Training reseller staff is becoming even more essential in the competitive market of IT. Many retailers are being left behind when it comes to product knowledge, and this won't change, especially with the short lifecycle of most products.
Most customers will move through several stages before making their final decision to buy, and it's essential to take different approaches to influence each stage. The first stage is awareness of the product, which is traditionally created through media. The next step of consideration is where the customer will start looking at the various brands available. It is at the consideration stage that the customer needs to get information on a personal, face-to-face level.
The best way to help staff interact with customers at the second stage is not to give staff a document full of specifications, but instead have an interactive approach with the sales staff, which will be the same approach they will use with their customers. It is the best way to make an impact and help staff remember the product and its benefits. The customer will move to the final stage of making a buying decision based on the information they have received from sales staff.
Consumers need to rely on staff to provide accurate information which explains the benefits to them, not just a list of features of the latest kit. If customers are not confident in sales advisers, they will not have confidence in the product the adviser is trying to sell. There's the classic case of a customer who buys a computer with Net capabilities, and finds out how beneficial those features are six months later.
In fact, many staff will avoid trying to sell a particular product if they feel they don't know enough about it, which is especially worrying in a sector where so many consumers still enter a store in a 'needing to be sold to' rather than 'buying' mode.The best way to win store mindshare, which translates into better selling to the consumer, is with face-to-face interaction by a trainer/merchandiser with the sales staff. As former US president Theodore Roosevelt said: 'Light the flame, not fill the vessel.'
The best way of igniting the interest with sales staff, and then with the consumer, is with the personal approach. Without a basic level of staff interest and knowledge about the benefits of a product, the industry has big problems.
To address these problems and the threats of ever shortening life cycles, there must be a commitment to staff training and knowledge updates. This is only delivered through trained specialists who understand the vagaries of the IT channel. Research has shown that the most important services manufacturers provide are the provision of trained demonstrators interacting with consumers, staff trainers and store merchandisers.
In practical terms, demonstrators help by adding to staff capacity, improving the ability of in-store staff to deal with queries and increasing consumer confidence.
Opportunities abound through such services, but equally they need to be strategically managed if the true potential is to be realised and to ensure they reflect the professional image of the company they are representing.
The only effective way this can be delivered is to turn on its head the usual tendency for most marketing spend to go towards advertising efforts.
Instead, greater emphasis must be focussed on long-term, strategy-driven field marketing activity, though with the assurance that this fits in with the existing activity within all disciplines.
It is a measurable part of your marketing effort, with results that are easily established. In this way, we can ensure the industry selling the technology is more knowledgeable than the customers buying it.
Richard Thompson is chairman of EMS.
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