We recently shared information about a state-of-the-art e-learning solution for competence and change management in advertising and sales, which has been embraced by all local media companies in Sweden. Not only did they come to the same theoretical conclusion regarding competence needs, but they also decided to share the same actual solution. Many cooperative attempts in media often fail to become operative when checked by reality.
The fact that local publicists choose to work with a common solution in change management drives a few basic questions:
- How did companies with the same challenges but different operative strategies unite over a common solution?
- What are the key success factors?
- What needs to be done to ensure the solution remails vital and effective in transformation?
To answer questions, I reached out to some of the key people involved with the solution now and throughout the years.
Key factor: “Transformational driving force”
When asked about key factors behind the e-learning solution’s ability to serve companies with different operative strategies, Lina Hedenström, CEO of NTM, points to what might be labelled as a “transformational driving force.”
Hedenström’s company, NTM, is Sweden’s largest local media company and is taking advantage of the e-learning solution to its greatest extent. “It’s pretty simple,” she said. “The rationale of working on common solutions grows stronger in times of structural transformation that affects all companies. That pertains not least to solutions for competence and people.”
That same opinion is shared by Peter Backström, former head of competence at Mittmedia and creator of the e-learning concept. Backström now heads the solution work in Swedish media through his own company.
“The media industry and its B2B business face the same challenges,” he said. “The same types of efforts are needed for everyone. Everyone also acknowledges that people, culture, and competence are crucial factors, especially in a relation-driven B2B environment.”
Staffan Lönner, former CMO of Mittmedia, was also a key person behind the solution’s creation and launch at Mittmedia in 2016. He also agrees the structural pressure has been crucial in getting the solution to work for companies with different strategies: “All of the companies involved understood and agreed on the fact that they were losing relevance in local markets. Everybody could also agree on the fact that new knowledge is key to regaining that relevance.”
Key factor: Mix of generality and flexibility
Hedeström also noted that enabling the e-learning solution was both general and flexible to serve different media companies with individual operative. The general learning content on transformation and sales fundamentals is the same for everyone while learning content on business and marketing specifics can be tailor-made for each company.
“At its basics, sales is a tradecraft that doesn’t differ from company to company. It’s about creating value for customers, listening to their needs, and then catering to those needs,” she said. “The general sales learning content on the platform can serve any participating publicist. When it comes to company specifics, NTM or any other company can adjust content and goals according to unique strategy and execution, for instance, when it comes to advertising formats or offers toward customers.”
Backström agreed: “The generality/flexibility dimension is the single most important factor in getting everyone to embrace the same solution. Cooperation needs to be general and scalable in some parts, and flexible in others. If we try to squeeze everyone into exactly the same detailed mold, we’ll fail.”
“The learning platform isn’t static, but can be used by companies with different strategies with tailor-made content in some parts,” Lönner said.
Key factor: Availability
The availability of e-learning as a concept is also important. To Hedenström, this is crucial. “The e-learning is available for everyone from everywhere. NTM is a distributed organisation with over 150 sales representatives in 18 different cities. They share the same challenges in their local markets and need a common competence solution that can be used in daily operations,” she said. “For a distributed organisation, a distributed solution is perfect. With this solution, anyone can access learning and competence management from everywhere, at any time.”
To Backström, the solution’s “distribution trait” is a huge reason everyone can adopt it. “The availability makes it possible for companies to make learning become an everyday activity,” he said.
Former COO at Hall Media, Mikael Malmqvist, was one of the people most engaged in the solution from its start. He also pointed to availability as a crucial reason for all media companies to embrace the solution.
“It’s like a 24/7 open school,” he said. “The flexibility and availability make it possible for sales reps and managers to access learning, repetition, and training when they actually have the time to do it.”
Key factor: Demanding nature of the solution
The high engagement requirement level of the platform may sound like a surprising key factor, but is quite logical when you come to think about it.
Hedeström explains: “The solution, its method, and the learning content are highly demanding toward the individuals going through it. Every sales representative has to put a lot of effort into actually accomplishing the education. That very engagement creates stickiness in learning and has a powerful impact on actual effect.”
Key factor: Cost efficiency
When it comes to choosing any solution, the positive features and advantages of products and concepts must, of course, always be paired with the “cost dimension.” The e-learning solution definitively lives up to that kind of requirement.
“We get a top-class solution at a tenth of the cost of a traditional competency and learning programme. When getting to the bottom line of choosing between solutions, the combination of high quality and low cost is quite unbeatable,” Hedenström said.
“This is by far the cheapest and most effective way of implementing knowledge and learning,” Backström. “It’s enough to compare this to the cost of sending sales reps on traditional full-day sales courses outside the ordinary job to understand the advantage of e-learning.”
Key factor: Iterated solution with proven effect
Another strong enabler for actual cooperation is the fact that someone needs to go first, both from the start and then ongoing. When the solution first spread widely, two companies, Mittmedia and Stampen, had tried the solution. That lowered the threshold for others to step in.
“The content of the learning platform has actually been produced and iterated by and together with the using companies,” Lönner said. “It’s not a generic or general set of content made up by some far away consultant, but rather based on the actual needs of the local media companies.”
“This was a model, a concept, that had already proven its efficiency and success,” Backström said. “That way, it was easy for companies to understand the value and make an informed decision to enter it.”
Key factors for ongoing success and effect
Today, NTM is leading the way, actively exploiting and enhancing the solution together with Backström.
Hedenström said three main factors will decide whether the solution will continue being successful, vital, and lead to actual and tangible effects. “First, it’s about leadership,” she said. “We need to convert the formal knowledge that this platform offers into real action. For that to happen, management needs to ensure the participants convert what they learn into skills and changed behaviour in everyday operations. Learning needs to be followed by active training and coaching. We also need to apply a lot of patience in the process.
“Second, we need to continuously update the content and the pedagogics of the platform. The core sales content must be updated as the needs of the market and customers change. We’ll probably also need to add completely new content in the future, to adjust to transformational needs. When it comes to pedagogics, we need to focus on making it feel even more creative, playful, and simply fun to acquire knowledge.”
Finally, she noted the importance of focusing on “internal brand building” for the platform and its effects. “We need to communicate good examples and success cases inside the company, showing that participation really can make a difference,” she said. “It’s so very important for us to really show that we invest in our coworkers and that investments make a difference for the individual and for the company.”
“If we want to continue being successful in letting this solution create value and effect for media companies, we need to iterate and update in very close contact with reality,” Backström said. “When we update the e-learning solution, we need to ask the market and customers what they need from sales and advertising, how we can help them get the job done, and then iterate learning from that.”