If you're reading this, most likely you are a seasoned manager in a high-technology company. Imagine this: A colleague confides that a third of his customers have gone out of business. His technology is viable, but he needs to quickly transform his company to succeed in this new (not improved) business world. He asks for your advice. What would you suggest?

Managers with an answer to this dilemma have had my phone ringing, because one proven way to change the course of a company is with training. But something is fundamentally different about these calls from those of two or even four quarters ago: Most are from managers who have never trained people in their department, sometimes in their entire company.

Why? They never had to. Only yesterday they enjoyed a dominant market share, with customers and orders galore. Customer relationships were simple to maintain. Marketing was effortless. But customers and budgets have disappeared, and sexy new technology no longer is enough. Companies that have never worried about consistency or effectiveness in selling, marketing, development, or customer service are realizing that these skills are critical.

Where does the first-time trainer begin? Who should be trained? On what? And when? This is no time to make a mistake with time or money. Here are five guidelines for choosing training.

Face First

To determine who to train, look first to customer-facing departments such as sales, marketing, and customer service. Technical skills are important, but they won't be necessary if no accounts or prospects need development.

Beware the Generic

Once you have decided who to train, find a specialist. Avoid the generics who walk in, plunk down a binder, and present an answer before asking, “What's your problem?” Most often, they have a general solution to a broad problem such as opportunity management or market segmentation. When they talk about customization, it usually entails a global search and replace of “company name” in the contents of the binder.

Custom Fit

What I find most effective is training that's carefully customized. Look for a training resource that is helpful in refining your goals, researches your particular needs, and applies the findings to proven methodologies. With a specialist, the chances are greater that your training will be relevant and successful.

Everybody In!

Often line managers prefer to be exempt from training events. Don't let them. There is little benefit to training the field in customer cold-call tactics or channel development without their managers' commitment and supporting vision.

Get Started

Find a way to start the training process quickly. My company is involved in an international training program, and we've spent months working with managers and staff to prepare for events in the next two quarters. Future trainees are asked to read articles, respond to short e-mail surveys, and talk with us about their concerns and goals. Corporate management has already seen an improvement. And when their training occurs, they will be positioned to make the most of it.

For those of you who have never had to train to be successful, welcome! Who knows? You might even get to enjoy this roller coaster we call technology training. There's a first time for everything!

Janette Racicot is president of Racicot & Associates, Belmont, Mass., which specializes in helping companies create and deliver their most important training events. Share your thoughts with her at (617) 484-3201, or send e-mail to jracicot@jracicot.com.