Distributors typically look at training as a necessary evil — so it is something they do reluctantly for their customers. The training that is provided is usually uninspired, therefore the class may not be well attended, which goes to confirm that distributors believe very few contractors are really interested in training. This of course is simply not true. The key to a successful training program is to design training that is irresistible to your contractors. If you provide a class focused on an important topic to your local product community, your class will sell out and the folks who attended will be impressed with what your supply house can do for them.
How To Develop Training
The best way to develop interesting training is to listen to your customers. They will tell you where they need help as long as you ask the right questions. You'll want to ask your contractors where do you see your service technicians struggling? What types of service calls are routinely misdiagnosed? If you ask enough of the right questions, you'll find that the same topic keeps coming up and everyone in your area is probably struggling with the same service problems.
The key is to zero in on the problems your customer base is experiencing so that when you go see your next customer, you can ask them if they would benefit from a training class. I have presold classes before I have set the date for the class. I have found the sweet spot and can fill the void for my contractors. I've had customers tell me to call them when we conduct the class because they want to send their entire staff. I have sold out one particular class six times in less than three years. I was amazed that the class continued to sell out. I thought I had saturated the market, but every time I offered the training it would sell out yet again. I have had close to 200 students receive training for this one particular topic.
Training Brings New Business
If you help train your customers, they will surely come to you to purchase the products that supports the training that you provided for them. You can make it easy for your customers to purchase from you by making up a flyer discounting the test instruments or parts that you are discussing in your class.
You will gain mind share and will be respected in your marketplace as a distributor who can provide value and knowledge. You will find that regardless of the size of market that you are in, contractors talk to other contractors. The more training you provide the more your business will be mentioned in a positive light. I have found that you will pick up a lot of repeat business if your organization can provide a steady flow of outstanding training.
If you pass out an evaluation sheet at the end of every class along with additional training topics asking the students which class they would prefer to see next you will get a solid consensus on what should be your next topic. Success breed’s success and you will soon be the leader in your marketplace for training.
Train Your Local Technical College Students
You might ask why would I spend the time to train students at my local technical college? The answer is that these graduating students will become future customers providing you with new business — plus you are helping to train new recruits entering into our industry. The students that you train will seek you out upon graduation especially if you are providing additional training on an ongoing basis to your customers.
The students are anxious to continue with their education even after they have graduated and entered into the workforce. Today's students are tomorrow's service technicians so you would be wise to donate your time and to help educate these youngsters. I have had people come up to me years later and tell me how much they appreciated that I had taken the time to come out and speak to their class. I have also been informed that these former students had been doing business with our supply house ever since. You never know sometime where customers come from. I didn’t even know or remember these students, but evidentially they knew me. More importantly, they knew what supply house I worked for, so we gained new customer.
I would also suggest sitting on the advisory board for your local technical college. The board typically will consist of a few large contractors, maybe a local union rep, and a few representatives from supply houses. You want to make sure that you are one of those representatives so you can help to develop the curriculum. The more you can help your community the better off you will be.
Create Loyal Customers
The last and probably most important benefit that you will receive from training your customers is that they will become loyal to you and your supply house. If you have helped a customer grow his business, he will reward you with his loyalty. If you can teach someone how to increase their business and make it more profitable you will have a friend and a customer for life, but don't think that that can be accomplished with just a class or two. You will need to consistently deliver classes that will assist contractors with their businesses.
The type of classes that will be of value is teaching customers how to use today's technologies such as selling using tablets, placing orders online using a smart phone, how to use HVAC apps on your smart phone, showing the value of flat rate pricing or teaching basic business classes. All these classes are designed to help your customers grow their business while making them more profitable, and who wouldn’t love that?
Darrell Sterling is a regional sales manager at Johnstone Supply