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Tips for reallocating travel budget into technology that’ll close personal gaps

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(Image credit: Image Credit: Slon Dot Pics / Pexels)

As 2020 inches towards a close, a special time of year is kicking off. This has nothing to do with upcoming holidays, it’s business planning and budgeting season. However, this year, enterprises are placing a question mark next to an item that’s long been the second largest slice of their budget - travel.

According to Certify, 445 million business trips take place annually, creating a $251 billion industry. But that was prior to the pandemic bringing travel to a halt and throwing a financial twist into budget calculations. In an October 2020 Travel Intelligence TIPS study, only 20 percent of those surveyed believe they will take an international business trip during the next six months. Domestic business trips are being considered by just 28 percent of respondents.

Your CEO or CFO may be happy with the savings, but if you’re in customer engagement, you know there’s a flip side. Travel budgets cover a whole lot more than in-flight snacks and room service. The Certify research shows each dollar spent on business travel brings companies a $2.90 increase in profit and $9.50 in revenue. That’s because it’s spent on in-person meetings, prospect dinners, building relationships with partners and customers.

Simply put, travel budget was spent on sales and customer engagement, and now that face-to-face is no longer an option, personal gaps have arisen that have to be closed as soon as possible.

More than a face

Now and for the foreseeable future, enterprises need a different, more powerful way to engage customers. Technology can keep relationships strong when travel isn’t in the cards. That said, not all technology is created equal - and you need to make sure it’s right for your users, prospects, customers and partners.

The thing is, finding the right tools could be tougher this year. In 2020, we learned a lot about how to demonstrate value remotely, improving how to highlight products via sales enablement and virtual training. Still, the migration to Zoom and other video-conferencing technology wasn’t the right path for many. You don’t sell to faces, you sell to people, and the social elements of selling and training can easily get lost on Zoom.

An hour long video conference pales in comparison to what can be accomplished with an in-person experience. This not only includes the social side – such as chats and interactions during breaks - but learning itself. As our Enterprise Sales Manager Jon Allbin recently said: “Zoom or WebEx is in an organization’s immediate view. The technology is easy to understand and start using quickly. But in short order, many realize while they let someone ‘into the room,’ the tools to teach or sell remain behind a screen. Watching someone do something is not the same as doing it yourself, and without that, you lose what’s fundamental to retention and learning.”

That’s particularly true when dealing with complex products like software. With this in mind, it’s the responsibility of customer engagement teams to find a way to reallocate travel budget into tools that will compensate for what’s been lost.

Expectations and experiences

Whether you motivate students via gamification, utilize analytics to augment activities or enlist collaboration to drive participation, the tools are within your reach to take sales and training to the next level. With a lack of travel causing budget overflows, now’s the time to make sure that next year’s budget includes technology that’ll close personal gaps and bring your teams, customers and partners together.

Technology has successfully closed, and in ways even improved, retention gaps in areas like remote software training and sales. For instance, the right virtual labs allow employees to easily upload exact product versions to the cloud for demos, proofs of concept and training. They can then deliver these wherever needed, so long as users have a browser and internet connection.

These can be hands-on experiences, too, which is the second best means for learning retention. Further, they can incorporate real-world scenarios, and not only do you want decision makers to see your software in action, they want to test it before turning it loose in production.

Still, solutions differ, and to help you invest excess travel budget in technology that will improve remote learning efficiency - and mix in some customer engagement - here are some tips to keep in mind.

- Analytics and AI: There are datasets from hundreds of thousands of training and sales sessions taking up space in data warehouses on-premise and the cloud. These can be categorized into segments such as courses, people, demographics and geographies. Leveraging the value and the information coming out of those sessions needs to be at the top of every enterprise agenda because they can provide insights for improving programs and success.

- Gamification: Statistics show gamified courses – those with problem-solving challenges – cam double completion rates. Organizations from the military to cybersecurity teams use virtual labs to do just that. What’s more, gamification itself can be a channel for those analytics. According to senior director of product experience at Thought Industries, Daniel Quick, “By creating a motivational path for users that they truly care about, gamification makes certain actions subjectively interesting for the individual. Using analytics, you can then in turn glean objective data on those actions.” Decide upon the insights you want, then set up a gamification track to reward the actions that will yield the data you need.

- Collaboration: As Quick further said: “When you’re thinking about the problem, design the system so that you’re offering channels to collaborate and then reward users for those moments.” When evaluating technology, remember there needs to be a social and human connection, whether it’s remote assistance from an instructor or peer interaction. For instance, integrating instructor-led training with self-paced tools in a customized virtual lab environment – one with features like text chat for support during live sessions – an effective social dimension can be added.

Nadav Peleg, chief revenue officer, CloudShare