether taking place in a traditional classroom or auditorium – all have one thing in common: a one-size-fits-all approach to training. But the industry has caught on to a new approach to training – one that takes place solely online. How?

Electrical contractors and maintenance professionals no longer have to rearrange their schedules to participate in crucial training, which is more important today than ever. Online learning (‘eLearning’) is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week – from any place a learner has access to a computer and an internet connection. It’s that simple. And eLearning allows training to fit into the learner’s schedule, not the other way around.

Those already familiar with elearning may have heard the term “Learning Management System” (LMS). Simply put, an LMS is a technology platform that allows an organization, company or association to offer and host training courses online.

With online training, students learn at their own pace and are in complete control of the course, brushing up on what they already know and spending as much time as they need on what they do not.

There are certainly some eLearning skeptics out there. You know the type:  guys who believe “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” While in-person training is still valuable – especially for those professionals who learn better in a classroom situation or need a more structured learning environment – it certainly is no longer the only option for people in need of high-quality learning. Elearning is just as effective as traditional classroom learning.

How far has eLearning come?

Online training may have gotten a bad rap thanks to a plethora of boring, static slideshows our HR departments used to put together. These presentations were often run through a program that had to be downloaded onto all the computers and needed constant updating.

But eLearning providers have made great strides in the last decade, enriching the online learning experience thanks to cutting-edge technology and a greater understanding of how different people learn. And thanks to these relatively simple technological advances (such as wider access to the internet and faster connection speeds), professionals can now earn their continuing education units just as quickly and easily online as they could before in person. This improved accessibility has helped improve on-the-job safety for thousands of electricians throughout North America. Many leading product manufacturers and distributors in the industry have also started creating their own courses to train electricians about their newest products and how to properly install them.

Current trends in online learning

Courses can now be taken strictly online. This means that there is no software to install and IT departments do not have to waste hours updating all of the computers in the office. Those hosting a course, like a product manufacturer, can make updates to course content at any time and the materials are updated immediately – with no frustrating downloads necessary.

Instead of staring at a computer screen, learners are now encouraged to interact with their LMS through hands-on learning activities. Courses now feature drag and drop exercises, games and even product simulations designed to help learners understand complex spatial relationships and build new skills and techniques. For example, the simulations can feature animated product installations, which, in some cases, provide an even more effective product demonstration than is possible with face-to-face training. Through animation, learners receive a detailed, inside look at how a product works and thorough step-by-step directions on how to safely install it.

Participating in online quizzes at the end or mid-way point of a course also has learning benefits. Professionals receive immediate feedback on how they performed, extending the learning process and encouraging self-review.

Course hosts (often called LMS administrators) can see detailed results of courses taken and how each learner performed. This provides valuable insight to supervisors, who need to make sure employees are taking continuing education courses and keeping up-to-date with key safety requirements.

Electrical product manufacturers also benefit from detailed insights. They want to ensure their newest product is understood, and can pinpoint what aspects installers are struggling and then improve training.

When explaining a new concept, it is sometimes easier to show rather than tell someone what you mean. For this reason, videos are incorporated into eLearning courses to bring training to life. Integrating video allows learners to see how products are actually used and work, bringing a new dimension and practical, real-world experience to a course.

Using video has been known to both reduce training time and improve knowledge transfer and retention. By showing instead of telling, the chance for misunderstandings is greatly diminished. Quizzes can be used after, or even during, the video to verify knowledge.

While, at first, webcasts might not seem like traditional elearning, they are increasingly growing in demand among electrical and construction personnel. Instead of travelling to the same place at the same time, webcasts facilitate learning for large groups of people. As a trainer, you can teach an unlimited audience without ever leaving the office. Webcasts can include a live Q&A session, ensuring learners don’t have outstanding questions.  Your message is delivered live and always available on-demand afterward.

So where is eLearning headed?

Incentives are becoming increasingly more popular with online learning. Even with the best eLearning course, there’s no guarantee that anyone will take it. Properly-used incentives programs have been shown to increase online course enrollment up to 10 times. Course hosts can give incentives away as freely or restricted as desired. For example, students can earn them for simply passing the course or they might have to get the top grade.

Mobile learning is an increasingly popular trend in eLearning. As mobile technology continues to evolve, professionals may soon no longer need a computer to complete a required course. Soon, more courses may be accessible via smart phones or tablets – making eLearning even more convenient than ever. This is becoming an increasingly intriguing concept for people who desire access to applicable product information in the field, in mere moments. In an increasingly “on-demand” society, you can certainly expect to see a strong emphasis in this direction.

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn… social media is everywhere, including eLearning. Online training is shifting away from a transactional experience between a learner and his or her computer. LMS platforms are making eLearning a social experience where learners can interact, share input about a course and participate in discussions, all from the comfort of home or on the road.

Elearning is an exciting and innovative enhancement to the way we learn. The concept of a virtual classroom is no longer science fiction. LMS providers are continually adapting eLearning to fit our ever-changing society. And that means greater knowledge of the latest products, techniques and skills needed to keep electrical and maintenance professionals safe on the job site and on top of their game.

June 8, 2011

Survey Results Show Online Product Training Increases Sales

10 Aug 2010

Portland, ORE. — Survey results from BlueVolt® validate the benefits of online training for salespeople. BlueVolt surveyed 1,291 distributor employees who currently participate in online training through associations and buying groups in the electrical, plumbing, HVAC, PVF, construction, industrial and flooring industries. Respondents were limited to Sales, Counter and Customer Service job titles and 94% completed the entire survey. Results show that online training increases sales and improves customer service:

* 81 percent said that they sell more as a result of online training through BlueVolt

* 94 percent said their customers rely on them to recommend products or manufacturers

* 63 percent said they recommend products at least once a day

* 89 percent said that they service their customers better as a result of online training

* 92 percent said they learned valuable company or product information from their online universities

* 92 percent said they would recommend their online university

“This survey demonstrates what we always knew – that online training is a valuable and important asset to manufacturers selling through distributors” said Chad Hoke, Vice President of Sales. “The time-saving and cost-effective benefits make online training an indispensable resource and the survey results show our users agree with us.”


January 16, 2011

A simple sales comp plan that work wonders

Under Construction

January 16, 2011

It’s free like a new puppy is free..

Under Construction

January 16, 2011

Secrets to the 45 minute sales meeting

Under Construction