When Chris Cole joined Corus Entertainment last May, he inherited a sales team that was largely computer-illiterate.Corus, an entertainment company with radio and television stations across the country, was like many other media organizations, says Cole, in that it lagged behind in the technology game. As the midwest regional sales manager, Cole says he wanted to encourage information sharing among his team of 16 reps, and that meant working with a customized Excel spreadsheet.
Before Cole’s arrival at Corus, many of the reps shared one PC, primarily for checking e-mail.
“Some of my people hadn’t even used computers,” says Cole, adding that sales rep often dictated their information over the phone.
To create a more consistent way of sharing information across a national sales organization, Cole provided state-of-the-art laptops for his team. He also developed a client information database that all reps would be required to use. But before team members could start using it, they needed to be properly trained. Enter SOS Personal Learning Solutions, a Toronto-based company that offers one-on-one technology training with a coach. The company provides training on various software packages, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint and some sales force automation software.
When SOS set up shop 10 years ago, it was functioning primarily as a help desk, says Dejan Slokar, SOS’s director of technology and product development.
“When we started in 1995, it was more of an onsite help desk . . . and we soon discovered that more of our calls were for training-related issues,” says Slokar. The company counts the Toronto Star and Bank of Montreal its clients.
Corus, the parent company, had struck a deal with SOS in 2003 to provide training to a handful of administrative staff. Over the course of two years, the user base has grown from 15 people to as many as 250, including disc jockeys, programmers and executive assistants. Today, Corus users spend about 1,400 minutes a month in training with SOS coaches, both on-demand and in scheduled sessions.
Cole says he was pleased to find that Corus already had a training framework in place, which meant he could quickly set up coaching for his reps.
“Coming from a world of publishing, it was a no-brainer,” say Cole. “Customizable IT training is expensive, and also since my territory is across Canada and I have reps in all cities across Canada, it made the most sense.”
Cole was particularly impressed with the level of customization SOS offered.
“I gave (SOS) the spreadsheet I created and they trained (the reps) on that,” he says.
The sales team received one-on-one training from their own computers, which allowed them to get a real-world feel for the application they’d be using, says Cole.
“From a manager’s point of view, it makes life simpler when someone sits with you and works with you on your computer with the documentation,” he says.
What would have been a nightmare, he says, is having to schedule a single class for all reps.
It beats “trying to match up schedules,” says Cole. “From a flexibility standpoint, there’s probably no better training.”
SOS’s training philosophy is centered around building a relationship with the client, says Slokar. He says when compared to traditional training often offered by in-house technology staff, coaching is a huge improvement.
“Generally in IT departments, people are overworked with technology problems. They are working on fixing infrastructure issues, technology issues around the organization, and willingly or not, they’re not putting an importance on user calls pertaining to learning requirement,” he says.
So if a user is stuck trying to figure out how to do something in Excel, for example, he or she must rely on colleagues — or software manuals — and that’s a drain on productivity, he says.
The sessions are customized to each person, adds Slokar, which means they’re delivered within the user’s environment and they’re directly relevant to the user.
Cole says that without exception, every rep has given SOS excellent marks for its training.
“Getting them from zero to being able to use a spreadsheet was very big,” he says.
One of the sales professionals, he says, was a man in his mid-fifties who had never used a computer, never mind a complicated spreadsheet. Cole says the rep expressed a lot of anxiety regarding this new way of doing things at Corus.
“Having a new manager coming in with expectations on sharing information, you can imagine he was a bit anxious,” says Cole.
But the rep sailed through the SOS coaching with “remarkable” results.
“After he worked through the spreadsheet, the result was as good or better than other reps who thought they were computer-savvy,” says Cole.
In addition to its corporate client base, SOS has clients in the consumer market. Some of these clients have engaged SOS to help train their call centre staff, some of which which number in the thousands, says Slokar.
“We’re going to use our results and training methodologies and take a portion of their staff and retrain them to do what we do,” he says. “We can transfer knowledge very well. We have our methodology, which is a critical aspect of our service, and we have the ability to bring consulting to learning. We see a big opportunity in that.”

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