Catching an Academic Wave with VMEdu

It’s not like riding a Tsunami.

But it is exciting, exhilarating and breath-taking to get in early on one of the disruptions that are rapidly reshaping the world we swim in.

Disruptions that wipe the landscape clear are dramatic and threatening. And they are rare. Disruptive inventions and practices in business and industry happen gradually; so gradually, in fact, that they often seem inevitable. This is a point bestselling author Hugh Howey made in a recent article about the state of publishing: “All manner of publishing has been greatly disrupted, but it’s often hard to see because what has changed is what’s now missing from our lives. And these missing things have not disappeared all at once. Rather, it’s been a gradual vanishing.”[1]

The world of publishing—which Howey says includes such products as encyclopedias, maps, those liner notes in albums and CDs, how-to books, instructions enclosed in products, newspapers, magazines and novels—provides an excellent example of the disruption that is now going on in education and training.

Michael Horn, in a piece on Forbes.com, described the disruption this way: “Much of the growth of online learning isn’t just in accredited higher education institutions, but in unaccredited institutions that are hired to do a similar ‘job’ as that of many accredited higher education institutions—advance adult learners in their career pathways. These organizations don’t need accreditation per se though, as they will ultimately develop their reputations from the success of their students with employers.” He cites research done in this regard by Michelle R. Weise and Clayton M. Christensen of the Christensen Institute.

Horn’s suggestion is that schools of higher learning should enhance their online presences and offerings. He gives examples of partnerships that colleges, universities, corporate entities and training organizations can make as a way of turning his suggestion into a reality. One of the companies facilitating this disruption in education and professional training is VMEdu, Inc. This company has a global reach with more than 750 partners in its VMEdu Authorized Training Partner network. It is expanding this with the launch of its VMEdu Authorized Content Partners (V.A.C.P.) program.

In discussing the digital disruption of the publishing industry, Howey says, “In just about every measurable way, these have been great developments.” The V.A.C.P. program brings an enhanced Learning Management System (LMS) and other great developments arising from disruptive innovations in adult education and training to any organization that has created courses related to any field of adult learning in any language; or is already using another LMS to host their courses.

The V.A.C.P. program enables content providers—educational institutions, training companies and those with an expertise worth sharing—the ability to launch courses on their own websites for free, get their own mobile app, sell their courses to the VMEdu Partner Network, offer Sales and Marketing courses on SMstudy, and efficiently track student progress.

Looking at the changes in publishing, Howey says, “It’s difficult to find anything to complain about with this transition, unless you are a middleman who no longer provides a service commensurable with your cost. This is an important point, the act of offering a service that matches your cost.” Educational providers and trainers are very familiar with the costs of some of their products. Student loan debt in America is almost infamous. VMEdu says, “There is no cost associated with creating or uploading your courses, and zero licensing fees.”

The same goes for certain mobile apps for partner courses: “VMEdu will take care of all expenses related to creating, maintaining and upgrading your mobile apps—you pay only $1 per student per month for every student accessing your courses through the mobile app.” This is an example of where the company earns its income.

Last year, Amazon paid out over $140,000,000 to authors in its Kindle Unlimited program. That doesn’t count the dollars paid for book sales,” says Howey. The disruption of traditional publishing is enabling those who create the works to share a much larger portion of the revenues they generate. Through VMEdu’s cloud-based LMS, the same is happening for adult and professional education providers.

For those considering an educational venture into the new cloud-based ocean of opportunity, come on in; the water is fine.

Surf the VMEdu website and learn more about its V.A.C.P. program: Benefits of Becoming a V.A.C.P.

[1] Howey, Hugh. (2/2/16) “The State of the Industry.” The Wayfinder. Retrieved on 2/3/16 from http://www.hughhowey.com/the-state-of-the-industry/

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America, Trump, Branding and SMstudy

Today has been all about brands and branding.

The day hadn’t even started when I saw that a friend had posted a LinkedIn Pulse article that included what he learned about branding from Warren Buffet. The next article that caught my eye was a brand comparison between Donald Trump and America, as in America, the Beautiful—the ideal, the brand.

Together, the articles made a strong argument that brands matter; they seriously matter. Gerald Sanchez wrote in his Pulsepiece, “Brand Matters: Think about some of the companies that are in his [Warren Buffet’s] portfolio that are well known: Coca-Cola, Geico, Heinz, Proctor and Gamble and Johnson and Johnson.  Their brands provide a ‘hard-to-replicate advantage over their competitors.’”[1]

A concise definition of branding says that it “is the process of creating a distinct image of a product or range of products in the customer’s mind. This image communicates the promise of value the customer will receive from the product or products,” according to the SMstudy® Guide: Marketing Strategy.[2] Together, a powerful image and an accurately defined value deliver that “hard-to-replicate advantage.”

Interestingly, as Merry Carole Powers alludes to in her Huffington Post article[3] analyzing Donald Trump’s presidential-candidate brand, powerful images and appealing to the wrong—though accurately defined—value can give an advantage that lacks health and perhaps staying power.

The idea of looking at a political campaign from a marketing point of view and dismissing a candidate’s statements as just saying whatever sells at the moment is fairly common. But Powers’ analysis is not, “I have been so horrified by this man from my personal point of view as a woman and a human being, it hadn’t dawned on me to assess him from a professional place.” This seems to be how most of us look at politicians. Perhaps we, too, should be more professional, “And when I did, I was surprised at what I found.” (Spoiler alert: she still isn’t a Trump supporter.)

Powers’ analysis of Trump as Trump the Brand used “a few core branding blocks that must be a part of any strong brand.” Such a brand includes “unique positioning, clearly defined purpose, truly held values, an authentic personality and a compelling message.”

Using these blocks, Powers does an item by item analysis of Trump as a brand and then compares the Trump brand with that of America as represented in the Declaration of Independence—arguably the best single statement of America the brand ever written.

Does Trump have a strong brand? How does it compare to America’s brand? Does it belong in America’s highest office? We’ll let you read Powers’ excellent article to learn that.

For this blog, let’s take away the realization that communicating our promise of value is crucial when we take an important stand and we want others to join us in it. Brand matters.

Look for SMstudy’s soon-to-be-released book Branding and Advertising, part of the SMstudy® Guide series.

For more interesting and informational articles on sales and marketing, visit SMstudy.com.

 

[1] Gerald Sanchez. (4/3/16) “Gleaning from the Gurus: What I Learned from Warren Buffet and Charlie Munger about Small Business.” Pulse. Retrieved on 4/4/16 from https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/gleaning-from-gurus-what-i-learned-warren-buffet-charlie-sanchez?deepLinkCommentId=6122773332300492800&anchorTime=1459782918057&trk=hb_ntf_MEGAPHONE_REPLY_TOP_LEVEL_COMMENT

[2] A Guide to the Sales and Marketing Body of Knowledge, also referred to as the “SMstudy® Guide,” is a series of books that provide guidelines for the Sales and Marketing of products and services. It is available at SMstudy.

[3] Powers, Merry Carole. (4/1/16) “Donald Trump vs America: Side-by-Side Brand Analysis.” The World Post. Retrieved on 4/4/16 from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/merry-carole-powers/donald-trump-vs-america-a_b_9592180.html

All About Customer Advisory Boards

A Customer Advisory Board (CAB) or Customer Advisory Council is a representative customer group comprising senior stakeholders who convene periodically to validate product features, the marketing plan, and the strategic direction of the company to ensure these align with customers and the market. The company uses the information gathered at these meetings to realign business priorities and formulate strategy.

CABs meet on a periodic basis, typically two or three times per year. Some companies choose to meet more or less frequently, depending on need. However, it is challenging to have frequent customer councils as participation at these events is often voluntary, and participants are usually constrained by time. Also, the time and resources taken to accomplish and follow through with changes discussed in the customer councils often do not allow for more frequent meetings.

A physical meeting is the most popular format for customer councils. Other formats used by companies include tele-conferences, video conferences, and online CABs. Using these formats can help reduce time and money spent on travel and can result in increased participation levels. However, while they are more convenient, these formats are not always as effective as face-to-face meetings.

Key Functions of CABs

Some of the important uses of CABs are as follows:

  • Validating ideas for new features or new products
  • Providing valuable insights into how customers are using the products
  • Prioritizing features and identifying the most important ones on which to focus
  • Assisting in understanding how the products fare against alternatives in the market
  • Helping in designing the next generation of products which customers may adopt in future
  • Assisting in retaining key customers
  • Increasing revenue opportunities within the existing customer base

A key distinction between a CAB and a focus group is that the members of a CAB are carefully chosen senior members of management from client organizations, unlike product users in the case of focus groups.

To read more articles about sales and marketing, visit http://www.smstudy.com/articles

Importance of understanding and evaluating Digital Marketing Channels

When creating an online presence, one of the initial steps for an organization is to determine the targets as defined by the Marketing Strategy and then explore the various digital marketing channels available to achieve those targets. Organizations typically market their products or services to targeted audiences that differ in demographics such as age, sex, education, marital status, geography, and income. Implementing digital marketing tactics allows a company to target very specific audiences and measure each tactic effectively.

Given the volatile nature of the online world, new channels are emerging with greater frequency, and audiences are continuously exploring new sources of online content—digital marketers must regularly assess and reassess digital marketing channels for their effectiveness. To identify the most effective marketing channels for an organization’s products or services, marketers spend a considerable amount of time and effort identifying and understanding the dynamics of all available digital marketing channels and evaluating these channels relative to their company’s overall organizational goals and objectives.

The digital marketing team analyzes the Internet behavior patterns of its target audience and identifies all possible online media that are used by those consumers being targeted. It observes macro trends that might impact the way in which the organization markets and sells a product or service to consumers. As a result of this process, the organization gains a better understanding of the digital landscape and learns how it can develop and implement its marketing strategies to be effective.

A company must understand the pros and cons of each digital marketing channel as well as the situations in which a channel is most effective or ineffective. For example, when a company wants to promote an important achievement or milestone, the use of social media forums is a good option because of the possibility of a viral effect and mass exposure, which may raise awareness of the company. When promoting a discount offer, the use of e-mail marketing is beneficial because of the fast results it can bring. On the other hand, if the company wants to inform customers about an expected delay in service (e.g., due to a scheduled routine maintenance, delay due some unavoidable circumstances), it is usually enough for the company to use e-mail or their website to notify customers, rather than initiating a social media update. Negative comments often spread faster in social media leading to loss of brand value and image. Therefore, understanding different channels is important in order to evaluate their usefulness.

To learn more about digital marketing channels, visit SMstudy.com

SMstudy : Your Way Up

When you leave the sales floor, where do you want to go?

Some people will just head to the lounge for a cup of coffee, but others will advance to new positions in marketing and management. What will make the difference?

Recently, the U.S. Department of Education began finding ways to encourage, facilitate and fund student participation in “alternative certifications.” As America and the global community moves to meet the needs of twenty-first century business, this is seen as a move to help training schools and companies that prepare students for professional certifications. The move is toward certified professionals that business and industry can trust.

There are many certifications available to programmers, project managers, automobile mechanics and more. Now there are certifications designed for professionals in sales and marketing. These certifications and complementary training come from VMEdu, Inc., the global training company that has trained more than 400,000 students worldwide. Through its association with SMstudy it offers a range of certifications in six Aspects based on the six most common and often distinct career fields related to Sales and Marketing.

For those who want to move into helping companies develop plans for making their products and services dominate the marketplace, SMstudy offers four certifications in Marketing Strategy. SMstudy says that marketing strategy makes the difference between startups that last beyond the start and those that falter a few steps down the track. These certifications lead to management-level careers and opportunities.

For those who have the desire to harness the power of the Internet and social media, SMstudy offers certifications in Digital Marketing.

And for those who like to know the inner workings of what makes people buy what they buy, there’s a path from a Marketing Research Associate certification to Marketing Research Expert.

Training and certifications are also available in Corporate Sales, Retail Marketing and Branding and Advertising.

More than 30 percent of the American workforce and similar percentages worldwide are involved in sales and marketing either directly or indirectly. It is an exciting field that drives every industry, business and profession. Training and certification organizations such as SMstudy can help retail clerks become sale professionals.

For interesting articles about Sales and Marketing, visit www.SMstudy.com/articles

Play Poker, Not Chess with VMEdu

How many articles on leadership include advisories to “Play Poker, Not Chess” and “Blow up the Enterprise”? Not many, and certainly not as many as this author would like. However, in a series of articles on leadership for Forbes Magazine in 2012, Alex Knapp gave these two bits of advice using episodes from the Star Trek and Star Wars franchises as source material.

Knapp used Starfleet captains James T. Kirk and Jean-Luc Picard as positive leadership examples in articles titled “Five Leadership Lessons from James T. Kirk” and “Five Leadership Lessons from Jean-Luc Picard,” respectively.  For negative examples, he visited Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi’s nemesis in an article called “Five Leadership Mistakes of the Galactic Empire.” Besides an affinity for the number five, Knapp gives an interesting twist to traits of leadership that are far from unfamiliar territory. His unique insights, dead-on applications and intriguing examples give this well-discussed topic new spirit and made reviewing some old saws interesting and enjoyable.

Giving well-discussed topics new spirit and making them both interesting and enjoyable is the challenge for all writers and educators.  While writers are more or less on their own, there is help for professional trainers and educators.

The Internet provides opportunities for new ideas and new discussions of old topics. It also simultaneously presentsmultitudes of people talking about these same things. Ideas, terms, and examples are bound to be repeated and repeated and repeated. The challenge for professional trainers is to keep their material fresh, relevant, and attractive. This requires knowing one’s students and this is where playing poker instead of chess comes in. Knapp writes, “For all of its intricacies, chess is a game of defined rules that can be mathematically determined. A far better analogy to strategy is poker, not chess. Life is a game of probabilities, not defined rules. And often understanding your opponents [students] is a much greater advantage than the cards you have in your hand.”

This isn’t to say that the “the cards you have in your hand” are not important; trainers and educators put most of their attention on them, and rightly so. However, in addition to knowing one’s subject matter, professional educators must share it in evocative and effective ways. And those are not the only things professional training providers must do. Each must also prepare knowledge assessments and track student progress. Aligning tests to the requirements of appropriate, associated certifications is often more than a trainer can handle. For this, the educator needs to follow the advice one learns from Jean-Luc Picard, “When you’re overwhelmed, ask for help.”

Knapp observes that seeking help “is a hard thing to do.” Because of this, there are organizations making it easier for professional training providers to get help, especially with tasks such as preparing and giving exams and tracking student progress. One such company is VMEdu, Inc., a leader in the professional training and certification industry that has developed a versatile course delivery platform and back office support. During the seven years it spent creating its Learning Management System (LMS), the company used it with its PMstudy and MyITstudy brands, whose students have achieved 98.7 and 99.2 percent pass rates, respectively, on professional certification exams. The LMS system helped PMstudy grow to be the largest PMP trainer worldwide and the SCRUMstudy brand to become the global accreditation body for Scrum with a network of more than 800 training partners. VMEdu now offers its platform and back office services and products to professional trainers across the globe.

For professional trainers in its VMEdu Authorized Training Partners (V.A.T.P.) and VMEdu Authorized Content Providers (V.A.C.P.) programs, it also develops apps designed to generate additional leads, provide immediate feedback on courses and lessons and generate up-sell and cross-sell opportunities, according to VMEdu. The training apps VMEdu has already created include interactive case studies, specialized glossaries, games, flash cards and practice exams.

Using an episode in which Captain Kirk, a 23rd century space explorer, mixes and uses gunpowder to save himself and his crew, Knapp points out that there was no need for Kirk to know this information because “Starfleet officers fight with phasers and photon torpedoes.” However, Kirk is a voracious learner and develops expertise outside of his primary field of focus. Knapp applies this to leaders saying, “In the same way, no matter what your organization does, it helps to never stop learning. The more knowledge you have, the more creative you can be. The more you’re able to do, the more solutions you have for problems at your disposal.” During World War II, General Eisenhower of the Allied command used a group of officers to increase his own knowledge base and put more solutions at his disposal.

Creating mobile apps and databases for following student progress may not be your primary area of focus, but they are two solutions for problems facing the trainer in the technological age. Knapp tells his readers that “Kirk’s reputation at the Academy was that of a ‘walking stack of books.’” Where Kirk had Starfleet Academy and General Eisenhower had his officers, today’s professional trainers have companies such as VMEdu.

Keeping one’s training fresh and interesting with unique insights, engaging mobile apps, and intriguing examples is a huge challenge, but NOT a challenge the modern professional educator must meet alone.

 

Works Cited

Knapp, Alex. (5 March 2012) “Five Leadership Lessons from James T. Kirk.” Forbes. (3 January 2014) http://www.forbes.com/sites/alexknapp/2012/03/05/five-leadership-lessons-from-james-t-kirk/

− ­− − (13 March 2012) “Five Leadership Lessons from Jean-Luc Picard.” Forbes. (3 January 2014) http://www.forbes.com/sites/alexknapp/2012/03/13/five-leadership-lessons-from-jean-luc-picard/

− ­− − (13 February 2012) “Five Leadership Mistakes of the Galactic Empire.” Forbes. (3 January 2014) http://www.forbes.com/sites/alexknapp/2012/02/13/five-leadership-mistakes-of-the-galactic-empire/

PPC Advertising

Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising or paid search advertising involves a company paying to have its ad appear on search results pages of search engines. PPC advertising providers such as Google, Yahoo, and Bing show sponsored ads, or paid search results, for most search queries. A consumer intending to purchase a microwave oven for her new modular kitchen may enter a query “microwave oven with convection and grill for home use,” seeking cost and feature information. A chain of electric kitchen appliances would likely then appear as a sponsored result. It is often observed that users with a high intention of making a purchase click on sponsored ads. This is especially true of highly transactional goods such as clothing, electronics, and consumer foods.

PPC advertising has a significant impact on consumer metrics such as brand awareness and brand image, even among users who do not click on the sponsored advertisements. Image ads tend to be more effective in exerting positive impact and increasing visibility in search results. A consumer seeking a new microwave oven may choose to review multiple electric kitchen appliances advice pages before making a decision.

A business can increase the reach of its website using PPC advertising in the following ways:

Choosing relevant Keywords–keywords are the search terms used by consumers to tell search engines about the specific product or service they are interested in purchasing. For businesses looking for maximizing their reach using PPC or search engine advertising, the focus must be on bidding on keywords that are highly relevant to the search queries that are common in their business. Businesses can make use of their historical data and competitor data to determine the popularity and relevance of various keywords.

The price of keywords can vary greatly, from pennies to several dollars depending on popularity, demand, and the value to the advertiser. The ad’s “quality score”, rank and popularity of the keywords among the competitors determine the price an advertiser has to pay. The quality score is the search engine’s way of determining the relevance of an ad to the searcher by evaluating each keyword’s relevance to the business and its landing page, as well as other factors. The rank of an ad is determined based on its cost-per-click (CPC) and its quality score.

Choosing relevant Geography and Time–search engines have enabled business to analyze their past data to determine where their online customers are located and the best time to reach them. Based on this data and other internal research, businesses can choose the desired geography and time of day in which they should advertise their products and services for optimal results. For small businesses that cater to a local audience, geography-based targeting is especially important and helps ensure that their ads remain relevant.

Profiling the audience–Businesses must understand the profile of their target audience and create “user personas” that will help them identify the relevant ads for their customer base. A young age group may be attracted to video ads, while a more mature audience may prefer an image ad. Audience profiling may also help businesses identify the time of day when their target audience is most likely to make a purchase.

Selecting appropriate Ad sizes–Advertisements displayed on search engines and other third-party sites are available in different sizes, and the digital marketing team must customize their marketing content to the size of the ad being displayed.

Testing various Ads– Search engines allow businesses to experiment with two or more ad options in order to identify the more attractive one, commonly referred to as A/B or multivariate testing. A business can divide its marketing budget between two or more ads to be displayed to a similar audience throughout the day if it is unsure about the most effective advertising message for its products or services.

Customizing Language–businesses can also customize their ads based on the language preference of their target audience to make sure the intended marketing message is relevant and reaches audiences around the world.

To learn more about PPC advertising, visit SMstudy.com

Understanding the Sales Process

In this competitive age an effective sales organization is supported by marketing assets and includes a proper sales structure. The sales organization and governance must be designed to optimally support sales targets and create visibility into the sales team’s performance to allow for adjustments and course corrections as necessary to ensure that the business meets its sales revenue objectives. Since sales targets are directly linked to all sales and marketing and financial objectives, they are essential components in the achievement of company’s overall objectives.

Most experienced sales teams have an existing sales process. If this is the case, it is important to constantly evaluate, improve, and fine tune different components of the process. A new company, however, must define a sales process by adapting established frameworks to suit the specific needs of the business, leveraging identified strengths, and identifying and filling gaps.

Five Basic Steps in Sales Process

  1. Pre-sales—This first step in the sales process involves reviewing the current activities and selling processes. These activities include those carried out from the initial contact with a customer to the final delivery of a product or service. This step allows a developing company to assess its organizational capabilities to carry out the sales process. It includes understanding and strengthening the value proposition for customers. The different channels required to sell products in the future are also determined. Planning sales governance, setting sales targets, setting up the incentive structure for the sales team, and creating the marketing assets is also done at this stage. The sales team is also trained on products as well as the sales process and negotiation to prepare for selling activities.
  2. Profiling of Target Customers—The first step in the prospecting stage, profiling target customers and decision makers, involves identifying and benchmarking profiling criteria for prospects, as well as decision makers. Characteristics of ideal customers, such as annual budget, are used to benchmark the profiling criteria.
  3. Lead Generation and Qualification—The second step in the prospecting stage, lead generation, is the act of identifying prospective customers and generating ways to gain new customers. Profiled criteria and benchmarks are used to generate better leads. Lead generation uses various offline and online techniques and can be inbound or outbound.
  4. Needs Assessment—Conversion starts with understanding customer needs for products or services. This understanding of needs is vital in the conversion process and enables the sales team to demonstrate to the customer how their product can fulfill the customer’s requirements.
  5. Presentation, Negotiation, and Closure—This is the final stage in the conversion cycle. The corporate sales team presents the features, benefits, and advantages of the proposed products or services that can fulfill the needs of the prospects. At this stage, prospects present their objections to the sales proposal. It is the job of the corporate sales team to overcome these objections to close the deal.

Understanding these five steps and adapting them to suit the business requirements will help establish a framework for a comprehensive and effective sales process.

To learn more about the sales process, visit http://www.smstudy.com