Technical Training: Whose Job Is It?
By Karen L. Jefferson, CPMR CSP
When factories outsource the sales function to reps, they do not abdicate responsibility in the field. Yes, the rep becomes the face of the factory in the territory. Yes, reps are the primary contact with the customer. And yes, the factory needs to provide technical training on its product to its reps.
The relationship between rep and principal (aka factory, manufacturer, vendor, client) is unique. It is a true partnership. If one fails, the other fails. Success is a joint venture. The core competency of the factory is making things, and the core competency of the rep is selling. All parties are happiest when doing their jobs at maximum efficiency. Reps can only be efficient at selling if they are thoroughly trained on the technical aspects of the products they are tasked to sell. This is not only part of the onboarding process but is also an ongoing process. New products must be developed. New technical training must happen. And there needs to be a plan.
In addition to teaching reps the ins and outs of the product, it is best practice to share applications of the product. When bringing on a new rep, share old applications. The easiest way to share new applications is an annual meeting where a few people from every rep firm travel to the factory. Sharing wins from one territory allows reps in other territories to replicate those successes in their own backyard. It is a terrific way to increase sales.
Once reps are fully trained on products, they become the technical trainer in their territory. They share knowledge with distributors (aka dealers, VAR, wholesalers, installers) so that their business partners know how to solve problems using the parts. When reps train their local channel partners, it adds to their credibility and helps reinforce the message: “We are the factory contact for this territory.” It also keeps the rep in front of the partners, which helps with “top of mind awareness.”
The theory of technical training from the factory sounds easy, right? Yet a significant amount of planning needs to go into both technical training and annual meetings. After all, the effectiveness of using reps has to do with sharing the cost of sales with synergistic manufacturers. Not everyone can have meetings or training at the same time. How does it get done, then? Planning! Planning and communicating the plan.
To that effect, the Manufacturers’ Representatives Educational Research Foundation provides two tools that can help: The Guidelines to Planning the Business Year and Passport into the Territory.
Planning the business year is obviously a recurring conversation. “What are the plans for the next year? Where are we going? How do we get there?” If factories and their reps do not communicate their communal goals, how will they meet these goals as a team? Reps and factories also have individual goals that must be communicated.
The interdependence of the relationship creates a unique situation. Neither can control the other, nor can they succeed without the other’s cooperation. Each needs the other to thrive. So each needs to trust the other with goals. This sharing of information is powerful, and it can leave us feeling vulnerable, which is never easy. But it is in this vulnerable space where we can show that we are committed to the relationship and willing to do what it takes to get to the next level of success.
Technical training is their job and your job and my job.
Karen L. Jefferson CPMR CSP is the executive director of the Manufacturers’ Rep Education Research Foundation, a non-profit partner group of Manufacturers Representative Network. Visit www.MRERF.org to learn more.
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