Building Your Own Online University

Dan Seidman

Ten thousand baby boomers turn 65 every day. This is why a start-up company hired me to build their training department. The firm was targeting the senior market by offering solutions to keep these older people safe in their own homes rather than empty bank accounts to move into senior housing. I could relate, as I just had two elderly parents move into assisted living at a cost of $8,700 a month.

I created our 10.5 Step Sales Process by modeling two top sales professionals who had been selling for years. But I wanted to do more than just offer live training and follow-up coaching. I wanted to archive experiences and ideas and marketing materials and everything possible that could contribute to the success of all staff members and departments. This learning place was private, of course, so only relationships that could add value were invited to be a part of the online home.

I’ll make it easy for you to steal my idea by giving a detailed process, resources and tips to create your own digital nation.

This online tool becomes a bonding experience for your staff and external relationships. You can draw off the collective brainpower of all the business professionals connected to your company. Share best practices, struggles, ideas, even humor.

Inspiration for this came from working with my mentor, Alan Weiss, author of “Million Dollar Consulting” and 60other books. Our consultant community shares freely at where he’s had over 170,000 posts.

Create Your Own Digital Work Environment

I did a load of research to quantify the value of this (small) investment and was inspired by some significant data related to users. Three examples:

  • Partners feel stronger loyalty and there was potent, continuous brand awareness.
  • Support costs plummeted, as one study recognized that 80 percent of their support questions were now answered within the community.
  • One well-known firm had double the average order value from those engaged within the community.

Good enough for me. Next, let’s get leadership buy-in.

Sell Your Idea Internally

Here’s my pitch to fund this site, should you need leadership approval.

Our Company University will serve as a repository of sales training, marketing, product and leadership content. By gaining contributions from our family of non-competing dealers, we’ll draw off the collective brainpower of everyone in order to contribute to the success of all.

Access will be password protected and invite only, as approved by our company, dealers and manufacturing partners.

The website will cover a wide range of categories related to sales skills, marketing tips, product videos and brochures, installation tips and videos. A leadership section will support dealers and sales managers on topics like recruiting, interviewing and hiring, coaching and managing.

Individuals engaged on the site will be able to contribute success stories, struggles, ideas and questions. The software tracks individual contributions, and we want to find ways to reward those who spend time building into the community. We could use badges or recognition for frequent posts, favorites and upvotes.

The bulk of the work for this educational community will rest on me. Each of us, as leadership team members, should peek into the site and contribute from time to time.

Here’s an example of a community, where you can see structure and contributions:

Note: I did not discuss price in this pitch, as I wanted executive buy-in to the concept first. Once I gained approval, I identified what was clearly the best free (don’t you love that word?) online community software available, phpBB. Our corporate web designer then offered to set up the site for $30,000. (What good is stealing this idea if it costs you big bucks to implement it?) A bit of searching led me to a company to do it for $2,500. (Props to Joe Liu of Floodlight Design, who has a great reputation building beautiful websites for schools. His expertise made it easier to trust him with crafting our online university.)

Structure Your University

This is simple. What areas of your business do you wish to include?

  • Sales
  • Marketing
  • Products
  • Installation
  • Dealers/leadership
  • Digital tools

Under each, you will create an outline of sub-categories to cover all the elements of each of your departments. This is easy and logical. Submit this to your web designer. You then populate each section with content in any format: text, PowerPoint, PDF, video.

Questions are key, as they engage others and create dialogues. I also posted articles, short tips (guerrilla marketing is always a hot topic), Ted Talks and humor. Don’t be afraid to pull in content from outside experts.

This tool can be dynamic. One of my initial posts was from a dealer I trained who closed a sale the week he returned to New Orleans. He was so excited because he followed the sales process exactly as it was taught and landed his first customer. Others at the training commented, congratulated and were encouraged by this news.

Build your community by setting aside time each day to create and respond to posts. Be encouraging, reward others with your words.

When you set up users, they can choose a name and a picture or avatar to use. I prefer that usernames actually identify the person. Anonymity isn’t allowed here. Remember we’re building our community.

Launch Your Online Nation

It is easy to contribute. Create a user document, using screenshots. Then ask for their expertise.

One of the reps shared how he called on a woman who was hearing impaired. He spent the full day, 10 hours like this, “She’d write. I’d write.” His genuine patience and caring attitude led to a sale that was eight times his average. This type of inspiration is life-giving to the community.

Increase Revenue With a Strong Community

Grow your corporate nation with wisdom, smart ideas and success stories that lead to increased sales.

Bonus: When you plan your company’s annual event, expect a fresh measure of delight as people who have never met can finally put a face to the ideas that improved performance.

Reward your most important relationships by drawing from the collective wisdom of everyone. This amazing community springs from your Online University.  

Dan Seidman of GOT INFLUENCE? is the author of “Ultimate Guide to Sales Training.” He received the International Sales Training Leader of the Year award in 2013. Dan would love your feedback or ideas on building a corporate university. Contact him at or at 847-359-7860.