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How to Sell Training Classes Internally

One of the most frustrating obstacles training officers face after booking a training program with an outside vendor is getting the class filled. Meeting the minimum requirements to even run the training is often difficult, resulting in an inordinate amount of canceled classes. Canceling classes adversely affects everyone involved; the training officer feels as though they've let down the students and the vendor; the students who signed up have lost an opportunity to improve their skills; the instructor must release a date which he or she had counted on for his or her income.

Aside from major catastrophes such as war (which has proven all too real as of late), there are only two reasons classes are canceled, and both of them can be avoided. The first reason is that there never was a real need for the class in the minds of the agency's employees. Either they faked out the training office by saying they wanted the training in a needs assessment when they really didn't, or the needs assessment was done improperly. This first reason is far too common, but in this article, we're going to focus on the second reason - employees aren't "sold" on the program by the training office.

How can you sell the programs you book, consistently and easily? There are a few steps to this repeatable process which we'll explore after looking at how most agencies try in vain to fill their classes.

How Not to Fill a Class
Here's how a class is usually sold: An announcement is made to all employees by hanging flyers around the building and posting a course description on the agency's web site. Maybe an email or two is sent around to notify or remind employees of the class. Maybe not. Either way, you're still not getting most people's attention. Why? Because each and every employee is inundated with emails all day long, and your training announcements either get clicked on for a few seconds or are immediately dragged into the trash. It's not your fault - there are just too many other urgent and compelling emails that people must respond to. So rather than rely on these emails, we need to look at some other tactics.

Getting Warmer
One improvement upon the "email sale" is to send the announcement to managers and supervisors first, and then have them distribute the emails to their employees. This works better and is recommended over a massive email campaign, but there's one hitch - you've now put your success in the hands of managers and supervisors who would rather have their employees at their desks instead of in the classroom. Even still, this approach can be effective if you can align managers and supervisors with your goals.

Now we're getting to the crux of the matter. Before you send any emails, hang any flyers or post a training calendar to your web site, you must build rapport with the managers and supervisors. Without it, you're sunk. The trick is, it takes some work. Many of you are going to have to step outside of your comfort zone and hit the campaign trail by seeking out managers and supervisors and selling them on the value of the training that your office provides. You understand the value of good training, but it's your job to define for others the benefits of sending employees to these programs.

Three Tried and True Ways to Fill Your Classes
So, how do you go about building rapport and selling managers on the benefits of training? There are three ways that are equally successful, so a mix of the three will serve you well.
1) Set up one-on-one meetings with managers and supervisors.
2) Schedule ten minute briefings with groups of managers and supervisors.
3) Find the most influential and highest-level manager you can approach, and define for him or her the benefits of the training you've procured.

Number one is the easiest tactic, and you probably do it to some degree already. You can do it informally by visiting managers without an appointment, or you can schedule a few minutes to meet with them in a formal setting. In both cases, have your benefits outlined in your mind and typed up on a piece of paper. In other words, be prepared to sell them on the training.

The second method is similar to the first, but it takes more coordination. However, it's more effective than method number one because you get two chances to build rapport with your audience and sell them on the benefits of the training. Here's why: You should invite the managers and supervisors to the briefing, not by email, not by word-of-mouth, but in person. So you get to hit them up with your charm and influence twice - once when you get them to agree to attend the briefing, and once at the briefing itself.

When selling them on the briefing, make sure to get their agreement in writing, using a sign-up sheet with their name typed on it that they sign. When people sign their names to a document, they aren't likely to go back on their promise. If they're a hard sell, show them who else (their peers) will be attending. They won't want to feel left out, so they'll agree to come. If you can surmise that they really don't want to come, simply ask them who you can borrow from their staff to attend in their place. Reiterate the importance of the training and the value it will have for their employees. They'll be happy to send a substitute.

Before the big briefing, you might want take one final action to ensure a strong attendance. Send an email confirmation to everyone who has agreed to go. CC their bosses too. Make sure the carbon copied email addresses are visible to everyone. No one will bow out after that. As you know, the hardest part about the briefing method is getting the managers and supervisors to show up. Once you've done that, they're like butter.

Your briefing shouldn't be longer than five or ten minutes if you're flying solo. Have handouts for each attendee, but do not use a PowerPoint presentation. You want this to be more of a conversation than a lecture. It's important to define the benefits and the value of the training and then ask questions so you can learn from them and have them learn from each other. This lowers their guard and helps you develop the rapport that you need to succeed. For the greatest impact, invite the instructor or instructors (if you're selling them on multiple sessions) to a thirty minute briefing. Ask them to give a two minute pitch about their class and have them field any questions from the audience. This will give the managers and supervisors the necessary confidence in your product to encourage them to find members of their staffs to attend the training. At the end of the briefing, ask the audience if they will "champion" your cause. Get a few of them to agree to be your voice to those you can't reach. Align them with your goals and ask them if you can count on them to spread the word. If you've done a good job selling them on the training, they'll send just as powerful a message to their own employees.

The third and final way to fill your programs is to find champions at the highest levels you can reach in your organization. Get them on board by selling them on the benefits and value of the training, and ask them to find five employees in their department who could improve themselves by attending the program. Their subordinates (often the managers and supervisors who attended your briefing) will listen to them. These high-level individuals don't need to make the training mandatory - their sponsorship or championing of your cause will be a strong suggestion to everyone that the training is important, and that he or she expects a solid attendance.

By starting high on the food chain, you'll increase your chances of succeeding immensely. And, you'll put yourself on the "top dogs" radar, which is a good thing for your career as well.

Over time and used consistently, these methods will accomplish more for you and for the employees you serve than anything you've tried in the past. Don't be afraid to sell - there's too much valuable training to be squandered if you don't.

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