Product training makes profits

Product training makes profits

Sales people sell what they know and like, not what they don't understand or what is difficult - that's why training resellers is so strategic to vendors' marketing plansVendors report that higher sales, higher margins and higher profiles come from resellers participating in the company's product sales training programs. Held regularly, at either the dealer's or vendor's premises, these training sessions combine a mix of technology overviews, basic product facts, competitive information, along with a healthy dose of company indoctrination.

Com Tech Communications, Australia's largest distributor of networking products, including Novell, Netscape and Bay Networks, provides hour-long sales training sessions to resellers as required. As Michelle Ballard, NSW sales manager, explains, these sessions are as much about providing value as they are about buying mind-share. "We give informal training to resellers so that they have our product in mind, and overall it helps resellers lift their profile and have greater understanding." Intended to keep resellers up to date on the latest topics, Com Tech's sales team typically spends time explaining issues such as the pros and cons of selling Novell versus Microsoft, how to solve a remote access problem, what the Internet offers today and what questions resellers need to ask to find the right opportunities.

Despite the variety of resellers, Com Tech's informal style of instruction varies to assist its resellers, depending on whether it's what questions to ask prospects or very specific product training. "Every reseller is different and the training depends very much on their skill level and what they're looking at from the market - PCs or systems integration. Some of them don't find it very important at all because they are just interested in selling boxes and some of them really need it to become what they want to become," says Ballard.

In terms of making a difference to the bottom line, Ballard maintains that it all comes down to people in the end. "The manager out there who has a lot of focus on it might be very keen to get his people trained up but if the people don't have the ability or interest to learn it, then it's a bit of a waste of time. Despite this, there are plenty of good reps out there who have a lot of knowledge, who, when you spend time with them, take it all in, ask lots of questions." In the competitive printer market sales training is seen as central to winning the business. Epson's NSW channels manager, Toni Pensa, provides free sales training to dealers on demand.

"Over a period of an hour, they receive an overview of the product range, the main selling features and benefits, and how our product is superior to other brand names in its class. It's really how to sell our product effectively against other products. Epson's training is backed up by product specialists who spend a lot of time on competitive analysis."

The key, she says, is to empathise and keep product detail to a minimum. "With so many products to deal with, resellers are overloaded with information they need to be expert on, so we make sure most of the information is written down in point form with extra space for them to add tips," says Pensa. Further to this training, as new products are released, Pensa attends all the major dealers' sales meetings to present the product and teach them how to sell it and answer all the questions. Operating in opposition and holding almost equal market share is Hewlett-Packard. Sales training specialist Andy Jaeger maintains that training the dealer channel is very effective for improving sales.

According to Jaeger, it's actually considered one of the key differentiators to success. "If the training is not successful then the products won't be," he says, and adds, "Basically people sell what they know and we find we have to keep visiting them. It's not just training them once, it's got to be kept prominent particularly in the light of competitive pricing and frequent rollout of new products." When it comes to marketing Microsoft has the money and pervasiveness to capture mindshare.

Microsoft's Brett Davison openly admits that the company's quarterly briefings to dealer reps are at least 50 per cent indoctrination. "This style of briefing provides product overviews of all products and their positioning against competitors and the associated pricing," says Davison.

As an extension to this, Microsoft also provides more in-depth information in the form of seminar kits which come complete with scripts, brochures, presentations and even invitations so resellers can hold their own briefing sessions. Then in specific incidences Microsoft will get together with dealers and help them build strategies for winning big sales. Most recently Microsoft has taken advantage of the Web to release product information.

Training for Windows NT version 4 Workstation Server comes with a complete structured training program, which can be completed on the Web or downloaded. With it comes all the associated PowerPoint presentations, white papers, data sheets, reviewer's guides all attached to the appropriate areas, which can be downloaded as necessary, according to Kevin Burke, Microsoft's Channel Marketing Group.

"Its 'just-in-time' delivery makes it the perfect medium - if they want the training today it's there immediately." For some vendors, such as Compaq, reseller training programs hold such strategic significance to the success of the organisation that they declined to discuss it with ARN. According to Anne Eckert, Compaq's communications manager, because the company sells via the reseller channel it prefers not to publicly discuss this part of its sales and marketing strategy.

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