In this week’s episode, I’m joined by Tracy Tibedo, Director of Commercial Training at multinational biotech company Thermo Fisher Scientific. We take a dive into how to socialize learning design methodologies to get the support you need from your business, how to deploy learning across multiple languages and cultures, and how to spot exceptional learning designers at an interview. Enjoy the episode.
Tracy is a seasoned sales professional with a passion for improving sales performance. Having spent almost 30 years in sales and marketing, he knows what makes a great salesperson. Tracy and his team support over 2,000 specialist sales staff in locations all over the world, with sales training programs to drive performance improvements.
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Simon: 1:35 So, Tracy, to get us started—you’re supporting about 2,000 sales professionals across Thermo Fisher Scientific. Can you tell me a bit more about your role there and what you do?
Tracy: 1:47 Sure. I’m the Director of Global Sales Training, so my team is six instructional designers—well, five instructional designers and one person who focuses on our sales enablement efforts. Our sales enablement efforts are primarily training—the Sandler training methodology—as well as incorporating that methodology into, really, everything we do, which includes our .com instance, and we’re also reaching out to our application chemists and our marketing people, and product managers, to make that methodology as sticky as possible so it permeates the entire organization. We have one person and myself who drive that effort.
Simon: 2:35 Tracy, your first job was teaching scuba diving, and interestingly—I’ve found from meeting different learning leaders—it’s quite common to find somewhere in their history, they had an actual teaching experience. Do you think it’s necessary to have that kind of firsthand experience of teaching and seeing learning land with someone to be able to design effective digital learning interventions?
Tracy: 03:00 I think so, yes. So, I taught scuba diving many years ago—we won’t say exactly how long ago that was—but I also did quite a bit of classroom training of sales methodologies and technical training. And I still love doing that, I just don’t get to do it as much as I used to. I think that’s really valuable, to stand up in front of a class and see the faces of the audience when they’re getting a concept and when they’re not getting it, when they’re bored and when they’re excited. So, as you start designing programs or looking at programs that other people have designed, you have that firsthand knowledge of what works and what doesn’t work.
Simon: 03:40 That’s a good takeaway, Tracey, I like that. Can you tell me a bit more about the training method—I’ll admit it’s not one I’ve come across before.
Tracy: 03:47 Sandler Training is a very large organization, they’ve been around for some 40 years, and it’s surprising how so few people know about them. They are typically known as a local training source, because they have franchises all over the planet. So, if you were a local company interested in working with some local trainers, you could very easily find a Sandler Franchise that you could work with. Although they have taken on big global roles, big global accounts like Thermo Fisher, until recently, that really hasn’t been their bread and butter.
04:25 But they’ve been very good to work with, and they do have a global presence. We’ve done training with them throughout the United States, all over Europe, all over Latin America—and now, we’re expanding into APEC. We’ve rolled the program out in Korea, China, Singapore, Taiwan, Malaysia. And yeah, it’s been good.
Simon: 04:50 I mean, your examples of going so broad with the localization—how does that kind of methodology translate to different cultures, working environments?
Tracy: 05:00 Extremely well. Now, every—especially when you go into Asia or even into parts of Europe, you do need to do some customization of your content, whether it’s skills training methodology or even in elearning, to make sure you’re aware of not just the language change, but also some of the cultural nuances.
Simon: 05:21 What are the biggest things you’ve learned from that translation into cultural nuances? I know from my own experiences that using humor was one that didn’t translate well into other territories.
Tracy: 05:31 Well, I think one of the first things you learn is you won’t get it right on the first try. And you need to be prepared for that. The first course you do in a new country, whether it’s Korea or China, you have to be prepared for people to want more changes after that first course. Despite your best efforts of talking to managers, talking to country leaders, it’s not until you actually run the program with the reps on the ground that you really learn some of the subtleties that need to be changed in any program you do. 06:09 Again, whether it’s elearning or face-to-face training.
Simon: 06:12 I did a project from Comcast and their University for sales—so to support their sales force around America—and it was an app to help onboarding. I did some focus groups, I went around some different states in America to meet salespeople on the ground and get their input and feedback on the system we were developing. And I was really struck by the unique demands of not only dispersed teams, but sales teams. Salespeople are a particular kind of audience, and have unique demands. I was wondering if you could summarize some of the unique characteristics of an audience of salespeople.
Tracy: 06:49 Yeah, I found salespeople to be extremely practical people. I think a little bit of theory with a lot of very practical knowledge in showing how to put this practical knowledge to immediate use is truly one of the best things you can do. So, the courses that we teach are very practical. We’ll teach for a little bit, then we’ll hop right into a roleplay or some case studies so people can immediately see how this information can be used in the real world and can practice it. 07:21 And then they can discuss it. We can listen to specific scenarios that the sales rep might want to use this new technique or this new method in, we can have a good discussion in the class until we feel that we have addressed that issue or that concern.
Simon: 07:38 I guess that’s what’s struck me—that kind of need to socialize the learning and socialize in general. I could barely keep up when I first walked into that room, with salespeople in the room. The whole atmosphere was different to anything I’d been used to before. I think, as you say, by default, a salesperson is going to have the highly motivated, goals-orientated, driven—it’s about not getting in their way of selling, and giving them everything they need to be successful.
08:07 So, I was going to ask you around that, how you use digital—because I know you’re a real advocate of elearning, and have kind of a unintelligible 8:13 around elearning done badly—as I do as well. Where does the digital really come to life, do you think, for this kind of sales audience?
Tracy: 08:22 I think there’s a couple of things that you can do, and what we found out. The first one is to keep it short. An elearning longer than 30 minutes, you’re really just wasting time. And the other thing that we’re actually moving towards more and more now is taking, say, our 30-minute elearning and breaking it down into even shorter chunks of multiple courses that might be 5 to 10 minutes long, and serving that up as a package.
08:56 This does a couple of things. First, it satisfies the universal demand from salespeople to have short training classes, but we’ve also found that if a salesperson takes one 10-minute course, they’re much more likely if they’re in the system to take another 10-minute course, or maybe three.
Simon: 09:13 That’s good—I think plays their competitive instinct to kind of get things out and on the board.
Tracy: 09:20 It might very well be. It might even come through, “That wasn’t so bad, let me do another one.”
Simon: Yeah. So, kind of related to that—you know a lot of sales learning development is around conversations and speaking to customers, positioning things. 09:34 Can you support that kind of roleplay in a conversational piece digitally, do you think, and how might you do that at scale?
Tracy: 09:41 That’s a very good question. We’ve done a couple of things. For example, we’re just rolling out some coaching classes; we will have a conversation between a sales manager and a sales rep. These are for sales managers. And as the coaching conversation goes along, we’ll stop and say, “Okay, sales manager, what would you ask next?” And we give the sales manager a choice of three or four or five different responses. Only one of them is the ideal response, a couple of them are what we call mediocre—they’re okay, but they’re not as good as they could be—and usually there’s one that’s just horrible. Typically, that’s put in there more for comic relief than anything.
10:27 But we do that and those have been quite effective and very well appreciated and very well used by sales managers. We’ve also put together things like this for the sales conversation, and people like those as well, because it gives them very good practical knowledge on what to do.
Simon: 10:46 The complexity of what you’re managing is, you know, multiple stakeholders within the business. Outside of the business, you’ve got your own team… There’s a lot to pull together there. So, how do you engage in a sort of quality assurance process across the business?
Tracy: 11:01 One of the things we’ve done is highly socialized our methodology. So, whenever we sit down to write a new course, we go through our process with the key stakeholders—which would be the sponsor, the subject-matter experts, and any people who we might be calling upon for help, whether they’re technical experts or sales experts, or people in other countries.
Simon: 11:27 So you’re on the front foot, then—you’re leading the process, and leading those other teams?
Tracy: 11:30 Exactly. And we make sure everybody is very familiar with what our process is, and then we keep them informed as we move through our process, from the requirement stage to the design stage to the storyboard stage, and so forth.
Simon: 11:47 That’s great. I love the way you’re kind of leading that. I think a common challenge I’ve seen is that L&D teams can be on the receiving end of business initiatives, business objectives, and really being given things to then communicate to an audience. Whereas you’re leading the process yourselves.
12:04 Is the methodology something you’ve kind of created or invented yourselves, or is there a design framework you’ve used from outside the organization?
Tracy: 12:13 Well, a little bit of both. So, we tend to use the SAM process, the Sequential Approximate Method. You can argue whether that really exists or if it’s just another name for ADDIE. But I think the important thing is that we’ve educated our sponsors and subject-matter experts in how to design an elearning course or an in-person course. And here are the steps we’re going to take. So this is a fairly standard process in the course design and development that we have adapted to Thermo Fisher Scientific. 12:50 And then, most importantly, as I said—I’m going to sound like a broken record—but we’ve made everybody aware of this process when we first start a project with them. Whether we think they know it or not, we go through the whole process again; we actually have a standardized deck that we use that’s about 10 minutes long on, “Now that we’re doing a course for you, this is a process we’re following.” People will say, “Oh yeah, we’ve heard that before,” and we’re like, “Yeah, well, you’ve got to sit through it again, because this is important—we want to make sure you understand.”
Simon: 13:23 This is you showing your experience, Tracy, I love it. Yeah, you must’ve learned the hard way.
Tracy: 13:27 Oh, we have.
Simon: 13:30 That would help so many people out, I think, to think that way and to be kind of managing the process and to be embedding it in the same way that you are the learning programs you’re rolling out as well. Thank you for sharing that.
The effect of what you’re doing is to increase sales, I assume. How do you play that value back to the business about what you’re doing? How do you match up the effect you’re having with the end results?
Tracy: 13:53 That is a huge challenge for us, and I think anyone listening in will feel that’s a huge challenge for them as well. There are so many confounding factors in sales that it’s hard to tease out the effects of just one’s sales training program or one’s technical training program on a product. So, we struggle with that. Currently, we get anecdotal information on sales reps or sales managers that we know or we’ve heard who are using our methodology, and we follow their sales. They tend to be better than people who aren’t following our methodology. 14:33 But we haven’t really been able to do a great job determining the exact percentage difference between those who consistently use the methodology and those who don’t. There’s just so many confounding factors.
14:49 We do know how many people take our elearning, we know how many people have completed the sales methodology training—both the classroom and elearning components—and we know the general ratings we’re getting from our elearning and our in-person classes. But it’s been very hard to tie that back to an increase in sales. 15:14 I think the best thing you can do is to talk to the people on the ground; are you using the methodology, and how do you think, Mr. Manager or Mr. Customer, it’s helping you in your sales? If they’re not using it, trying to understand why they’re not using it—is it because they’ve tried and they’ve failed? Or is it because they never even tried, which is more likely the case?
Simon: 15:36 Yeah, so what would the skills be that you’d look for yourself, in your own team as a learning professional? What kind of things would be on their CV that would stand out as being important skills as a learning professional?
Tracy: 15:47 Well, one of the things I look for—and I do this in the interview process—is I ask for somebody to tell me a story. Because a lot of people can give me a lot of facts and figures about training methodologies, whether it’s ADDIE or SAM or the Waterfall Method, or whatever the hell it is. But I like people who are storytellers, because stories are very captivating. If we can make our training more like a story and less like a lecture, it’s going to be more effective. 16:19 So, I look for storytellers. I ask people during the interview process to tell me a story about when they were using the product, when they were selling, when they were teaching—whether they were teaching their kid to ride a bike or whether they were standing in front of a university class. I like storytellers in my team. And right now, I have a team full of them. They do great work as a result of that.
Simon: 16:42 Absolutely, great. That’s another real thing that’s been coming out of conversations about learning leaders, about the effectiveness of storytelling being a key thing to really land messages and socialize them, and get that engagement with a wider population. If you were to step into a CLO role tomorrow, in a different organization, based on your vast experience and everything you’ve learned, what’s the first thing you’d do going into that organization? What would you look for?
Tracy: 17:09 The first thing is to find gaps in the organization that can be fixed through training. And what kind of training that might be. Because depending on the gap, a different type of training might be needed, if at all. You can’t train to a bad process, for example, or you can’t train if there’s bad data. But the first thing I would do is find out where there are deficiencies, if these deficiencies can be corrected through training, and, if that is the case, what kind of training it is. 17:44 It might be classroom training, it might be elearning, it might be something as simple as a summary sheet.
17:51 And then the other thing I would do is socialize what training actually is. What does a comprehensive training program look like? It is not a week-long class. It might be a classroom followed by some reinforcement elearning and some tools to use that classroom experience with. But it certainly wouldn’t be a training event—it needs to be a training process.
Simon: 18:19 Interesting, thank you. And, Tracy, if you could recommend a book that would help other people in your role tackle the challenges of dealing with learning or learning at scale, what kind of book would you pull out as being a great reference point?
Tracy: 18:32 Well, there are two books I always go to. For the elearning, one book is by Ruth Colvin Clark. It’s called The Science and Technology of Elearning. That is our go-to book for all things elearning. It really lays out how to do a good elearning program. And the other book that I have just recently read that I was very impressed with is a book by Carol Dweck. She is a Dean at Stanford, and it’s called Mindset. This book talks about your mindset—whether you have a growth mindset or not—and how to get one.
Simon: 19:11 By coincidence, I’m reading that book right now, Tracy. So, we’re on the same page there with that one.
Tracy: Yeah, it’s a great book. And there are hundreds of others. 19:22 There’s another one that I like called The Accidental Instructional Designer, which is very good—and quite typical, because a lot of people in instructional design are not there because they were trained instructional designers.
Simon: 19:34 I was going to say, probably most instructional designers, I would have thought. Tracy, how can people who are listening find out more about you and connect with you if they wish?
Tracy: 19:45 Sure, I’m on LinkedIn, and people are more than welcome to email me at email@example.com.
Simon: Great. Well, it’s been lovely speaking to you and, Tracy, thank you very much for your time today.
Tracy: Thanks, Simon.
Simon: Cheers, Tracy. Take care.
Join the conversation!
Thanks again to Tracy for sharing so much. It’s been a fantastic episode. We’d love to hear your thoughts from today’s podcast, so please get in touch on Twitter @learningatlarge with any queries or suggestions. You can also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. As always, don’t forget to subscribe to Learning at Large on your favorite podcast app, and leave us a 5-star rating if you’ve enjoyed the episode. See you next time.
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