Sales Training: Honing the tools

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Knowledge is power. A well trained shop floor person is at ease in all situations and can add value to both the retailer and the manufacturer,” said John Dixon, brand communications manager at Panasonic UK. Indeed, adding value is what independents’ business is about.
Ian Biles, store manager of FutureHome in Wokingham, told me recently: “Any sale is not about price – it is about a perceived value for money.” The key factors here are superior product knowledge and professional sales skills. They are the result of many years of experience on the sales floor but they also come from training and require regular updating.

What’s available

The majority of manufacturers and some distributors provide product-related training in different formats. Neff’s training is product based. “We encourage our delegates on both Siemens and Neff to view our built-in products working, and experience the food that comes out of them. Because our training is food-centric it allows our delegates to be able to talk with their customers on an equal basis regardless of how experienced they are with cooking,” says Mike Jarrett, Neff sales director.

Meanwhile, Roberts training is delivered in the stores by area sales mangers but at the same time the company regularly supplies product information in print form to the independents, and sends them posters in A2 and A4 format which feature the latest products and their benefits.

However, all manufacturers believe that product demonstration is key. “Whether training is conducted at the company’s headquarters or on the retailer’s site, seeing a product ‘live’ makes a tremendous difference. Seeing is believing and being able to touch, handle and use the product under the direction of an experienced trainer inspires confidence too, which comes across at the point of sale and is conveyed to the purchaser,” commented Stuart Frost, product marketing manager at Maytag UK.

Introductory product information is often provided by the company’s field training team in the dealer’s store, while more in-depth training usually is given in a dedicated training centre, such as Miele’s Experience Centre in Abingdon, which “has the space and facilities for delegates to gain a full hands-on experience that cannot be achieved during in-store training. This ensures that delegates have the confidence to speak about models that they might not necessarily be displaying in their own stores,” explains Julie Siddall, field training manager at Miele.

Richard Walker, sales and marketing director, FagorBrandt UK, explains the company’s unique approach: “De Dietrich employs a dedicated team of home economists and offers home demonstrations for new purchasers. However, the experts are also available to demonstrate products at dealer showroom events and we find that this works extremely well as they can present the latest products to potential purchasers in advance of sale, and retailers also benefit from their additional knowledge.”

Armour Academy, the training facility for the UK custom installation industry, which in 2006 has trained more than 1,000 people, is well known for organizing tailor-made events, in addition to an extensive range of product courses and post-training support service.

In addition to the interactive training sessions some companies, such as Maytag, run training seminars during which “members from the European/worldwide team provide interesting and informative insights into developments in other markets throughout the world,” adds Maytag’s Stuart Frost. They are also happy to share the reasoning behind product designs developed with a particular type of customer in mind. These consumer profiles are informed by extensive research and often have fully developed personalities and biographies, with their likes, dislikes and a family situation. They are likely to be your ideal customer targets for these products, representing healthy growth opportunities.

The manufacturers know their markets and customers well and are happy to share this knowledge. “As AV furniture has become a category in its own right an increasing number of consumers, especially the ladies, are very interested in the different finishes available as well as cable management. We call this the WAF of Wife Acceptance Factor.” says Paul Dawes, sales and marketing director of Alphason Designs.

Flexible solutions

Recognising the time and other constraints of the independent business, all manufacturers also provide in-store training at the time convenient for the retailer. It is usually delivered by area sales managers or merchandisers who update retailers on the latest product developments and promotional opportunities. A number of manufacturers also provide shorter in-store training sessions designed around the needs of the dealer. Miele, for example, offer breakfast training sessions, lunch meetings or evening training as required. Indesit, is happy to arrange training evenings for individual stores which take place outside business hours. One-to-one training sessions are also available from more specialist manufacturers, such as Alphason.

An increasing number of manufacturers also offer the flexibility of e-learning, which enable sales staff to stop and start their training, and work it around the needs of their business. Some of it has an interactive style, and suits sales people of varying experience levels.

The recent IER web poll showed that training in a dedicated training centre is the format most readily taken by independents. The majority of respondents – 53% – have recently taken advantage of it, while 20% participated in an in-store training and 27% used an online training facility.

Younger retail staff also require sales skills training which only some manufacturers are able to provide – on request – while other are happy to refer retailers to specialist sources.

Selling benefits

All trainers will impress on the retailers the importance of selling benefits, not features or technology. If a customer takes a product home and finds it good enough to recommend to friends, they won’t talk about the fine details of the specifications. Instead they will talk about how the product benefits their life in some way, by doing the washing faster, being easier to clean that the previous model, or using less power.

It is crucial, therefore, that retailers have hands-on training to be able to demonstrate the products to the customers with confidence and to answer all their questions with conviction. Their confidence, or lack of it, is easily conveyed to the customers.

Gains – for all concerned

“Ongoing training of every type, almost always, shows a positive return on investment, “ reminds Stuart Frost of Maytag. This is particularly true in relation to the independent dealers who handle premium products. “When customers choose a premium brand, such as Miele, they expect a premium level of service at all touch points. A well trained dealer reduces the level of after-sales queries that come through to Miele and is a big contributor to building brand loyalty,” confirms Julie Siddall of Miele. Panasonic’s John Dixon says this point: “Panasonic products have leading edge design and functionality, and are not sold by price alone. The product benefits have to be understood and explained to the customer.”

Sales training also delivers a number of other benefits to retailers. Together with product knowledge, it gives them an opportunity to get to know the company’s heritage, brand values and customer care programmes it provides. The environment of the training room also facilitates interactions with other retailers who share their views and experiences.

Gordon Dutch, chief executive of BBG distributors, who trains independents himself, tries to “get the retail staff to understand the importance of attachments and customer service”, and advises them “how to maximise sales and profit for the store, whilst upholding the best possible advice and integrity of the store.”

Training also increases staff retention which is a significant cost saving. “The loss of one competent person can be the equivalent of one year’s pay and benefits,” confirms Stuart Frost. By giving their staff a training opportunity an employer formally recognises the value of their skills and their contribution to the company.

For the manufacturer, the retailer is an ambassador of its brand, and as training improves his skill set and professionalism, it is a contributory factor to building brand loyalty among the customers.

The magic ingredient

Finally, if your sales personnel is not enthusiastic about the products they sell, there is very little chance that they will be successful at selling it. Sales training is usually conducted by training and marketing managers who not only know the products well but are very passionate about their benefits and technologies. “Our training is not carried out by an external company, its done by our Whirlpool staff, who live and breathe our products and brand values. Their enthusiasm is a key ingredient in the training which we hope will help impart our belief in our products and our brand to the independent retailer,” comments Ray Isted, Whirlpool brand marketing manager.

Experienced trainers are very likely to convey this enthusiasm onto your staff. And isn’t it exactly what you need?

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