Make no mistake about it: Product training is the single most powerful sales tool electrical distributors, manufacturers, and manufacturers' reps can use to create high customer demand for the products they offer. Well-conceived and ideally executed product-training programs result in a motivated sales force capable of building solid customer relationships. And solid customer relationships can only mean one thing: healthier bottom lines.

First, a quality product-training program should begin with a thorough understanding of your customer base — both existing customers as well as key prospects. A thorough review of each account will yield valuable information.

What are the customers' primary business goals that drive their product buying decisions? For most, it's finding products that can minimize labor costs, meet strict project budget limitations and provide outstanding performance.

How do the products you sell help them achieve and even surpass those goals, and what service elements need to be integrated into your sales strategy to further demonstrate your level of commitment to their business successes? This information can be gleaned from review of sales records and ongoing customer contacts.

Once you have gathered the baseline information on your customers and segmented the accounts according to each customer's product history, business and project needs, you must create a sales team that can deliver precisely what the customer needs. It all starts with effective, ongoing product training. By focusing much of your sales strategy on product training, you will deploy a field sales force capable of building enduring, profitable relationships based on leadership, trust and service. This process also works to enhance the positive perception of your company in your local market and throughout the industry.

To achieve the desired level of technical proficiency with the product lines you carry, each associate should ideally spend several hours per month in product training. Consider establishing an in-house training center to deliver basic product information. The facility should include electronic presentation capabilities (computer projection, video, DVD, etc.), as well as a product demonstration area.

Product training presentations should, by design, offer much more than basic product information such as product features, advantages, usage, installation or service. You must also train sales associates how products meet customers' business needs. They must be able to answer questions such as: How will this product result in labor savings or cost savings? How will the product work alongside existing project products? Expert product trainers will teach your associates to answer the questions that customers will ask them.

Every possible customer question must be anticipated and answered to their complete satisfaction. That's why the initial customer review is so important and must be conducted prior to product training. These issues must be identified and carefully examined before sales associates go out into the field. Imagine the impression your customers will have when all of their questions are answered knowledgeably, without hesitation, right on the spot during an in-person sales presentation.

Compare that to the feeling a customer may have if a salesperson wavers or is unsure about how a product might advance their business goals. It's no exaggeration to suggest that it could spell the difference between sales success and falling short of the goal. An effective, face-to-face sales experience with a customer can never be duplicated through telephone, e-mail or even a splashy Web site.

Product training should also include field-training components. By demonstrating how a product can best be applied to real-world project environments, you can create demand for precisely the products contractors need — and will seek out — in the marketplace. This component of a product-training program might involve engaging contractors or other customers in answering your questions about how they feel about the product, its benefits, its application to their projects, etc. This leaves contractors with the impression that you are trying to find the products that will best meet all of their needs.

A comprehensive training program would not be complete without educational seminars on industry trends, new product development updates and best practices. These opportunities create a sales force that can go out into the marketplace and secure your status as the forward-thinking “go-to” company for their current and future electrical product needs. Customers want to know that you will be their true partner in business growth not only for today — but also well into the future.

Outside the dedicated “classroom” training experiences, ongoing training should also include regular exposure of your sales force to industry articles and news features that they can use to communicate with their customers. Any opportunity for a sales associate to create an interaction with a customer — outside the traditional sales call — deepens their trust and confidence in you. Staying “top-of-mind” with your customer base (as well as the prospects you are trying to cultivate) is always a strong sales strategy.

An effective product-training program can result in greater company profits. But like any business growth strategy, product training is a process with results achieved over time — not overnight. A well-developed product-training program that educates your sales associates and customers will produce a tremendous return on the investment.




The author is CEO of Fields Electrical Sales, with headquarters just outside Cincinnati. Fields Electrical Sales represents the products of select electrical component manufacturers to distributors, contractors and engineers throughout Ohio, West Virginia and Michigan. Watson can be reached at (513) 228-1010 or by e-mail at swatson@fieldselectric.com.