Distributors say they want to provide more training to their employees. But decisions about product and sales training delivery, measurement and retention aren’t always simple. This article, based on the results of a recent Real Results Marketing survey, examines the challenges that distributors face around providing training.
This article is part two in our ongoing series on training in distribution. Part one looked at how distributors can shift their thinking about training.
Distributors are good at providing their employees with training on products and systems. But they often fall behind when it comes to offering ongoing, in-depth sales training, even though sales is a critical element of any distribution business.
Part of the challenge may come from the choices around delivering training. Product and system training is generally provided in-house or through vendors.
Expanded sales training requires a longer term focus that simply isn’t a part of the culture for many distributors.
Much on-the-job sales training is based on the assumption that “tribal knowledge” will be learned through experience. But without a formal process for sharing that experiential wisdom, it is rarely shared among sales employees.
Most of this knowledge never gets written down and stored for future training, yet this information may be the richest when it comes to understanding market segments, buyers within those segments and how products and services are identified based on segment.
How much training follow-up do you offer?
When a distributor has a formal sales training program integral to how it does business, often the program is a product purchased from a third-party vendor.
Delivery of this type of training could be in the form of on-site training and practice, including follow-up assignments and materials, and is usually given to employees when they join the company.
The effectiveness of this type of training lies in the ability of the company to follow through with the training to ensure it is retained and actively used on an ongoing basis, through testing, practice and continual follow-up. Unfortunately, this is not a frequent occurrence, and this type of sales training is often viewed as one-time.
There are many options available, but each has their own challenges. Formal learning management systems (LMS), such as Docebo, Eclipse or Bluevolt, may be expensive and rely on vendor portals for product training.
In a recent survey from Real Results Marketing on sales training in distribution, only 22 percent of respondents used a learning management system. Yet when asked if they would like to see vendors deliver product training via LMS, 75 percent of them responded yes. Distributors see the value of LMS for training, but they do not appear ready to invest in one for themselves.
Instead, many noted they use online platforms as the preferred method of delivery for product training. But when asked how many minutes per month were actually spent in online learning (including vendor portal training) by job title, nearly half of employees did not participate in any.
How much time is spent on online learning?
Only a small percentage of employees spent more than one hour each month performing online training of any type.
Interviews with several distributors revealed that a focused amount of training happened when a salesperson was hired, but after the first three to six months, training simply stopped. The salesperson became busy servicing an assigned territory, and because training was not a core part of the
company’s strategy, there was no incentive to take time for additional training.
Another reason for the lack of online training is the lack of accountability for salespeople to actually do the training. If given the choice between training and their jobs, theyusually elect to perform their normal job duties.
This is why it is so important to build a training path for each employee that will provide real value to both employees
and the company. Training needs to be viewed as an important aspect of every sales job. It must be tracked and, most importantly, the knowledge must be retained.
“We need to do less training and find ways to retain the training we are delivering in a more effective way,” noted one distribution executive.
If it’s not driven internally, the value of ongoing training is minimal. Some vendors require their distributor partners’ salespeople to participate in formal training of their products, including a certain number of hours to be spent with online training.
The risk of not doing so, according to one distributor interviewed, was the potential of losing exclusivity on the product line. But even though the training was required, ongoing retention of the information was not emphasized or measured by the distributor.
When asked what format distributors’ vendors were providing product training in, 82 percent said that training was performed onsite at the distributor location, while other written forms of training were also popular.
How is your vendor training delivered?
The delivery method varies widely, but it is often a one-time event. PowerPoint presentations, videos, PDFs and even materials gathered at the training are simply filed away and not looked at again. As a result, the knowledge contained within them is left to gather dust.
A shared file or learning management system that is regularly updated can be an effective tool for ensuring that tribal knowledge isn’t lost as veteran salespeople leave the workforce and that vendor training remains a relevant part of their day-to-day tasks. Employees will be much more likely to use the information if they know where they can access it consistently.
In addition, develop a strategy for making ongoing training a critical piece of the business’ long-term focus. Things that aren’t measured and/or incentivized are less likely to be done, especially if they’re treated as a one-off requirement. Ongoing training and development has also been shown to be an effective engagement tool, contributing to longer employee tenure with better results.
MDM Editor Jenel Stelton-Holtmeier contributed to this report.