To hit revenue targets after acquiring Storage Tech in 2005, Sun
Microsystem needed to quickly upskill its new sales workforce.
Sales representatives from both Storage Tech and Sun Microsystems
had to quickly learn each other's storage product portfolios. Given
their hectic travel schedules and global locations, traditional
training was not an option.
Sun Microsystem's learning services partnered closely with Storage
Tech to create a cross functional core team to identify learning
needs and design a solution. Initially, the goal was to identify
selling skills for key products, then fill in gaps with
product-specific training, but results from a global skills survey
indicated that more comprehensive training was needed.
After identifying a far broader range of skills and knowledge gaps
than they had anticipated, the core team decided to go beyond the
original mandate and create a comprehensive learning framework and
career path for self-paced learning.
Storage University (Storage U) is a three-phased sales
accreditation program that encompasses learning (product and
services coursework), experience (demonstrating skills through peer
and customer presentations), and results (closing a sale). A panel
of peers verifies sales and approves accreditations. Storage U.
offers accreditation at three levels: advocate, specialist, and
When planning began in earnest in May 2007, the overriding goal was
to get the right people with the right sales skills in the right
places. To identify skills gaps (and surpluses) and pinpoint
specific business needs, the core team developed a 100-question
online survey for Storage sales representatives worldwide.
Respondents were asked to assess their skills and knowledge of
markets, products, and technical details using specific criteria: 1
= Unnecessary: Not Required in My Job Role; 2 = No Skill: But Is
Required in my Job Role; 3 = Beginner: Able to describe base
product and features; 4 = Intermediate: Able to present key product
features and benefits; 5 = Practitioner: Able to architect detailed
storage solutions hands on and billable; 6 = Expert: Trusted
advisor for customer storage strategy.
The core team also asked regional vice presidents, in the form of a
brief questionnaire, to identify the top five products they would
need to sell to meet their sales quota in the next six to eight
months, and for the year. Results were compiled and weighted
according to each region's revenue.
The two data sets together provided a clear picture of which
products were most important to sell, and which sales
representatives around the globe would need training to sell them.
The core team built the program working backwards from the desired
result of increased storage sales revenue, first in the specific
product areas identified in the regional vice president survey.
Skills would drive coverage, coverage would drive sales, and a
strong, career-driven learning program would build bench strength
for the long term.
The key to Storage U success is just-intime, peer-authored content
delivered with Web 2.0 technologies. To prepare for their
presentations, candidates can download winning slideshows narrated
by the company's top sales performers to a laptop or wireless
devise such as an iPhone/iPod touch. Participants simply log into
Sun's LMS, and select the desired role level and the product or
service in which to receive accreditation. They can download
content to their iPhone or iPod and use social media sites to
network with colleagues.
The program was designed to achieve specific business goals - for
example, to increase sales of those products the regional vice
presidents identified as critical. It was also designed to address
specific selling skills, such as the three essential types of
skills the needs analysis uncovered are the skills on which the
accreditation program is based: product knowledge (learning), sales
presentation skills (experience), and the application of those
skills to close a sale (results).
Storage U - funded and driven by Storage Sales - generated $347
million in accreditation-driven sales in the first 10 months. The
$2.25 million development cost was covered by the first three
Because it is an accreditation program, Storage University is built
around clear evaluation components:
- Level I: Participants submit an online survey after each phase
of the program.
- Level II: Assessments in the learning phase test comprehension
after course completion, and can be used as an opt-out for more
- Level III: The experience segment of the program is designed to
evaluate the transfer of learning to the work setting in the form
of sales presentations. The first presentation must be made to a
minimum of two peers and a manager, and may be done remotely if
necessary. The manager must confirm competence before the candidate
may continue to the customer presentation, and is required to
complete an assessment form that includes peer feedback. The
customer presentation must be made in the presence of the
candidate's manager and at least one peer.
- Level IV: To become an accredited sales professional at our
company, an employee must make an actual sale, not just pass a
test. That sale, along with the rest of their learning, must be
submitted in a "win report" and validated by a board of peers, who
are also responsible for granting accreditation. The Storage Sales
division monitors revenue generated through accreditations by
tracking win reports from around the globe. Just 10 months after
launch, that total is $357 million.
- Level V: Development costs for Storage U were $2.25 million,
and annual costs are estimated at $1.2 million. In 10 months, 450
Storage sales professionals completed accreditation, generating
$357 million in revenue, or an average $790,000 per sales rep.
Based on the success of Storage U, accreditation is now the model
for all sales training at Sun.