Performance support represents fundamental new thinking that transcends traditional learning strategies. So it goes without saying that selling performance support comes with unique challenges. Beyond the technical issues that you must overcome, there may be organizational barriers as well as personal histories and preferences that are often incompatible with something new.

The disruptive nature of performance support confounds many prevailing notions of the always-indispensable nature of training. So, how can we best get uncertain and perhaps resistant leaders, clients, and users to take a chance on what could be a game-changing approach to performance improvement in the workplace?

A tough sell

We already know that moving from overdependence on training to more workplace-based solutions like performance support is a good idea but a hard sell. Here are five reasons why:

  1. Performance support remains hard to define. Performance support is not yet something that most business people readily understand.
  2. Seeing is believing; but there’s not much to see, yet. We’d be a lot better off if we had more real-world examples and demonstrations of performance support in action.
  3. The value proposition is different. This is less about learning, and much more about making work easier, less error-prone, more efficient, and of higher quality, at lower costs than it would take to do the same with training. We need to get much better at measuring and communicating this.
  4. We are very tradition-bound. We have been doing what we’ve been doing in training for quite a long time, and we tend to think we’re pretty good at it. But we’ve been so focused on getting the training right that we’ve had little time or motivation to look for solutions elsewhere.
  5. The organizational culture is stacked against us. Even if we could break out of our training mindset, and many of us want to, we often meet skepticism and resistance to new approaches, including performance support.

Advocating performance support requires us to recognize that we are promoting an approach that’s new, hard to visualize or define, contradicts our arguments of the past, and goes against several long-held beliefs. If we are going to be successful, we must get a lot more involved in how we sell it and what will make all of our stakeholders get on board.

Strategy for selling performance support

Whether you are just getting started or have some performance-support experience under your belt, here are ten approaches to employ when planning to sell a performance-support project:

  1. Understand the problem. Build credibility by conducting a needs analysis, developing insight into the business problem that results from performance gaps, and clearly articulating it. Identify one or more business-productivity metrics to impact with your solution.
  2. Pick the right sponsor. When you are blazing a new trail, nothing will defeat you more than a sponsor standing in your way. It’s important to find one who is willing to take up the cause. You want a project that you can use to promote the promise of performance support. But to do that, you have to find a sponsor who’s willing to go with you on the ride.
  3. Use one sponsor to recruit others. If you’ve had some performance support successes, chances are your sponsor and/or client will help you find more projects. If they can explain performance support and its benefits to their peers, that’s a huge win.
  4. Think big but start small. Performance support has huge potential, but start with something that you can easily manage. Pick a project that is clear and unambiguous, and is accomplishable in a relatively short amount of time. Remember, especially in the beginning, sponsor buy-in can be very short term. You need results before your sponsor runs out of patience.
  5. Focus on scalability. Performance support is, by its very nature, highly scalable, and the cost per additional user is quite low. Your performance-support argument should emphasize quick scalability, with little or no waiting for your solution to reach larger audiences.
  6. Use existing resources to start. It’s probable that your first performance-support project won’t come from additional investment. More likely, you will be using already allocated funds from existing projects. Initially, this gives you greater control as you build your capability and reputation.
  7. Make it real. When pitching your first performance-support project, a strong vision and a solid business case can help you sell your project when you have little in the form of prior results to show. Once you have some successful projects completed, you now have real examples and case studies of what performance support can do. Eventually, they will be your strongest tools; when the client says, “show me,” you can.
  8. Build partnerships. When taking people in a new direction, credibility matters, and the more people you have on your side, the better. When seeking approval for your first performance-support project, it’s essential to have the client see it as a team approach—a partnership with I.T., the business, and, if appropriate, outside experts and vendors.
  9. Sell benefits, not features. No matter how technically interesting your performance support solution is, chances are the client is far less interested in how it works than what it can do. Stay away from gee-whiz technical jargon. Ask yourself, why would the client want to invest in performance support? What will it do for them? Then answer those questions.
  10. Build a solid business case. Speaking of benefits, one of the biggest is return on investment. This requires a solid business case, with costs, cost avoidance, and return clearly laid out, based on past or anticipated projections, or both. You can almost guarantee that they will ask you about cost-benefit, or ROI, so don’t go into your presentation without answers.

Sealing the deal is just the beginning

Don’t just work to make the sale; the task ahead is much more daunting. Getting performance support accepted by the business, and by trainers, requires a balance between old-fashioned sales and marketing, and the more complex considerations of organizational change. You’ll need focus, patience, skill, and more than a modicum of political savvy to help people move away from the old and toward the new, in their own way and at their own pace. This is the only way performance-support adoption will be sustainable in the long term.

Learn more

Want to learn more about selling performance support? The eLearning Guild just published a new white paper on the subject: Selling Performance Support: Building Stakeholder Buy-in. Download it free here.

Note from the Editor: Performance Support Symposium 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts, September 8 & 9

The Performance Support Symposium offers you the opportunity to explore proven organizational strategies for reducing training time while increasing focus on delivering performance support directly into workflows as needed. Learn how to identify an appropriate balance between performance support and training, and discover how to create and implement a plan that will best suit your specific situation.

Join other senior professionals September 8 & 9 in Boston, MA for a deep exploration of strategies, case studies, best practices, and technologies for performance support, and start charting a course to performance for your organization today!