With wireless voice sales margins dwindling industry-wide, Alltel launched a big push in late 2007 to increase the company's data services revenue. "At the time, the wireless industry as a whole was no longer making much money on voice, so our sales efforts became heavily focused on data products and services, which were deemed the next big purchasing area for consumers," says Mindy Lane, Alltel's VP of training.
As part of this push, Alltel began selling data cards, which provide wireless connectivity to laptops from any area with Alltel Network coverage. Almost immediately, however, Alltel began fielding complaints about the cards, and found that many cards were being returned by consumers.
Concerned about the lack of data card sales and the number of subscribers leaving or switching to other carriers, the Alltel product marketing department assembled a task force to tackle the problem. The task force's needs analysis, says Lane, determined that most of the churn the company was experiencing was attributable to customer dissatisfaction or confusion.
"Among customers, we identified a number of misconceptions regarding what data cards were and what they could do. We also found that our sales reps and managers had misconceptions of their own. Many reps, for example, were selling data cards as ‘DSL replacements.' While that's true in most instances, a data card's ability to function as a DSL replacement depends on where the consumer is located and whether there are gaps or holes in wireless coverage in that area. Because a consumer's location also affects speed, we also received complaints from those who told us their DSL connection was faster than their data card."
To stem the tide of disaffected subscribers, Alltel reps were encouraged to do a "deeper dive" with each customer and ask more relevant questions during the buying process. "They needed to do a more in-depth job of finding out where the data card would be used, explaining the speed capabilities of data cards, and walking customers through the set-up and troubleshooting process," says Lane.
To arm reps with this knowledge, the Alltel training department developed a comprehensive training program to assist front-line reps in selling and supporting data cards. The program included computer-based training (CBT), as well as supervisor-led training on how to qualify and sell data cards to customers, questions to ask, what to listen for, and how to ask for the sale.
As a result of the training, Alltel channels experienced a 63 percent lift in data card sales and a 39 percent decrease in subscriber falloff from November 2007 to May 2008.
Interested in developing a training program to support a mission-critical product launch? Here are Alltel's tips for success:
- Tailor to your audience. Using Flash, Alltel's in-house training team developed a full-scale CBT simulation that taught sales reps and their managers how to work with data card customers more effectively. "Going through traditional training on a complex product such as wireless Internet cards would have been far too technical and boring for our sales force," says Lane. By creating an engaging, interactive simulation, she says, Alltel was able to draw learners in and grab their attention. "Sims are expensive and time-consuming to develop, and they are not the right solution for every need," says Lane, "but they are often a perfect choice when teaching workers about complex products, particularly when your audience consists of younger workers who are tech-savvy and appreciate interactivity in their learning."
- Reinforce. After going through the simulation, Alltel sales reps attended comprehensive face-to-face training that was conducted by their supervisors. In addition to reinforcing material covered during the simulation, the supervisor-led training provided a "perfect platform," says Lane, for supervisors to reinforce the data card product line's importance to Alltel's balance sheet. "We honed in on clarifying the basic value proposition of data cards, and on explaining what our churn rates were and how they were impacting us."
Alltel Communications Inc. is a wireless communications provider based in Little Rock, AR. The company was acquired by Verizon Wireless in January 2009. Also in early 2009, Alltel placed 29th on Training magazine's Top 125 list, an annual ranking of organizations that excel at human capital development.