April 13, 2006
Case Study

Revamped Online University Increases Reseller Rep Participation 50% : How to Educate Sales Reps

SUMMARY: Business-to-business marketers selling via reseller channels share a common challenge with consumer electronics marketers. How do you get reseller's reps educated (not to mention excited) about the bells and whistles of your complex products?

Check out this before-and-after Web site revamp story about a mobile phone maker's online university for retail reps. (And be sure to forward this link to your Web design team, too.)

Picture a typical retail store worker.  Aside from managers, not an overwhelming number of the sales reps are there because it's their dream job.  And, even with commissions, we're not talking big bucks.  They're making ends meet and getting on with life.

Yet, especially for consumer technology items such as mobile phones, these retailer staffers are on the front line directly influencing consumer sales.

You can try sending piles of glossy brochures, but there's no way to track readership or comprehension.  You could go from store to store training in-person, but that would blow your budget, especially if you have new product launches frequently. 

So wireless handset provider Kyocera tested launching iteach-u, an educational Web site for retail staff. (Link to original site screenshot below.) 

The home page was, Kyocera thought, remarkably clean and straightforward.  All it had was a text of welcoming copy --

"We built this site as a resource to guide you through all the great features and easy-to-use functionality of each of our phones.  You'll also discover product brochures, information about our Kyocera accessories and a bit about our history and the Kyocera brand.  Choose one of the jump menus below to select a phone model or other information."

… and then just four navigation options, including "About Kyocera," "Phones," "Tools" and "International."

However, although Kyocera worked via channel partners such as Verizon to offer rewards incentives to retail staff who visited the site, site metrics were disappointing.


How can you create a home page that thrills reseller sales reps so they'll keep clicking and learning?


First the team conducted market research.  "We go into retail stores a lot," says Marketing Coordinator Tracy Pryor.  "And our field sales team who are in stores all the time helped us a lot."

The key was to find out two things:

#1. What questions were typical retail customers asking during the decision-making process? 

Kyocera knew they couldn't count on reps learning everything there was to know about the brand.  Instead they re-focused the site's content and navigation flow on absolute must-know information that could make or break sales.  For the reps who wanted to dig further, additional links were there, but not prominent.

#2. What kind of Web sites did this demographic find entertaining and interesting?

Kyocera's staff preferred clean, text-focused design.  But that didn't mean retail store staffers enjoyed spending time on sites like that.  The design team knew they needed a spoonful of honey to make the medicine go down. What sort of honey would work best?

"The majority of folks working retail in general are 20-25 Generation Y females. They are very Internet savvy and don't want to be marketed to.  They expect when they interact with a Web site that it's going to be fun and cool."

Based on this the marketing team put together a detailed design brief for the Web department to base a revamp on.  "We did tons of internal brainstorming sessions."  (Link to design brief below.)  The main guideline for the brief was "Simple is cool. Simple rules."

The final revamped home page was strikingly different from the original in three key ways:

A. Even shorter copy

No matter what industry, sales reps don't tend to enjoy reading.  So the team ruthlessly cut all copy to the bare essentials needed to get the core message across. 

For example, the original 61-word welcome message was replaced by a 15-word intro, "Welcome to iteach-u!  Just follow these three simple steps to learn all about Kyocera's products." 

B. Even fewer navigational options

To maximize the number of visitors who took the most-desired path, the home page only had two navigation options, both best-selling new Kyocera products.  You could click on one or the other to begin your educational tutorial. 

Key: This doesn't mean the site wasn't packed to the gills with everything from tech specs to flash demos.  However, none of those hotlinks cluttered the home page. 

C. Friendly graphics

The once monotone site now featured simple yet colorful graphics, including cartoon figures of young people holding Kyocera phones. 

The next page-levels of the site continued this clean, friendly design even though considerably more info about each phone then popped up.  You could choose between flash demos, audio features, PDFs, etc.  In fact, the amount of information available would have been bewildering if it had all been listed as options on the home page.

Finally, prior to re-launching the site, the design team conducted usability studies with the target demographic.  "We wanted people in their 20s who were savvy Internet users to come experience it." 

Plus, after the new site was translated into Portuguese, Spanish and French, the marketing team asked native staff in each country to review the translations to make sure the wording was on target.  "That in-country review really makes a difference."    


User sessions for the re-launched site leapt by 50% as word of mouth spread in retail store back-offices that this was not a bad site to play with. 

Plus, 16% of unique traffic took an educational path all the way down through an average of 20 instructional screens and participated in a "mastery test." 

80% of test-takers scored highly enough to be Kyocera "masters."  The rest were invited to return to the educational materials and then take the test again.

75% of all visitors downloaded product marketing materials and specs.  (Can you imagine 75% of sales reps visiting your site actively downloading and studying marcomm?!)  The team were surprised to learn the two most popular downloads were the "dealer matrix," a PDF chart listing each phone and its matching accessories and a glossary. 

So, although the Web format with cheerful graphics and sophisticated Flash demos was entertaining and successful, in the end the reps wanted fairly classic marcom info.   


By the way, we'd like to laud iteach-u for not stopping traffic dead in its tracks by requiring a user name and password on the home page.  Just as with prospects, you don't want to put barriers between sales reps and educational information.     

Useful links related to this article:

Creative samples from Kyocera:


MEA Digital - the Web design team that Kyocera hired for the revamp:


Kyocera's iteach-u microsite




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