We often talk about how selling in the Learning & Knowledge industry is different from selling in other industries.
It is not only because our offerings are different, it actually begins with how our customers are different.
The purpose of the L&K industry is to enhance the ability of people to perform more and bigger tasks so that they can make their own industry grow!
We must realize that the customer in this industry (Learning & Knowledge) is usually different from customers of other industries, in several ways.
1. The first and most significant difference is in the customer’s ability to spec what they want. Because the need being addressed by them has resulted from a lack of knowledge or skill in the first place, the customer themselves do not have the ability to solve the problem by specifying the solution. Else they would have solved the problem anyway.
This leads to a paradoxical situation. Where business and management gurus tell us to meet the customer’s requirements, in this case the requirements need to be developed by us, the professionals, to address the needs of our customers. At best our customers can give us their needs, their preferences, their expectations, and their constraints. This actually is the highest domain of selling – diagnostic, consultative selling.
2. The second difference in customers of the learning & knowledge industry is that they also do not know whether the solution we are proposing is going to solve their problem or not. This challenge emerges because of the unpredictability of human behavior, and the managers’ inability to predict accurately what the result of better trained staff will be, beyond the hope that they will perform better.
3. The third difference is that customer delight is rarely achieved by the same level of delivery again. The level of delivery – in terms of content, presentation, insights, creative and critical thoughts presented – needs to keep progressing for our customers to remain consistently delighted. This is where our industry fails when quality improvement models advocating consistency are implemented, like ISO 9001. The models are mistakenly interpreted by us to lead towards consistency of delivery, while actually to succeed, we need consistency of customer delight, which is rarely achieved by the same product delivered again.
4. A fourth difference is that our services are ‘invisible’ to the untrained eye. It can often be presumed that it is just communication that we build, and how hard is that for someone good with language. In reality, language is only the medium of the art of instruction. The art of instruction involves a keen appreciation of the context and motivation of the learners, and then to address their needs and wants with and experience that satisfies them, that brings ‘content’ to the ‘discontent’. These two necessities require the Instructional Designer to not only be sensitive to the personalities and environment of the learners, but also to the concepts and practices of the domain they will benefit from. This leads to the art of leading from learning, much beyond the mashing of words to ‘build’ learning material that reads right.
These Perspectives highlight the need to consult and collaborate with customers, on the identification of the design inputs for the solution as well as on the benefits of the solution once it is implemented. The professionals servicing the needs have to be experts, with knowledge to add to what the situation demands.
This is the primary reason why selling in the Learning & Knowledge industry is always consultative. The business that is there to be had without consultancy is low value, competitive, effort-based and routine. If we consider the Learning & Knowledge industry to involve Creativity, the business that is there to be had without ‘selling’ also will not require very ‘creative’ contribution from the suppliers, and will be far lower in value.
It is only fair to accept that every professional in the industry cannot be an expert at everything to begin with. But that’s the key – to selling, and to delivering knowledge or skills. So how do the professionals address this gap? By making sure they are the fastest learners, they learn faster than the speed at which the situation changes. They may not be experts to begin with, but with a reasonable and structured approach to learning, they can assimilate expertise faster than anyone else, and then simplify and deliver it to the customer scenario while there is still value to solving the ‘problem’ they want to address. By the end of a project, the professionals certainly become the experts at the topic, and they take the least time to become such solutioning experts.
This makes it amply evident that the most fundamental skill to hone for professionals in the knowledge industry, is learning. To learn how to learn is what we become the best at, and this gives us the edge of knowing more, the edge of knowledge.
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