Take The Mystery Out Of Marketing Your Learning Function

You already have all it takes to be a great marketer of training. You just need to fine-tune your focus on knowing your audience and building relationships throughout your organization.

Marketing is one of those business skills that appear to have eluded many of us in the Learning and Development (L&D) field.

It’s one more thing to do. It’s a bit mystical. And besides, who has the time?

The reality is we already possess all of the skills necessary to be good marketers! We just need to fine-tune our focus a bit because at the heart of marketing are two basic strategies:

  1. Know your target audience
  2. Build relationships throughout the organization

That’s it!

Well, there is a bit more. Let’s take a look at what we inherently do as L&D professionals and how we can easily tweak this to up our marketing game. Remember, the objective is to have our marketing efforts be seamless with what we do every day. As you’ll see, we really are accidental marketers!


What we currently do…

As instructional designers and facilitators, we constantly are assessing our audience and determining their training needs. Whether the request for training is initiated by upper management or a single manager’s request, we jump into action. We begin an assessment to determine whether or not the non-performance is a training issue. We use tools such as performance analysis, target population analysis, goal analysis, task analysis, etc., to help separate the training needs from the organizational or environmental issues that are preventing desired performance. We partner with management throughout this process not only to learn from them but also to educate them about the root causes and possible solutions for non-performance. In other words, we help them move beyond “training” as the only answer when addressing performance needs.

Tweaks we can make…

Compared to what we currently do, taking a marketing approach to know our target audience is a more proactive one.

Although there are people in the organization who approach us (or come to us when their pants are on fire) to “fix” performance problems, there are many others in the organization who don’t know what we can do for them. In fact, we probably never cross their mind when performance problems arise.

To reach these folks, we need to dig a bit deeper. We need to make sure they know who we are before they know they need us. Their situation is a frustrating one. They have a performance problem but don’t know what to do, so they try and solve it on their own. And the outcome is sometimes not a pretty one!

So we need to discover the goals and aspirations of these folks, as well as their headaches and pain points. For example, an IT department may seek to decrease the number of calls to the help desk and the amount of times they retrain on systems or processes. Their headaches and pain points might include an uptick in the number of calls and staff complaints about how boring and ineffective the training delivered by their subject matter experts (SMEs) is.

Once you know their goals/aspirations and headaches/pain points, you can partner with them to help determine the best approach to reach the desired performance. Again, this is a more proactive approach versus waiting for them to come to you. It takes planning and strategizing on your part, as well as inserting yourself into their world to create these opportunities.


What we currently do…

Through the very nature of what we do, we constantly are building relationships throughout the organization. We work alongside management when assessing, developing, and delivering training and performance interventions. We provide SMEs with facilitation skills so they can train more effectively. We solicit C-suite executives to help to kick off performance improvement initiatives. We coach supervisors so they can reinforce training back on the job.

Tweaks we can make…

All of the above is necessary for the effective implementation of training and other performance improvement initiatives. We need sponsors, mentors, and supporters of interventions to implement them effectively. However, when marketing the L&D function, when making sure the organization knows who we are and what we can do for them, we need champions of training! Champions of training will go out of their way to advocate our L&D efforts and market on our behalf throughout the organization because they have experienced the value firsthand.

How do we create these champions? Essentially, we have to assertively insert ourselves into their world and showcase our stuff. Here are some ideas we (and others) have used with great success:

1. Attend managers’ meetings. Someone from your L&D department should be represented at managers’ meetings. Not invited? Ask, beg, or just show up. We’re serious. Remember, we said, “Assertively insert.” Once they see the value you can add to their process, they’ll ask you back. While there, ask performance-based questions and see how you can help them reach their business objectives. Also, take the opportunity to showcase the achievements you’ve had with other departments with similar challenges. For example, helping the finance department implement a new onboarding program resulted in new hires getting up to speed and contributing to productivity 50 percent faster than before.

2. Stay in touch with the business. Go to lunch or grab a walking break with a manager from a different department every week. Find out what’s going on and how you can help. How is business? What is getting in the way? How long has this been going on? What do they think is the cause? Then, to really contribute and create multiple champions, pull back and start looking for organizational behavioral trends.

3. Be the guide on the side. If you see an executive struggling with meeting facilitation or presentation skills or even a “PowerPoint of Doom,” offer to help but do so discretely. You don’t need to take center stage. Once they experience the results of your coaching, you can rest assured you have a champion for life.

4. Create recognition programs for those managers who are “doing it right” when it comes to supporting the development of their people. Publish names (with pictures) in your virtual and print media, have C-suite execs issue certificates of recognition, or hold a pop-up recognition party to celebrate.

See? You already have all it takes to be a great marketer of training. With just a few tweaks to what you already are doing, you’ll be amazing. By reaching out and getting to know your various audiences and cultivating and growing champions of training, you are well on your way to having your own internal marketing “social media.”

Melissa Smith and Maria Chilcote, managing partners of The Training Clinic, have combined 60-plus years of experience in the Learning and Development field. Their core business of training trainers and managers in all aspects of the L&D ecosystem has provided them with a first-hand look at the impacts and challenges of meeting the varied training and performance needs throughout the organization. They are passionate about maximizing performance through collaboration, sharing, and growing across the industry as illustrated by their motto, “We are all on this journey together!”