The Google Plus logo

Sales training for the future

This post was written by Sean Nugent and first appeared on the LINE blog on 29th May 2013.

This thought piece takes a brief look at the future of automotive training, particularly in relation to new vehicle technology such as electric and hybrid vehicles. The dealership landscape will look very different in the future from the way it was in the past, and training will need to adapt to provide new skills and capability.

A couple of years back, we put forward a proposal to deliver sales training for the launch of a new electric vehicle. Despite a beautiful looking presentation crafted by our expert graphics team and a carefully constructed blended learning approach – we weren’t successful. We really wanted to find out why; was it cost, or capability, was it design, or not interpreting the brief? The answer – they didn’t want to take a risk. The client really loved what we put forward and they had really wanted to do something different but no-one was prepared to do anything other than what they’d always done. We advised that the training had to move away from just being about the product, and had to cover the wider customer experience and the implications of being the owner of an electric vehicle. We suggested that our approach would start to gradually change the sales culture. I don’t exactly know what happened next but I’m pretty sure the training eventually took place in the way that it always had since the car was invented. Everyone went to some nice location, had an expensive evening out, were told about products and features, did a test drive and then went back home.

The sales of the product didn’t quite meet expectations. Now, I’m sure that there were many reasons for this, not just the training. I’ve often since thought that this was a missed opportunity to take a different approach, and believe that maybe we could have made a difference.

We did get a lot from the exercise though: we interviewed a few sales consultants, undertook some mystery shops and took some test drives to find out about sales consultants’ attitudes towards new technology – with some interesting results. We consistently found that there was a view that these vehicles were something of an ‘inconvenience,’ only there to make up numbers in the CO2 figures, maybe once this annoying fad was over then they could get back to selling ‘normal’ cars to ‘normal’ customers. They wanted business as usual.

That’s the bad news. There will never again be business as usual. That was the universal message from an automotive event I attended recently and it’s widely accepted by the CEOs of major automotive organisations. There won’t be a return to the peak of the sales volumes in Europe and the future of the automotive industry will be different in many ways. At the event I attended a panel discussion on the future of electric and hybrid vehicles. The consensus was definitely that hybrid and electric are part of the future – although most agree that pure electrics won’t achieve a significant market share as was once predicted. The panel all agreed that that there was definitely a capability gap that needed to be addressed in dealerships. Sales are not just determined by the vehicles themselves but by external factors such as total cost of ownership, tax subsidies, availability of charging stations etc. All of these things need to be understood and explained to the customer in a clear and persuasive way.

Of course there’s limited evidence that consumers are not buying electric and hybrids vehicles because of a lack of capability in dealerships – but it’s a fair bet that if sales consultants are not well prepared, customers will always choose a brand where they get a better experience.

So if you’re launching a new product it might just be that to make it a success you need to take a bit of a risk. That might mean delivering training that instead of just focusing on the product also helps to provide a great customer experience. Sales consultants need to become trusted advisors who facilitate the customer to buy the product that is best suited to their needs. It’s also about putting the right tools in place to support the sales consultant and the customer – for example a mobile phone app that tells a customer where their nearest charging station is or helps the customer calculate the total cost of ownership based on tax incentives and electricity prices.

The message is simple – the future will be different in all sorts of ways; electric vehicles are just one example; the way people are trained will have to be different too. You can’t just do what you’ve always done. This touches all aspects of training design, learning technology, learning culture and performance support tools. We don’t have all the answers, but we do have some very good learning solutions – perhaps they were just a bit ahead of their time…