MAATS: employee training can help boost sales

ORLANDO, Fla. - Training can have the largest effect on sales and profit margins, yet it "consistently gets dropped by the wayside, especially when there's budget issues," said Richard Mundell, a former West Marine buyer who now works with online learning solutions company Udutu.

At his seminar, "Using eLearning to Improve Your Sales and Margins," held Thursday during the Marine Aftermarket Accessories Trade Show in Orlando, Fla., Mundell gave an example of how even a minimal amount of training can help employees make sales.

Mundell said he rarely smokes cigars but was meeting with someone at MAATS who did, so he wanted to have some on hand. Walking around a store, there were numerous types of cigars to choose from, in a range of prices. He asked the employees for some help, but both admitted they knew nothing about cigars. So he made the choice himself and left with his purchase.

"I couldn't believe it, really," he said. "I just needed someone to give me some opinion." It could have meant the difference between a $30 purchase and a $60 purchase.

That scenario, Mundell said, is probably repeated many times over at marine retail accessories stores in much the same way. However, a small amount of training about products and what they do can turn employees into ambassadors for your wares by building their confidence and educating them about what they are selling.

Also, he noted, training affects price. When an associate knows about a product and can tout its efficiencies and features, a customer is less likely to ask about price up front, and it doesn't become the single deciding factor in making the purchase.

Online learning, Mundell said, is the easiest and most cost-effective way to train people. And the tools often are free and require little technical experience to produce. Of his company's 15,000 clients, the majority use their tools at no cost, he said.

Mundell offered some simple suggestions:

  • If you're going to use social networking tools, such as Facebook or Twitter, for these endeavors, "find something to differentiate yourself as a resource ... otherwise you're just adding to the noise."
  • Use the Web, in its many forms, to share information and create dialog. Web 2.0 is not just read-only; it's interactive.
  • Use your Web site to educate customers and build traffic. "If you just market your products, only people looking for your products are going to show up."
  • Create your content and have retailers become "publishers" of that content. He touted West Marine's site as a good example of this.
  • Think about how people use the Web, looking for short bursts of information quickly. It's better to have five four-minute training courses online than one 20-minute course.

"Expect some false starts," Mundell cautioned. "A lot of opportunities are yet to be fully defined. Go forward ... try something on some scale."

— Beth Rosenberg



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