The material handling business is one of the most diverse and “product-knowledge-intense” industries on the planet. Add to it the ever-increasing need for a lightning-fast, accurate, informative response to our customers, and you have a new employee training dilemma. What resources are available, other than vendor supplied training, that can address the generic product concepts, i.e., conveyor, shelving, rack, etc., and shorten the time between new hire and effective salesperson?
– Robert Bachmann, Vice President
Trius Industries (Lino Lakes, MN)
Dave Griffith: The obvious answer is MHEDA University and all of the offerings available. The second is the notion of a mentor program with a new and older salesperson where some of the older salesperson’s compensation is tied to getting the newer individual up to speed in the product areas. No doubt you have looked at some of the industrial distribution programs offered throughout the country and evaluated these as well. They are not cheap, but they’re solid programs. I also suggest the correct trade shows with very specific appointments and homework for a new salesperson. Finally, riding with a seasoned technician in the right account situation can also teach a fair amount about product.
Duncan Murphy: Faster, better, cheaper. Rings a bell. The only good news is that we all face the same challenge. While vendors might provide some help, their material tends to be specific to their goals. That being said, call your key suppliers and ask them what they have in basic training materials. Typically they have a library of materials available for the asking.
MHEDA, IMMS and other industry organizations all have excellent training materials. Get familiar with the offerings that are available in print, at seminars, or at conventions and shows.
Hire right. Hire for aptitude and attitude. Once a candidate with a capacity to learn is selected, plan their first 90 days on the job, incorporating into the plan the materials you have collected. Combine that with on-the-job training alongside experienced members of your staff and with factory representatives. All parties will get a lot out of the process.
Chuck Frank: We have found sending our new hires out to the job site and allowing them to assist in the installation and commissioning of systems to be effective. Working with our installation crews, reading the plans and working with our layout crews gives them a good perspective for the required details when going to the field. During installation, they are able to touch and feel the components they eventually will be selling and/or supporting.
Rex Mecham: We recently acquired a storage and handling business so I asked Harry Neumann Jr., the manager of this business, how to train people. He responded, “One way I train salespeople is to schedule time with the installation crews when involved with projects the salesperson will be selling. I have used this for pallet rack, shelving, conveyor, dock equipment, modular offices, wire enclosures, etc. This helps the salesperson identify important customer issues that need to be addressed, things to look for regarding installation, how important complete information is to the installation crew, as well as the features of the product they are selling that will separate them from the competition.
Harry went on to say that another training tactic is to get the salesperson to prepare a presentation to his fellow salespeople. “After the presentation, a session is held to review the strong points and the areas that need work. Visits to the supplier’s facility are helpful also. Meeting the people they are going to deal with makes learning the products and getting application assistance from the supplier much easier.”
Ron Rechenbach: We have established a concept called PeakLogix University, where clients and/or new salespeople can learn about new products, trends and concepts relating to a variety of topics. PeakLogix University holds classes monthly during the lunch hour. We also encourage our new hires to spend time in the office and out in the field with members of our engineering department, project management department and software technology department. We also have our manufacturing contacts provide “lunch & learn” sessions at our conference room for anyone who wants to learn more about a particular product or industry.
Jerry Weidmann: Knowledge and training must be addressed on both a concept and product basis. Our approach includes training from vendors, associations, colleges, universities and internal sources.
Vendor training can be both product-oriented and concept-oriented. We work with our vendors to provide training on the concepts that are the underpinnings of their product sales. For example, a company that provides storage systems can provide training on the different storage and handling methods. Our material handling equipment suppliers provide training in financial merchandising and financial strategies. It is to your vendors’ benefit that your staff understands not only their products but a fundamental understanding of the materials handling role they serve.
MHEDA and other associations provide training related to the materials handling industry. MHEDA provides seminars at the Convention, live training seminars, teleconferences and networking through MHEDA-NET. Information sharing is provided through blogs on the MHEDA Edge Web site. The Materials Handling and Management Society provides career development and recognition for material handling professionals. MHIA, through its Material Handling Institute, provides training and online courses in materials handling concepts. The annual North American Material Handling and Equipment conference includes educational seminars for attendees, as does ProMat.
We have worked with a local college to provide staff training at our facility. Internally, we leverage the knowledge of our staff to provide training to our salespeople and internal staff. Concepts that we deem critical to our success can be taught in a manner consistent with our philosophy of business.