Training is an Investment,
Not an Expense!
By: Bob Zagami
How much does your company spend on training each year? Do you consider this money an expense? Do you look for ways to reduce the amount you contribute to this line item on your balance sheet, or do you look at this as an investment that will return many more times the dollars you spend to the bottom line?
Training is a misunderstood selling tool for many companies. As professional sales people, we never stop learning.
After thirty years in my business, I actually spend more time studying the industry now than I did as a young sales rep knocking on doors. The reason is simple -- the business is changing. I think that will hold true for your industry also.
You have more products to sell, more companies to provide you with product, increased demands of educated consumers, and you are in the midst of a successful market expansion program that will be many more prospects to your dealership in the years ahead.
Why then do so many companies balk at investing money in training programs that will improve the efficiency of their sales, service and administrative staff?
Let's look at sales people first. I am always amazed when I get calls from recruiters who ask if I have any openings for sales people because they have an excellent candidate who might fit into our industry. They are frequently shocked when I quickly tell them to set up an appointment so I can meet this individual. In probing further, I find out that many of the companies they call simply tell them that they do not have any openings right now or are not interviewing any new candidates.
This is always amazing to me. You always should talk to anyone who expresses interest in going to work for your company. If I have ten salespeople it is safe to say that someone is number one, and someone else is number ten on my leader board. I never stop interviewing; because the candidate might make an excellent number five in my mix of people. If that is so, then guess what happens to number ten if I decide that I can not afford additional overhead at this time. Number ten is interviewing somewhere else next week!
One argument companies give against investing in training is that they don't want to give them the tools that will allow them to go elsewhere once they know more. Ok, look at the alternative, you keep them on your staff, knowing they are deficient in the skills you need to build your dealership ... how smart is that?
You can always find someone willing to train your salespeople. Manufacturers have a vested interest in providing as much education as possible to your sales representatives so that they will represent their products in a professional manner when speaking with prospects and customers.
Any good manufacturer's rep will take a pro-active approach to being in your dealership and working with your sales team as much as possible to make sure they understand the product and how it stacks up against the competition.
In today's world, you don't survive by just knowing your product. You must know just as much about your competitive products because your educated consumer probably visited more than one dealership and is hearing conflicting stories about the features, construction, reliability and support.
It is very disappointing to me to visit a dealership where the sales representative knows little about the products he/she is selling, and even less about competitive companies and their product offerings.
You can't spend enough on training, and if you evaluate why you lose sales, it will come down to the fact that the prospect was not comfortable with your dealership and probably felt that the sales representative was not well-versed in product and sales training.
Remember that a good sales person can sell an average product but a bad sales person can not sell the best product you can provide them.
You don't hesitate to fill your lot with the best product you can find, but then cut corners on the kind of training that will be required to make sure you staff can sell the product. That just doesn't make sense, and it is costing you business.
Let's say that you have a new sales representative that needs some basic selling skills training. You could do it, but are too busy running the dealership to do it the right way. Your sales manager could do it, but you need him/her out there on the lot closing sales. Other sales reps could help, but they don't make any money talking to other sales reps and want to spend their time talking to prospects or customers.
This is the problem in every business today ... everyone is too busy. But the problem doesn't go away; you just have to get creative when addressing the issue.
Here's a simple system that will allow you to make the appropriate investment in training for your sales people, and it can be extended to your service people and administrative personnel.
I have used this system for years and you will find it is the perfect win-win for the individual and your company.
The cost of a very good Dale Carnegie basic selling skills course is approximately $1,200. It's an excellent investment ... it is not an expense. You will get the $1,200 back quickly as the rep learns more about selling during the twelve-week course.
Sit down with the sales rep and review the course and the investment required. Tell him/her that you will pay the $1,200 for the course, but the employee must sign an agreement that states that he/she will remain employed at your dealership for twelve months following completion of the course. If they leave prior to that date, then they agree to reimburse the dealership on a pro-rated basis of $100 per month for each month not worked under this agreement. Let's say they leave after six months, then they owe you $600 or half the cost of the training program. This amount is simply deducted from their last paycheck or commission check.
We don't own our employees. They do not have to stay at your dealership. However, that does not mean that you can stop training them or provide them no training at all ... that is suicidal. Make the investment, but do it in such a way that the employee understands your commitment to their success and get their commitment to your dealership by having them sign a reimbursement agreement. This protects you should they leave prior to getting a proper return for the money you spent to make them a more productive member of the sales team.
This simple system can be used for any training investment you want to make in any employee.
You will find this type of system very effective with your computer specialists, programmers or network personnel. Face it, employees with computer expertise are valuable commodities and they will change jobs frequently. Again, you have to make investments based on the ever-changing technology they are working with. Protect yourself by making the investment in training, but getting a commitment from the employee to stay with your company until you recoup the investment.
How about your service technicians? Most manufacturers charge to have your technical staff go to training programs off-site. You are afraid to send them because they might learn so much that they leave and go to a competitor. Don't forget, if you don't train them, they stay ... and that is a lot worse than you can imagine. Service people who understand their product inside and out will usually fix the problems faster and better. The customer is happy and returns to your dealership to spend more money, and the dealership is happy because service revenues soar because you are increasing the revenue per service employee because they fix it faster and fix it right the first time. You don't make any money doing the job over or trying to figure out how bad the first person screwed it up.
Invest in technical training, but have the technician make a commitment to stay with the company for a specific period of time beyond the completion of training.
I will usually look for a $100 per month payback. If the training course is $2400, then have them sign on for 24 months. This should be a very simple agreement, requiring only a few lines of text. It does not mean that you can't fire them or that they can't leave on their own ... it simply means that they will be responsible for the training investment you have made if you can not realize the full benefit of the money you paid to train them.
The system will work equally well with administrative personnel. Your secretary will be a lot more productive if you send him/her to a professional class on the Microsoft Office '97 product suite. You can save money by simply telling them to read the manual and learn the software on their own, but what is that actually costing you in productive work time?
Training is an investment. Invest in a course that will allow them to become proficient in the software and you will see a dramatic increase in their productivity ... you get more things done around the office ... that's your return on investment.
Investments in training should result in quantifiable productivity gains that are easily measured and evaluated.
Lack of spending (investment) is also easily measured ... high employee turnover, sales lost due to inexperience, service jobs requiring multiple visits to get it right, and low employee morale because of problems in your dealership.
Think about that training investment ... how can it benefit your dealership today?
Good luck and good selling.