5/12/2010 11:25:00 AM
Building bridges with training
Retail is never far from the spotlight in the mobile industry. Carphone Warehouse has just had a bumper year, Best Buy is about to launch an all-out assault on UK retail and Tesco thinks that building up a 500-store footprint over three years will push it to the forefront of mobile.
Retailers aren’t the only ones harbouring ambitions of taking over the planet. Manufacturers are also going for the juggernaut. They have a well planned route to market – targeting the people who are actually selling their devices.
And as the industry moves away from the old sales culture and moves towards ‘service’, education and training have taken on a new meaning.
Manufacturers and retailers are expanding their training programmes and increasingly working together to get staff on the shop floor schooled on devices, software and services.
In the last year, Phones 4u has opened a dedicated training centre in partnership with manufacturers, Sony Ericsson has launched an ‘ambassador’ programme and HTC has doubled the number of field based trainers it has in the country.
HTC’s UK and Ireland senior marketing manger, Laura Sheen, says: ‘Training as a whole is a large part of the business and the demand is there. It has increased so much over the last 12 months.
‘The retail staff are the people that understand and will help HTC grow. They are the ones that will try to sell our devices and it is key that we get their loyalty.’
Loyalty is something that all manufacturers are trying to generate among staff. The idea behind Sony Ericsson’s newly launched ‘ambassador’ programme is to create awareness of its products to an ‘exclusive’ band of store staff.
One of the ways manufacturers try to get sales people’s attention is through the use of incentives. Sony Ericsson will be taking four people who fit the criteria of ‘ambassadors’ to Las Vegas for the CES show.
LG also uses similar incentives by testing people’s knowledge of their products by sending them text message questionnaires. People who complete the questionnaires then have the chance to be taken to the LG Arena in Birmingham.
But, incentives are not the only driving factor for training and building relationships – there is also a demand from retailers and networks.
Vodafone head of retail operations Jonathan Dryland says: ‘Training is a really critical part of our business. It is about ensuring our store teams in 400 locations are equipped to give the best advice and finding out what the customer needs. It is an important foundation as we put the demonstration at the heart of the sale’.
Phones 4u expresses a similar sentiment. HR and operations director Tom Shorten explains that within the training team there are account managers responsible for different manufacturers.
Shorten adds: ‘They are assigned a specific manufacturer, so we have one person working with them to make sure they are giving out the right information at the right time.’
Phones 4u’s aim is to become fully integrated with manufacturers in training and it is monitoring the area carefully to maximise efficiency.
The close relationships manufacturers are building are not only limited to independent retailers – networks are in on it as well.
Vodafone runs monthly or bi-monthly training sessions in conjunction with manufacturers and encourages them to go to high profile stores such as Harrods, Oxford Street and Cheapside.
The relationships created between manufacturers and retailers through training runs all the way down from the top of each organisation to the shop floor.
One retailer says: ‘It’s really good to meet people who work for the manufacturers because it means we have a point of contact and they can show us anything on the handset we are unsure about’.
The trainers are aware of the need to build relationships with store staff as well. LG national training head Simon Beckingham says: ‘Relationships are key and it takes time to build those relationships. It is the one thing that trainers have to overcome very quickly – they have to get to know the team.’
However, there is a tension between building long lasting relationships and getting to as many people as possible, which means that both manufacturers and retailers have to provide alternative methods of training.
Dryland says: ‘Seeding is a really important way of driving awareness and allowing team members to make a recommendation to a customer.
‘We also provide a lot of backup to the store teams on what type of customer will be up for that handset. We also make sure on our intranet there are product pages to compare handsets. It is about making sure you have a good structure of supporting tools.’
Manufacturers also run the risk of ploughing resources into geographical areas with high footfall and typically high sales, but neglecting smaller stores. Even training coverage is something that all manufacturers are striving for.
This explains why HTC has doubled its training team over the last year and LG’s team has grown from three trainers to 24 trainers over the last five years.
Both manufacturers acknowledge the need to talk to as many people as possible about their products.
Sheen says: ‘We need retail staff to have the experience on a HTC device so that they can actually understand how the operating system works.
‘We are adding more and more trainers and tend to concentrate on key cities and locations, which are indentified by our partners. But, it is easy to go to the standard stores and forget about the small stores that have the potential to sell more, which is why we are looking to increase our cover.’
LG has a structured six week cycle in which its trainers visit every shop on the high street. ‘LG is still relatively new to the market and we need to get contact with as many people as possible,’ adds Beckingham.
Trainers have to get round the stores passing on the latest news and technology in an easy and light manner.
Not only are they training shop staff on all the features of the phones, but software platforms such as Android.
Sheen explains: ‘The training teams are armed with information that is clear and simple. They try to pull out three or four key items and benefits, for example, with Android it might be the top 10 applications for the week.’
Overall, the manufacturers have put a lot of effort and resources into training. They are really enthusiastic, as are the retailers. The whole point of training effort for the both sides is to build the best reputation for their business.
For manufacturers, the biggest challenge is getting people who don’t work directly for their company to become a fan and pro-actively sell their products. Through a combination of incentives, face to face visits and backup training, they may manage to raise awareness of their products. Although training of staff probably is not enough to make a product fly off the shelves, it is part of a momentum that all manufacturers are striving towards.