What’s the Time Commitment? Best Practices to Engage SMEs

Whether you’re developing training content on your own or hiring a custom training partner like Unboxed to create content for you, you’re going to need SMEs, or subject matter experts. SMEs help you — and any partner companies you work with — make sure your training content is accurate and sounds like you.

As you plan your next training project, it’s helpful to be aware of a few best practices to engage SMEs, so you can set expectations and start things off on the right foot. When it’s time to round up a great group of SMEs, don’t worry, we’ve got your subject matter expert roles and responsibilities covered.

So, Why Be a SME?

When you’re gathering a team of SMEs, you’re asking people to do a little extra work. That can seem daunting to some, but remember this: there are a lot of benefits to being a SME.

SMEs get to share their expertise in order to create great training for your company. They can contribute to truly meaningful change within your organization.

Plus, being a SME can lead to great personal and professional growth and potential career advancement. When you’re gathering your team and talking with them about SME time commitment, roles, and responsibilities, make sure you outline the benefits.

Characteristics of a Great SME

Obviously, a great SME has excellent knowledge of the topic you need to train. But being a SME is more than that.

The ideal SME will:

  • “Get” the ins and outs of your business so your training matches your company’s needs and culture.
  • Be able to review training content for accuracy.
  • Add crucial details to content by offering their own experiences, tips, and stories from within the industry.
  • Care about the success of the company and the people being trained.
  • Want the training to be of the highest quality.
  • Be willing to make time in their schedules for the project.

Let’s explore that last bullet further and take a look at each step of the training development process to get a better sense of the SME time commitment.

Friendly caveat: These are estimates. Longer and more complex projects may require more SME involvement, but no matter the scope of the project, it’s important to make sure SME duties don’t negatively impact their day jobs. Let’s set them up for success.

YOUR SMEs AND THE FOUR Ds

Creation of your training content will likely follow a process that goes something like this: Discovery, Design, Development, and Delivery. There’s typically a SME time commitment at each step.

Discovery

SME time commitment per week: 1 hour

Typically, this phase includes at least one initial discovery call that lasts about an hour. However, sometimes before the first discovery call it’s a good idea to have a kick-off workshop or meeting with your SME team so you can align internally on the extent of their involvement and what to expect.

During the discovery phase, SMEs may be asked to help define the business needs, audience, and learning objectives. They’ll also use their expertise to answer questions about the topic being trained.

The initial SME call may lead to more questions in the future. Your team should be available (typically via email) in case the training development team reaches out for additional information.

Design

SME Time Commitment per week: 1-2 hours.

During the design phase, the training team you’re working with will develop content outlines, often called high-level designs. From there, SMEs need to confirm that the outlines adhere to the learning objectives and that the information is accurate.

Depending on the type of training being developed, the training team may also pitch creative concepts during the design phase. SMEs may be asked to review these concepts and approve any talent or location specs for live action videos, if applicable.

The Design phase typically includes one SME check-in call. Materials will be sent prior to the call and shouldn’t take more than an hour to review.

Develop

SME Time Commitment per week: 1-2 hours

In this phase, the training development team brings the high-level designs to life to create the actual training content.

The Develop phase usually includes one check-in call. SMEs will help sign off on any materials being sent to final production by:

  • Verifying language, tone, and style.
  • Pointing out any gaps in the content.
  • Approving visual direction.

Materials are often sent prior to the call for review.

Deliver

SME Time Commitment per week: ~1 hour (maybe less)

The final phase doesn’t require as much involvement as previous phases. Typically, content is complete, and SMEs may just be asked to confirm no errors have been made and approve the final product.

The delivery phase can be extremely rewarding for your SME team. It’s so exciting to see the final product come to life.

Next steps

When your training launches, celebrate your SME team’s hard work. Thank them for their time commitment and dedication. As a custom training company, we’ve helped our clients plan training release parties, schedule screenings of new videos, and put together SME thank-you gifts.

If you’re interested in learning more about identifying a SME team or planning out your subject matter expert roles and responsibilities, reach out! We have years of experience building world-class programs, and we’d love to help.

What is Sales Enablement? Hint: It’s Not Just an App

Google what is sales enablement, and you’ll find varying definitions alongside dozens of companies offering apps that claim to be the silver bullet. We’ve seen first-hand that companies are often grasping at technology as a quick fix, rather than slowing down to align on a comprehensive initiative. However, making it easy for an entire sales force to use consistent messaging, keep up with product knowledge, add value to the customer experience, and drive sales growth can’t be accomplished with a single app. We must think bigger.

According to CSO Insights, while sales enablement is a growing trend, overall sales performance is not improving. In fact, while sales enablement as a discipline grew from 19.3% in 2013 to 32.7% in 2016, quota attainment actually decreased from 63% to 55.8%.

What’s happening?

what is sales enablement

How can you expand your sales enablement efforts into a 360-degree strategy? We have some ideas.

What Is Sales Enablement: THe Unboxed Definition

To start, here’s our answer to the what is sales enablement question.

We define sales enablement as:

A strategic initiative that aligns sales, marketing, and training to equip sales teams with the training, technology, content, and ongoing coaching they need to increase productivity, sell more, and improve the customer experience.

Let’s break that down.

IT’s a strategic initiative

Sales enablement is a comprehensive, forward-thinking initiative that employs a smart mix of technology and training. It’s not a quick-fix or a shiny new tool that lacks staying power.

If every employee company-wide embraces a mindset that they are either salespeople or sales support, your success will skyrocket. According to Salesforce’s State of Sales Report, 60% of sales professionals say collaborative selling increases their productivity by 25% or more, and over half say it also increases their pipeline.

It aligns sales, marketing, and training

In our experience, sales enablement originates in marketing. It’s marketing’s responsibility to position products, create talking points, and create a value proposition to make the customer experience more consistent.

Sales reps are your organization’s frontline revenue drivers. They build strong relationships with customers, provide solutions, and close deals. But it takes all three departments―sales, marketing, and training― working together to cultivate a successful, cross-functional sales enablement initiative.

Marketing typically owns the budget, sales executes the strategy, and training fosters the necessary skills and behaviors to sustain it. When this powerful trifecta aligns, the ultimate customer experience emerges.

It demands training

Sales reps require knowledge, skills, and behaviors to effectively sell to modern buyers. Without great training, they won’t share your value proposition with ease or overcome difficult objections.

Unfortunately, 80% of marketing content is rarely or never used by sales, according to ITSMA. Without strategic, insightful training on how to use them, high-end sales enablement tools and content are useless—but with the right training, these tools are priceless.

And with microlearning, reps can make the most of small chunks of time and train on the go. They can access training information whenever they need it. Quick refresher course before a big customer meeting? Yes, please.

It’s powered by technology

CSO Insights explains your organization can create the right tools, training, messaging, and content, but if your sales team can’t access them easily, you’re effectively fighting with one hand tied behind your back.

The sales productivity gap―widened by administrative tasks, manual data entry, and time spent searching for the right content―means less time for what sales reps do best: selling. Selling Power says some reps spend as little as 3% of their time actually selling. That’s shocking!

That’s where sales enablement technology comes in. And remember, don’t look for a silver bullet. Your reps will likely use different tools for different tasks. From rep-facing tools like CRMs and sales training platforms, to customer-facing solutions like guided selling tools and customer feedback platforms.

It centralizes content

Message consistency is vital to your organization’s brand. Sales enablement gives every rep access to the same high-caliber marketing content. Customers in every region are guaranteed to receive the same (stellar!) level of information and service. Marketing consistency thus becomes reality.

Easy access to interactive demos and content serves a dual purpose: they’re customer-facing (hello, customer experience) and also help keep your reps’ knowledge on point.

Let the content do the talking: interactive demos can explain your products quickly, while some sales enablement tools recommend the right training content at the right time to help reps close a deal.

Enablement? We’d call that empowerment.

It requires ongoing coaching

According to Topo, “Most sales training programs suffer from a fatal flaw―they happen once a year.  As a result, salespeople forget what they’ve learned.”

Products change, messaging evolves, and competitors encroach. The solution? Make sales enablement training a continuous, cyclical effort.

Conduct regular training sessions and provide reps with refresher training to maintain their competitive edge. The more modern and interesting you make it, the more your team will engage with it.

And coach, coach, coach. Observe your reps in action and provide feedback. They want to be better. Help them.

guided selling as a part of sales enablement

The Goal: Increase productivity, grow sales, and improve customer experience

When sales enablement is done right, the benefits are three-fold.

First, reps are more productive. They spend less time on administrative tasks and more time selling. And don’t forget about onboarding. Getting new reps up to speed is a challenge. With the right sales enablement strategy, reps are more productive, sooner. Often twice as fast.

It empowers reps to educate customers and make smarter recommendations about the best product/service for their needs. When customers experience this transparency and see that a rep isn’t just suggesting a solution to meet quota, they start to trust. And trust quickly morphs into increased sales.

Finally, it simplifies the increasingly complex buyer’s journey and adds value. A comprehensive sales enablement strategy makes it easy for your reps to sell and easy for your customers to buy from you. When you create a unique and exceptional customer experience, customers will buy from you again and again, and tell their friends to do the same.

Think before you launch

Without a well-planned strategy to accomplish your organization’s sales enablement objectives, you could waste time, effort, and money on so called “silver bullets” without achieving results.

Avoid failure to launch. With good planning, and a smart mix of training and technology, your sales force will be enabled, empowered and unstoppable.

So what is sales enablement to you? Share your definition in the comments below.

These Time Management Hacks Will Help Your Team #Win

Every team I’ve ever worked with struggles with time management. While we attend meetings, answer emails, and respond to unexpected challenges, we yearn for professional development—the first to go in times of frenzied task-switching.

My team at Unboxed is no different. We want to produce high-quality results, deliver on-time and on-budget, and acquire new skills—so we have to find smart ways to manage our time and focus rather than multi-task. Here are five time management hacks that will help you and your team members meet deadlines and achieve your professional goals.

5-time-management-hacks

Hack #1: Plan your week

Time box: 30 minutes

My weekly planning process, inspired by Getting Things Done by David Allen, begins first-thing Monday when I get to my desk. It goes like this:

  • Review email using the 4D method: delete, do, delegate, defer. More about this in Hack #2.
  • Refresh Friday’s to-do list. Add any email items that need to be addressed today.
  • Prioritize professional development. Schedule time for continued learning. (And if that time is late Friday afternoon, it might not happen. Earlier in the week is often better.)
  • Update this week’s calendar. Add any personal appointments such as the doctor, dentist, kids’ functions, etc. Create space for focused work. Make sure there are no overlapping meetings, and if that can’t be done, start declining meetings based on priorities.
  • Email any out-of-office reminders. Communicate schedule changes with affected team members.

I used to plan for the upcoming week on Fridays. However, I found things often came up over the weekend that forced me to re-do the plan. Planning on Fridays also caused me unnecessary stress because I was thinking about next week’s work over the weekend, when I needed to be present for my family. Planning on Monday fixed those issues.

Hack #2: Review email with the 4D method

Time box: 10 minutes

I typically look at email three times a day—in the morning, after lunch, and close of business. The 4D method works like this:

  1. Delete when possible.
  2. Do what’s asked if it takes less than two minutes.
  3. Delegate if someone else should, or could, handle it.
  4. Defer the task to a better time if it takes longer than two minutes.

I disable email notifications so I can stay focused. My team knows if they really need me, they can call, text, or come get me.

time management hacks

Hack #3: Complete a daily debriefing

Time box: 15 minutes

Hack #3, a retrospective of the day, is important because it allows my brain to shut off on the evening. Here is the daily debriefing framework I use:

  • Log today’s accomplishments.
  • Identify any impediments, who can resolve them, and specifics that will help resolve them.
  • List things that need to be done tomorrow.
  • Review email.
  • Look for ways to improve. Ask:

What didn’t go as smoothly as it should have?
What can I do better tomorrow?

When we slow down and ask questions like, “Is there anything I can do that will improve mine and my team’s productivity going forward?” there’s a side-benefit: we foster company-wide process improvements.

For example, I was in a meeting last Friday, and I noticed another team member’s scheduling system was pretty time-intensive and cumbersome. I wanted to help, so I made a note of it during my daily debriefing. When I plan my next week (Hack #1), I’ll look for a free block of time we can use to collaborate on a better method—which will result in increased productivity for the company. Time management for the win!

After the daily debriefing, it’s time to turn off the work brain. Everything necessary for tomorrow has been written down, so there’s no need for it to consume any more brain space and energy today.

Hack #4: Unplug

Time box: Daily

It’s extremely important to come into work with a fresh set of eyes and a fresh brain. If you’ve had a chance to step away from your tasks, you’re less likely to get spun out, and you’re more likely to be free and creative.

Need more convincing? Read the article Darwin Was a Slacker and You Should Be Too. After an overview of Charles Darwin’s daily—and surprisingly pleasant—routine, it argues Darwin and his amateur scientist/author/social reformer/lawmaker contemporary John Lubbock weren’t accomplished despite their leisure; they were accomplished because of it. Alex Soojung-Kim Pang explains:

“…despite their differences in personality and the different quality of their achievements, both Darwin and Lubbock managed something that seems increasingly alien today. Their lives were full and memorable, their work was prodigious, and yet their days are also filled with downtime.”

Ernest Hemingway wrote from 6 a.m. to 12 p.m. Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz “worked as a civil servant,” and “mainly wrote fiction in the late afternoon, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.” Writer Alice Munro: 8 a.m. to 11 a.m.; and Gabriel García Márquez: five hours a day.

It’s better to come to work rested, refreshed, and ready to be in peak productivity mode. In a recent FastCompany article, Lydia Dishman explores Project: Time Off’s new report, The State of American Vacation. The report found that:

“…planning a vacation in advance led to better follow-through and using more of the time available to take off. Further, planning was responsible for a mood boost. Workers who planned their vacations resulted in increased happiness across nine factors, including professional success, financial situation, and their company.”

We should follow the example of accomplished men and women before us—and be willing to step away from our desks, go for a walk, and plan (and take!) vacations.

Hack #5: Gut-check meeting agendas

Time box: As needed

As a team, we plan most of our meetings (both internally and with our clients) at least two weeks in advance, generally during sprint planning. So, when I receive an ad hoc meeting invite, I immediately evaluate it. I ask:

  • Does it have an agenda?
  • Does it have clear goals or desired outcomes?
  • Is it as short as it could be?
  • Do I need to be there?

If the answers aren’t clear, I’ll ask the organizer, “Hey—what’s the agenda for this meeting?” Typically when someone sits down to write an agenda, they realize the meeting actually can be shorter, or the tasks can be accomplished in another way.

Continue learning

I love to read, and there are some great resources out there that can help you learn more about time management best practices. My personal favorites are Slack by Tom DeMarco, Getting Things Done by David Allen, and SCRUM: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time by Jeff Sutherland.

Share Your Time Management Hacks

At Unboxed, we love to find ways to help people be more productive in their jobs. So, if there are any time management hacks that have really helped you achieve your goals, please share ‘em in the comments below!

Lochinvar Makes Training Easy by Choosing Spoke®

A manufacturer of high efficiency boilers had great online training, but the learning management system (LMS) that delivered it left them wanting more. A cumbersome user experience and limited customer support sent them searching for a better way. Two years and many LMS candidates later, they found Spoke.


Backstory

Lochinvar Logo

Lochinvar, LLC is a Tennessee-based manufacturer of high efficiency boilers, water heaters, pool heaters, and storage tanks. Their need? A better way to deliver online training for more than a thousand people a year: engineers who specify their products, end users who own them, and contractors who service and install them.


Opportunity

Lochinvar’s product training was solid content-wise, but their LMS got in the way of learners’ access to that content. Users said the platform was hard to navigate. Plus, it wasn’t mobile-friendly. “Everyone has a smart device these days,” said Ernie Chase, technical trainer and administrator for Lochinvar University. “We have to get the training to learners wherever they are, not just on a PC in the office.”


Solution

Now they can focus on learning instead of navigating the platform.

Enter Spoke, the simple and social learning management system. “Spoke is intuitive,” Chase said. “It’s so easy to use. Users are only two clicks away from training. Now they can focus on learning instead of navigating the platform.”

Spoke Dashboard and Reports

“Plus, customer service is beyond just ‘Give us your money and we’ll give you our product,’” Chase continued. “Any time we have a question, we get an answer. When we have a problem, Unboxed finds the solution. And with Unboxed, we know they’re always updating Spoke and keeping it current. It’s a moving, living thing.”


Results

We’ve had an extremely positive experience with Spoke. The platform is easy to navigate. It’s intuitive. Nothing is buried.

Initial results indicate learners are more engaged, and LochinvarU is delighted. “It’s unbelievable,” Chase shared. “All we did was move our old content onto Spoke. Overnight, the feedback was, ‘This is amazing training!’ Once the platform issues were out of the way, people could enjoy and learn from our content. Plus, people are talking about how many Spoke coins they have. It gets their competitive nature flowing. They want to complete more courses to get more coins.”

Training reports

Spoke’s reporting features give LochinvarU new insight into what content their audience wants—and uses. “We spent six months developing an interactive troubleshooter. We never knew how many people were using it, until Spoke,” Chase said. “This helps us with planning. We know what people are using, which guides our future training decisions.”

“We’ve had an extremely positive experience with Spoke. The platform is easy to navigate. It’s intuitive. Nothing is buried,” Chase said. “And we love the open communication with Unboxed.”

Smart UI/UX Refresh and Microlearning Bring in More Green

NextWorth expanded their online electronics trade-in program to include brick-and-mortar retail partner locations. As a result, they needed to teach their retail partners’ employees how to conduct accurate product trade-ins. Rolling out a series of engaging, bite-sized training videos—plus updating the retail partner trade-in site to be more user-friendly—helped cut variance in half and ultimately netted a double-digit increase in trade-in accuracy.


BACKSTORY

NextWorth logoBoston-based NextWorth makes recycling old electronics easy with three simple steps: Get A Quote, Send It In, and Get Paid. Customers can ship their trade-ins or take them to a local retail partner, one of which is Target. At Target, an associate inspects the device and gives the customer a quote. If the customer accepts the quote, the associate hands over a Target gift card in exchange for the device. Instant cash value–what’s not to like? In addition to being green, our friends at NextWorth are agile. When they have a strong, profitable idea, they focus and pursue it to completion quickly. That makes them an energizing client to work with.


OPPORTUNITY

Expanding the trade-in program from their NextWorth.com site into Target locations presented a new challenge. Rather than have an experienced NextWorth technician inspect the device after it was shipped in, a Target employee performs the evaluation and offers instant cash. That means every trade-in requires a judgment call at the point of transaction. Some products are easy for associates to identify and inspect, such as movies and games with specific titles. However, some items are difficult to identify and evaluate—take the iPhone 4 and the iPhone 4S for example. They’re almost identical on the outside, but have a few key differences affecting their trade-in value. More challenging trade-ins, plus too much room for associate interpretation, resulted in an inconsistent customer experience and lost revenue dollars. NextWorth came to us with a need: provide training to teach hundreds of associates how to conduct more accurate product trade-ins.


PARTNERSHIP

NextWorth UI

As we started to learn more about NextWorth’s business, we uncovered another issue affecting the variance at retail partner locations—not just lack of training. The partner trade-in site’s user interface (UI) did not intuitively guide and support associates through the trade-in process. We realized if the UI were more precise and had stronger visuals, much of the associate confusion would be eliminated. The NextWorth team was very open to feedback, and over the course of several meetings together, we developed a strategy that proposed a new UI. The site refresh would make it easier to identify the correct product at the point of transaction.


SOLUTION

We studied the current trade-in process in detail and sought out the biggest challenges. Then we designed the UI updates. Once the UI was completed and tested, we scripted, shot, and embedded supplemental microlearning into the UI design. Between transactions, associates could log into the system and learn additional skills through short, video-based training courses and help windows while they were still on the sales floor—which made for a better user experience, and better training, for all.

Here are some highlights from our UI/UX design and microlearning work:

NextWorth UIIt’s easy for employees to find the right category for the trade-in item because we used a highly visual layout that doesn’t require a lot of reading.

“Does the item power on?” is the gatekeeper question. Answering “No” generates one set of questions, and answering “Yes” generates another. This makes the trade-in process quicker and more accurate, because employees only spend time on evaluation questions that apply to the device. We also added help windows to show employees how to answer the more difficult product evaluation questions.

NextWorth training video

Short training videos introduce employees to how the trade-in program works, the program’s benefits, and how to provide a great customer experience.

Quick, simple quizzes confirm understanding of how to proceed in more challenging trade-in scenarios.

 

 


RESULTS

Within two weeks of the site refresh, NextWorth’s variance in retail partner locations was cut in half, and their UI and training investment was paid for immediately. In the end, they achieved double-digit improvement in trade-in accuracy. On top of that, we again proved the best associate training aims for simplicity at every point. One user-friendly tool, plus supplemental training, goes a long way. And now, it’s easy for all of us to trade-in our old smartphones for the latest and greatest.