Last month, we talked about the difficulties that we encounter when training rental staff internally. And, although difficult, it is inevitable that lots of your staff training will need to be done this way.
But another source of training is classes given by manufacturers and distributors. But this can be either awesome — or awful.
You see, about ten years ago, manufacturers in our industry began jumping on the “education as marketing” bandwagon. A number of the biggest, and fastest growing, manufacturers had done it (and done it well) and others quickly followed suit. So this left those of us out on the front lines with lots of choices about how to educate our people.
But not all manufacturer training is good training. Lots of them underestimate what it took from the leaders in the field to get there. The ones that do it well have invested great amounts of time and money in professional trainers, development of professional course material, and even the building of dedicated facilities. With the top players, education is not just a marketing strategy, it’s a way of life.
Unfortunately, this led the rest of them into attempting to jump onto a very fast-moving bandwagon, and I’d like to give them just a few pointers from those of us in the field who are making decisions on which training to send our employees to:
- Giving the same sales reps who have been calling on us for years a PowerPoint presentation does not make them educators. If your salespeople were already educating your dealers, great. If they weren’t, giving them PowerPoints and labeling them educators is just going to make us lose respect for their parent company.
- I have heard it expressed that the philosophy behind dealer education is that they (dealers) will implement the product that they know the most about. But don’t make the mistake of taking this avenue if your product, once they know about it, would not be the one they want to implement.
- Don’t think you can “educate away” your product’s deficiencies. It comes off like PeeWee Herman screaming “I meant to do that!” Relabeling your errors and educating us on them as “important features” can’t help. A stuttering video stream is not “patented polysyllabic punctuation.”
- Don’t make passing a poorly-defined course on your product mandatory to have access to your line. Bear in mind that your competitors are doing it, too, and you are forcing a choice between suppliers. Don’t play this hand if you aren’t sure you can win.
- When training your field people to deliver a course, it isn’t the course that’s the most important. It’s them. Being a trainer requires more than just preparation, it also requires some talent, IMHO. Look for the ones who are already educators by nature, and don’t try to force others into the mold. I usually liken it to a saying I picked up from a Robert Heinlein book as a youth: “Never try to teach a pig to sing. It will frustrate you, and it will annoy the pig.”
- For Pete’s sake, if you are going to try to move your training to the Web, it needs to be re-written properly to be given that way. You can’t just give whatever you have to your Webmaster to post. There’s an old saying: “Old PowerPoint presentations never die, they just become webinars”. Unwatched webinars.
- Training materials are NOT written by the people who develop your marketing materials. Look at your slides — if they contain the same bullets as your brochures, you aren’t training. You’re selling. And believe me, we all know the difference.
- When you make a course on your products “mandatory,” make it good. Or you won’t get two.
- If you want to REALLY tick the market off, make a course on your dud products mandatory to get access to the products you got right. There’s a term for those people. We call them “former suppliers.”
- Please, Please, PLEASE stop talking about “mindshare,” if, by that term, you mean “the dealer believes all our marketing blurbs and can recite them.” Did you learn to train in a Manchurian camp?
Dealer training is a must these days, and it has indeed helped some of the leaders get where they are, and is helping them stay there. But it’s not a game to be entered lightly. It isn’t just your dealers who are being scored on the results.
And for those of us who TAKE courses, we need to be more honest when we fill out training evaluations at the end of class. And we need to remind our suppliers that we also score them — with our wallets.
rAVe Rental [and Staging] contributor Joel R. Rollins, CTS, is general manager of Everett Hall Associates, Inc. and is well known throughout the professional AV industry for his contributions to industry training and his extensive background in AV rental, staging and installation. Joel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org