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It’s dealer training without leaving home

MRAA’s interactive virtual platform allows flexibility in schedules while eliminating costs of off-site learning
When a user logs in to the MRAA interactive virtual platform, up pops education director Liz Walz, who begins speaking as if she were in the room.

When a user logs in to the MRAA interactive virtual platform, up pops education director Liz Walz, who begins speaking as if she were in the room.

When boat dealers contemplate training, the time and expense commitment can quickly snowball in their minds. They have to get their staffs to appropriate venues for training — service to technical sessions, sales staff to different events and possibly another training ground for the managers.

So when the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas approached its vast member base to ask what the dealers most needed to train their staffs effectively, the answer was clear. “People are busy. People are selling boats again, and that’s a great thing, but they still need to learn, strengthen their teams and make them better,” says MRAA president Matt Gruhn. “They don’t always have time to go to a seminar downtown or an educational event being held by a supplier or association.”

So the answer from dealers was a request for more interactive — and also engaging — training, something they could buy in small packages or big chunks and monitor how departments were doing in regard to progress, as well as retention.

Now the MRAA has partnered with Lightspeed VT (virtual training) to enable dealers to train on their own time through the MRAA Interactive Virtual Training System. “This is a way for you as a dealer to access high-level educational content, whether you’re at your desk, on your couch or in the service shop,” says Gruhn. “It gives you access to it on your time through the device you choose.”

There will be snippets from the Marine Dealer Conference & Expo, which is held each fall in Orlando, Fla., because dealers have long lamented not being able to bring every person at their business to the growing event.

Among those using the platform are Gold’s Gym, NBC, General Motors, the National Automobile Dealer Association and Crestliner Boats. Jeffrey Gitomer, a popular MDCE speaker and MRAA partner in content production for the site, also uses it.

Training on your watch

When a user logs in to the system, up pops MRAA education director Liz Walz, who begins speaking as if she were in the room. She asks you a question, and you click your answer and move forward. Managers can give assignments, monitor progress and check in with employee work. They can also specify which content each employee can access.

“Until we started going down this path, we didn’t realize how interactive technology was or what interactivity even meant,” Walz says. “This online training really allows them to take it in pieces and bits through various chapters and modules. For example, Jeffrey Gitomer’s content tends to be 5 to 8 minutes in length, so you can take a little bite and that can be your training for the day. It allows for flexibility where training doesn’t have to be an event.”

Research shows that when trainees’ senses are fully engaged and involved in learning, they are more likely to retain information, Walz says. That’s one reason it’s so important to get in-person training when possible through, for example, the MDCE. (The conference is co-owned by the MRAA and Boating Industry magazine.)

“No dealership is ever going to be able to bring their entire team to MDCE — someone has to hold down the fort — so it’s a huge tool for those folks who attend MDCE, who go back and share,” Walz says. “For folks that miss MDCE, this gives them some of the highlights. We chose a handful of sessions to include on our virtual training site.”

The MRAA also has invested in a camera, as well as green screens and lighting, so it has the ability to shoot videos in its own studio. “We really want to start packing it full of content. We see such opportunity to bring everything we do at MRAA to life, and by having our own studio we’ll be able to start that process,” Walz says.

Dealer certification

Grow Boating Inc. recently said it had transferred ownership of the Marine Industry Certified Dealership Program to the MRAA, the group that had been tapped to oversee it in mid-2013. “Grow Boating is going to underwrite the program for the first two years with a monthly stipend to keep the program on its feet, keep it up and running for the first two years of this transition,” Gruhn says. “Then the MRAA will be out on its own with the program as of late 2016.”

“It’s still a pillar of Grow Boating, just like the NMMA’s product certification program is a pillar of Grow Boating,” Gruhn says. “It’s still an industry effort to ensure the consumer experience with the industry is at a quality level and it remains one of the important pillars of what we’re trying to accomplish as an industry.”

In early 2014 the Grow Boating certification committee decided to part ways with Five Star Solutions, the program’s former facilitator. The group helped the MRAA with certification through the end of the year.

“In the process of searching for a replacement partnership, we ran into a situation where organizations that wanted to run it became too costly and didn’t allow us to make the program as cost-effective as we wanted to for dealers,” Gruhn says. “So the committee asked us to write a business plan to bring it in-house.” The committee is made up of dealers and manufacturers.

“We’ve hired an independent consultant out of the auto industry, Paul Weaver, who has also done quite a bit of work in the marine industry, to come on board and do audits for us,” Gruhn says. “He’s the kind of guy who doesn’t want to be our consultant; he wants to be a dealer coach, to help them grow and get better, so he fits so well with our approach to things.”

As full owner of the MICD program, the MRAA is responsible for every aspect of managing, operating, marketing and promoting it for dealers, including conducting dealer certification reviews and consultations. Grow Boating is going to continue to market the program. That means the dealer certification process, which dealers have sometimes complained is too unwieldy and inconvenient, is also now available online.

“By putting the certification program on, one of our goals was to make the process easier and to make [it] quicker, more straightforward and a better overall experience for dealers,” says Walz. “That was a major goal of the program. With education available through, they can satisfy their continuing education requirements quickly and easily.”

Leveling the field

When it comes to training, affordability is another big consideration, Walz says. “In the past there was a pretty wide gap between the level of training some larger companies in the industry could access [and what smaller companies could provide] because they could afford to bring in some of the leading trainers in the industry to their businesses. This system really allows all dealers to have access to the best experts inside and outside the marine industry. We have plans to add a lot more trainers and a lot more content and really be able to serve every department in a dealership.”

At the time of publication, there were seven subject matter experts featured at the MRAA IVTS:

  • Valerie Ziebron (service)
  • John Spence (leadership)
  • Sam Dantzler (leadership)
  • Lauren de Vlaming (marketing)
  • David Martin (sales)
  • Jeffrey Gitomer (sales and leadership)
  • Shep Hyken (customer service)

With the MDCE modules, when you buy a course you purchase it for three months at a time and for all of the employees under your roof (as many as 25). Each can be set up with their own user name and password. That enables managers to track employees’ training progress and performance.

Tagoras published a report titled “Association Learning + Technology 2014” in which it shared the results of an October 2013 survey of association professionals regarding how their organizations use technology to help their members learn, Walz says. In it, Tagoras reported that the percentage of respondents using technology to enable and/or enhance learning rose from 77 percent in 2010 to 88.7 percent in 2013.

But, Walz says, “We’re not into being trendy for the sake of being trendy. We see potential for this to contribute to future growth of the boating industry. We want to be on the front end of it. We want to drive that growth.

“This gives all dealers access to some of the best trainers and experts out there and puts everyone on a level field,” she says.

This article originally appeared in the May 2015 issue.



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