Learning for a digital / non-digital world

DSM’s collaboration with Vlerick Business School to build a blended learning portal

Source: Developing Leaders magazine by IEDP (Issue 24:2016); Author: Chris Murray.

While the Internet has the capability of transforming industries, the early 21st century is not the end of the non-digital world as predicted by digital enthusiasts. Our lives, instead, have become blended lives in which we toggle between digital and non-digital solutions. The customised programme that Vlerick Business School has co-designed in partnership with Dutch conglomerate DSM illustrates the full potential of the digital/non-digital blend for executive education. It’s also a great example of an academic and corporate coproduction in which both sides enhance the learning of the other while learning themselves.

Focus on B2B Marketing & Sales

DSM is a 10 billion Euro global science-based company specializing in health, nutrition and materials (e.g. plastics and resins). The company has approximately 25,000 employees in 50 countries. The relationship between DSM and Vlerick Business School started in 2012 when an innovation project brought Professor Marion Debruyne – now Dean of Vlerick – to DSM, where she came into contact with DSM Marketing’s learning efforts.

Arthur Simonetti, Marketing Director at DSM, explains: “It started originally with inviting professor Debruyne for a webinar. Because we had so much in common and we were both open for learning, we decided to join forces. The DSM marketing excellence centre had a huge collection of best practices and tools, and Vlerick Business School had the reputation and knowledge, plus a specific B2B focus. It was this combination that was the key.”

From the start, the idea has been that the world is moving towards digital,” says Professor Steve Muylle, academic programme director. “People want access to digital content before they get into face-to-face settings.” Vlerick and DSM collaborated on developing inspirational videos and webcasts. Soon the co-developers moved to putting additional material online, such as articles. And the programme came to include offline workshops and master classes building off of the online material.

Three learning levels

Today, the comprehensive online learning portal includes a significant library of articles, videos and webcasts. The content is clustered around three suites of information channels corresponding to three levels of experience. However, all the material is accessible to all participants as well so any marketing or sales employee in need of a greater depth of knowledge in a particular area can find the relevant and credible learning material on the portal.

The first suite of materials, entitled Refresh, reviews the fundamentals of sales and marketing for employees who are new to sales and marketing or who have just joined the company. Marketing fundamentals range from market and customer understanding to market research and product management. Topics covered under the sales function include pricing strategy, customer management, and sales strategy.

The second suite of materials, entitled Enrich, is for the more advanced participants who want to learn about the latest ideas, theories and practices related to B2B marketing and sales. For example, one of the headings in the Enrich section is “Digital Marketing and Sales.”

Finally, for the most experienced participants, the third suite of materials, entitled Excel, offers advanced courses and webinars intended to help upper-level leaders in the company to become state-of-the-art professionals in sales and marketing. The content in this section is mostly delivered through webcasts.

Assessment and accreditation: a learning path

In the fall of 2016, Vlerick and DSM launched a new phase of the learning portal and programme, evolving from a package of online materials, webcasts and face-to-face workshops into a structured assessment and accreditation process for different levels of sales and marketing professionals. Two different learning paths were designed based on career level, experience and job profile.

Thus, DSM sales and marketing professionals will navigate through a curriculum that is punctuated by live 3-day training sessions and exams required for passage to the next level. The certification they receive upon completion puts them in position to be promoted when openings occur at higher levels. It is not up to the employee whether to enroll in the training programme: they have to be invited to participate.

This development programme is positioned as a career opportunity, as an incentive of trust and belief in a talent to move up the Marketing and/or Sales career ladder within DSM,” says Jeroen te Koppel, Global Capability Manager, Marketing and Sales for DSM. “A marketing or sales professional should feel proud to be nominated the programme.”

For the first time, the learning process moves on site to a Vlerick campus. “We want to get them out of their environment and open them up to our nice campuses and the resources,” Muylle explains. Location is just one difference. The longer time frame will allow a much broader approach to the topics studied. In the past, the workshops adopted what Muylle calls a “vertical” approach, very targeted on the specific topic. The 3-day programmes will have a more “horizontal” approach, exploring the different implications and context related to the subject.

Another element of the learning programme moving forward is the key participation of “internal” thought leaders from within DSM. “We are indeed organizing the programme in such a way that it is not just our faculty,” Muylle says. For example, the chief marketing officer will be coming and talking about the specific marketing challenges for DSM. The goal is a balance of the internal perspective from DSM and external Vlerick perspective.

The voice of the customer

As always, Vlerick Business School is focused intently on responding to the specific needs of the customer as the programme moves through different formats and different topic areas. “The idea is that we will develop new content modules to deal specifically with the evolving needs of DSM,” says Muylle. “We’ve always had close interaction on the topics and videos that we would shoot. And we also make changes and adjustments based on their feedback. The voice of the customer is extremely important.”

One way to better understand the voice of the customer is by writing case studies about the project, Muylle says. Writing these case studies, he says, “You get to know them very well.”

This is where Vlerick Business School practices the new B2B principles and create a customer-centric journey for and with DSM,” Simonetti says.

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