Thought Leadership

What Are the Benefits of Hands-on Practice?


May 11, 2021 - 4 min read
What Are the Benefits of Hands-on Practice?

Have you ever considered the phrase “getting one’s hands dirty”? It sounds like an unhygienic activity we were trained as children to stay away from, but in practice, it means quite the opposite: To be involved. To commit. To put in the work, and to be active, not passive.

And this strategy is precisely the goal of hands-on training. Whether for pre-sales demos to highlight and promote features for a prospect or as hands-on technical training for new and existing customers ready to master your software post-sale training, it’s at the top of the list as a methodology to maximize effectiveness in knowledge transfer. Let’s take a look at how it works in both cases.

The Pitfalls of the Sales Pitch

There’s no way around it: Sales pitches (in person or virtual) are tough when attempted through a verbal discussion – even with a PowerPoint or screenshots as visual aids. Why?

  • The customer is rarely as committed or invested in the conversation as the salesperson in keeping up with every detail. Attention fades quickly.
  • Often, a product may have a massive list of features and benefits, and there’s no hope that even an interested prospect will, after the pitch, remember it all as verbal descriptions.
  • Especially in enterprise software, benefits are easy to list. Functionality and user experience/interface? Too complex to simply describe.

So out comes the laptop or the screen share invite for a “packaged” product demo. Using a carefully configured, familiar system, the salesperson runs through the features he or she wants to highlight, hoping to ‘wow’ the prospect. It’s usually scripted, and performed by rote, so success hinges on the demo being a perfect match for the prospect’s needs and expectations. It’s a common approach, but a gamble, and not an ideal use of anyone’s time.

The obvious alternative: Hands-on practice

When providing prospects with their own fully-functional, unlimited version of your product to explore – either as you guide them, or independently, on their own time – they get a genuine sense of what they can expect to be able to do … because THEY are doing it! They can explore features that interest them, ignoring those that don’t. Another hands-on training benefit is that they can experiment with their own data for a more relevant reflection of their usage. Finally, hands-on practice implies that the salesperson is confident enough to let the prospect “run free” and kick the tires – there’s nothing to hide.

Especially when face-to-face meetings are less common, virtual hands-on training provides a level of active (rather than the default, passive) interaction that makes up for the distance. It’s too easy to lose focus and attention when staring at a Zoom screen while someone talks. But when the salesperson “hands over the controls” and you click, type, scroll and trigger reactions, engagement and excitement rise to whole new levels.

The Next Step: Post-Sales Training

Now that this hands-on training activity approach has proven itself and earned you the sale, your customers are ready to get up to speed so they can begin using the product they’ve bought and committed to. But anyone who has dealt with customer training and support knows three things:

  • They definitely won’t read the manual. Ever.
  • They might skim through your demo videos … the short ones.
  • Running in-person training sessions is time-consuming, expensive, and when it involves having customers watch an instructor on a giant screen, underwhelming. Eyes glaze over, doodling ensues.

Demonstrating that it’s the real thing

To get customers up to speed post-sales, hands-on training is a sure-fire way to get the knowledge into their heads – but through their hands, not through their eyes and ears. Why? Because when a customer has actively worked with a feature, whether immediately successful or even with some trial and error, those actions are now real to them. Tried. Proven. Repeatable. When a customer has the opportunity to take this shiny new product for a spin and comes back with a real experience, it remains embedded in memory in a way that passive learning cannot compete with.

In addition, hands-on technical training provides a level of confidence so important to adoption rates. Enterprise software can be overwhelming, with steep learning curves fraught with skepticism or nervousness. When a customer has seen first-hand that their real-world tasks are within their grasp, and that they can handily avoid frustration, wasted time, and those pesky error screen, adoption soars … as does productivity and, in turn, future orders.

Finally, hands-on practice activity also offers benefits for certification programs and reduces strain on customer support. Many platforms allow the trainer to watch the trainee and determine what parts of the product he has explored, when, and for how long. Providing a set of challenges answered not with theoretical answers but with live interaction, is the best way to be sure customers are indeed ready to manage on their own.

There’s a reason that hands-on practice is the favorite method in hospitals, as the core, central link in the process doctors undergo in their own training: “Watch one, do one, teach one.” But long before modern medicine or hi-tech, Confucius said it best and most simply:

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”