Long regarded as one of those things that had to be done, training is now acknowledged to be a vital contributor to business. Ian McMurray finds out what’s going on.
Back in pre-history – well, the mid-1970s anyway – anyone joining one of the bigger computer companies as an account representative was likely to start his (it was rarely a ‘her’) career with intensive training. It was likely to be a twin-track path: sales training on the one hand, and product training on the other. Sales training taught you about qualifying prospects, about features and benefits, about asking closing questions. At the heart of product training was the entirely reasonable premise that, if you didn’t understand how the product worked, you weren’t best-placed to sell it – which meant, among other things, learning to program in assembly language… The end of each course – they were always classroom-based – was marked by a demonstration to your instructor, pretending to be a customer, in which you got to show off your product knowledge and sales skills – or not. Passing the course depended on you ‘making the sale’.
Fast forward almost 40 years. The products we work with are significantly more complex. There are many more of them. And, unlike the days of mainframe computers, new products come along every three months – not every three years. How is the AV industry responding when it comes to training?
“We provide our partners with training that encompasses sales, technical and solutions,” notes Jason Cremins, CEO of Signagelive. “Our objective is to ensure our channel partners have the confidence to engage with customers with the appropriate knowledge to know how Signagelive can meet their digital signage requirements.”
As part of its ProDesign service, Optoma runs technical training for installers on complex projection techniques such as edge blending, warping around domes and mapping but also for the installation of LED displays.
Expanding the offering
“This covers what’s involved in specifying an LED display, the pitfalls to avoid, how the resolution and aspect ratio impact content creation but also hands-on practical sessions installing LED displays,” explains Ross Noonan, technical product specialist at Optoma. “One installer, who recently attended our edge blending training, told me he had turned down a job last month because he didn’t know how to do it. Now, he is trained and tendering for complex blending jobs. It is expanding what he can offer to his customers.”
“In each country, we offer technical training for Bose loudspeaker products, as well as electronics and software such as Bose ControlSpace Designer and Bose Modeler,” says Daniel Buss, team lead, product and technical support at Bose EMEA. “We also provide training on how to use Audinate´s Dante protocol with Bose products.”
“Our training is specifically designed to meet our partners’ best interests, educating them on how to identify new customers, find new opportunities with existing customers and advise on where they can provide a competitive advantage through Logitech’s products,” notes Patrick Crowley, head of channel programs at Logitech EAMEA. “In short, it’s empowering our partners by educating them on how they can best leverage Logitech’s value proposition.”
Barco has taken the concept of training even further with the creation of the Barco University. “The Barco University offers a broad range of training,” says Piet Vandenheede, who is director of global product training, Barco University. “Part of that offering covers general personal development and wellbeing of Barco staff, while the other part is focused on the solutions/technology we bring into the market. This is targeted at both our own sales and service staff as well as at our partners and channels.”
It’s clear that manufacturers are taking the provision of training seriously – but is that effort appreciated by their customers?
“It’s imperative that manufacturers invest in their products by providing strong support and training to our teams, so that we are able to integrate their products correctly,” believes Iffat Chaudhry, bid manager at CDEC.
“Yes,” echoes Stuart Davidson, who is technical services director at AVMI, “it’s important for our partners to provide structured training covering sales and technical aspects of products. Sales training should allow our sales team to identify when a product is the right product for an opportunity, and allow them to talk confidently to a customer about how the technology will meet their objective. Technical training should ensure our design and deployment teams have all they need to successfully implement the technology.”
Colin Etchells, who is group technical director at Visavvi, the newly-created AV services arm of Saville Group, would, if anything, like to see things taken a step further. “We actively welcome and encourage formal certification programmes that require integrators to undertake in-depth product, technical and support training, especially in association with practical demonstration capabilities,” he says. “Having tiers of accreditation really does help differentiate the commitment integrators have in truly understanding the solutions they are recommending to clients. As a business, we hold senior accreditation levels with all the key manufacturers within the industry.”
“We have an enormous appetite for being at the leading edge of the industry,” he adds, “and we can only achieve this with the knowledge, qualifications and training of our teams.”
So far, so good. Manufacturers are offering the training that their channels want. Should committing to training therefore be mandatory for a reseller to be appointed by a manufacturer? For the most part, it seems to be something manufacturers want to avoid – which is just as well, as the channel is reticent about the idea. Both largely believe that the benefits of training are sufficiently self-evident that making training compulsory should be unnecessary.
“Where manufacturers stipulate that training is mandatory in order to sell a product, this is not always conducive”
“We don’t make any of our training mandatory,” says Crowley, “but the benefits offered through undertaking our training mean we see very high engagement rates. We also offer incentives for those partners who participate in various levels of training, making it worth far beyond a partner’s time to engage with us.”
“Training is a vital part of the go-to-market of our solutions,” adds Vandenheede. “We want to ensure that our channel understands the full customer value proposition and is able to integrate, service and troubleshoot our solutions right first time. Hence, we expect our business partners and resellers to invest in training so both they and Barco are successful.”
“To a point, yes, compulsory training would really depend on the product, our team’s skillset and also if it was a complex solution,” notes Chaudhry. “Some manufacturer training is much better organised than others. Where manufacturers stipulate that training is mandatory in order to sell a product, this is not always conducive, especially if the integrator then is not interacting with the product until the point of sale.”
Visavvi’s Etchells wonders, however, whether mandatory training might be of benefit to the industry and, perhaps more importantly, its customers.
“A recurring problem is integrators who complete installations with little, if any expertise and as a result the manufacturer’s brand and the credibility of the AV industry is damaged,” he claims. “Many manufacturers have tried to implement minimum standards, but we still see evidence of integrators taking on projects that they simply cannot support. Compulsory training would be a positive step in addressing this issue.”