Welcome to India? Challenges faced by international Learning and Development providers that want to enter the Indian market

ImageIndia is probably the most dynamic market, with China, for Learning and Development and every single global provider wants a piece of it. What they often fail to realize is that the Indian L&D market is a challenging one to enter from abroad. Yes the numbers are huge, yes the need is there but that doesn’t mean automatic success. The three main challenges that these global service providers need to overcome to ensure success in India are low prices, the time to build business relationships with potential clients, the localization of their content and delivery methods and finding the right trainers

1. Price. Corporate India’s training needs are huge. Many multinationals conduct hundreds of days of training to up-skill their employees and get them ready for more responsibilities or to allow their organization to go up the product or service value chain.  This might be seen as a blessing for global providers but because the volumes are huge, salaries still relatively low – for western standards –  and there are thousands of freelance trainers on the market, India’s training prices are some of the lowest in the world. On top of that, most project commercials will have to be negotiated with the procurement department whose first criteria is price, not quality. For service providers that are used to billing at western rates in order to cover their overheads, pay their consultants and make their margin, this can be difficult tightrope to walk, not to mention hard sell to justify even a billing of 2000$/day when some consultants sell their services for as low as 200$/day. On a brighter note, this is changing. Buyers, especially HR, are more quality conscious and have a growing influence on procurement too, but it will still take a lot of time for most large companies to move from cost based pricing to a quality based one.

2. Relationship building. This is what allows service providers to also go up the value chain with their clients. Most Indian service providers get a foot in the door by accepting relatively low paying training calendar events and, the good ones, then work their way up through effective client engagement skills. The quality of the engagement with HR and business stakeholders is what makes the difference, but that is almost impossible to do without being on the ground and spending considerable time building a network with local decision makers. Relationship building takes a lot of time but really pays out in the long run and that is a challenge that is extremely difficult  to overcome when sitting in Sydney, London or Chicago.

3. Localization. the majority of Indian training buyers are extremely sensitive to the localization, or lack of, of the training content. The idea is the Indian work culture is different from the rest of the world and that requires training content to be customized to engage Indian learners and build skills in a way that they will be able to apply in their environment. This makes”off the shelf” programs, except the most famous ones like Coveys’ 7 Habits, very hard to sell. Especially if their owners are reluctant to adapt their price point (see above point on price). Content is not the only thing that buyers expect to be localized, most of them also want delivery methodology to be adapted to the Indian learners. Indian buyers sometimes assume that ‘western’ training techniques like pure process facilitation or coaching don’t work in India. Personally, I am not convinced that this is always true but it can be one more hurdle for international providers to overcome. This can of course be overcome if they use local resources to do their delivery.

4. Consultants. A simple look at LinkedIn and you will find tens of Indian trainer groups. Unlike China, India has tens of thousands of trainers that can deliver on every topic possible. The problem is finding the right ones. Training is still often seen as an amateur sport: “If you speak good English you can be a trainer”. Once again, this is changing fast as buyers are getting more quality conscious and independents consultants are realizing that training and facilitating are professions that require specific skills and not just the ability to speak in public. However, it remains a real challenge finding good trainers/facilitators/coaches. Recruitment has always been about finding a needle in a hay stack, the thing with India is that the hay stack is larger than anywhere else. The good news is that there are also probably more needles to find than anywhere else. However, it is difficult for providers that are not on the ground to invest the time required to source potential candidates, assess them, co-facilitate with them before trusting consultants to represent their brand.

Despite the challenges, a lot of the international players like DDI, Vantage Partners, Korn Ferry, Dale Carnegie, De Baak, LIWTMAWorld and others are present , and successful for some of them, in India but all of them had to revise their business models to succeed. Whether it is lowering their price points, licensing their content to local players to create brand awareness, create delivery partnerships or joint ventures with local providers or even creating a new brand specifically for India. There are plenty of ways for global L&D service providers to succeed, if they take the time to understand the unique requirements of the Indian market and if they are ready to be flexible with their business model.

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