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How to train channel staff

Having trained staff leads to better growth for your business and is something the channel needs to focus on – but how to go about it?

The best way to grow a business is to sell more mainstream product. To achieve that, your staff need to be better at selling – more motivated, more skilled, and more confident that they can do it well.

Unfortunately, in the UK we are typically very backward at training staff. There is a fear that training staff will result in them leaving to join competitors who can afford better wages because they spend nothing on training.

That argument sounds valid, but in reality, staff who have been well trained are typically far more loyal than those who have not. There will always be a level of staff turnover, but this is caused more by not training than the opposite. I would add that some staff turnover is a good thing – new staff arrive with fresh ideas and ways of working that represent a learning opportunity for everyone else.

There is another negative reason for not training – it can make the boss (ie, you) look bad. If your younger staff are running rings round you in some aspect of IT, it’s not a problem, it’s the market’s way of telling you that your own skills need upgrading.

If you think your 25 years’ experience means you don’t need update training, you are almost certainly wrong. I recall on a training course one manager coming out with the “‘25 years’ experience” line and being told he had one year’s experience 25 times. There wasn’t actually a fist-fight, but it came close. (Incidentally, the young critic was right, even if he was needlessly rude.)

Borrow the best practice from the business world at large, plus any small businesses whose staff you rate highly. As long as they aren’t competitors, I’m sure the latter will be ready to provide input. Big companies have departments full of people to answer questions about such matters, plus websites featuring them, often in some detail.

Everyone thinks they are special. That applies not just to individuals, but to businesses, indeed business sectors. So you, quite reasonably, want a training course designed specifically for the channel.

Look at the good work being done by CompTIA. It is focused on relevant skills, such as developing problem-solving and critical-thinking skills. It also has government funding to get more people trained in cyber security. That includes parents, carers and graduates. It’s a pretty well-paid field, too.

Nutanix is encouraging partners to get involved with selling hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI). These are high-value services that customers actually want. It stresses the need for partners to evolve away from picking the low-hanging fruit which are the easy sale and seek instead to sell a higher-value offering.

These examples demonstrate that the channel is training conscious – as it should be – which certainly puts it ahead of many other business sectors.

Study plenty of options

Will a more general training programme work? It could do, because IT is a reasonably standard B2B sale, with complexities in the products rather than the sales process. But you may still struggle to find a course that includes what you want. Study plenty of options carefully.

Let’s look at some basic needs and how to use them. Building rapport with a customer is the first thing to aim for. In the IT world, there are many potential ways to apply that because your prospective customer knows your base products and uses them regularly, both at home and at work.

Aim to give them something new or different for free. This is easier than it looks. I was told by a marketing guy at Microsoft that the company’s biggest frustration is people using only a small percentage of the software, so much so that when they ask members of their own user group what they’d like to see included in the next update, they invariably name features that it already has and typically has had for years.  

Telling a prospective customer about a feature that is buried deep in Microsoft Office and will be useful to them will get him or her on your side faster than a speeding bullet. Based on my conversation with the Microsoft guy, you’ll be able to come up with lots of these.

The next thing a staff member needs to know is how to show products. It’s worth pointing out to new employees that this is the fun part of the job, the bit where the customer is having fun, too. You can probably do an excellent job of this on your own, but if you feel the need of support – especially on any products that are not your strength – then bring in the experts.

Sell benefits, not features

You know them well and their services are free – they’re called reps. The good ones in all sectors are mustard-keen on product training, not least because it’s what they’ve been trained to deliver.

As part of this “show and tell”, you will come up against a classic confusion. The experts say, and I totally agree, “sell benefits, not features”. The problem is that a lot of sales and marketing people – some quite senior – don’t actually know the difference.

Amazing, but true. OK, so here it is: fast is a benefit; xyz bits per second is a feature. As a simple guide, benefits are usually adjectives, features are usually nouns, often with attached numbers.

Especially if you have young staff, look at online training. It comes naturally to them, it can be activated 24/7, and it’s typically a lot cheaper than the alternatives. Better still, young staff usually like this training route and, as a result, you get better-trained staff, more quickly and cheaply. What’s not to like?

Here’s what: it could be a bag of nails. Few people who need to buy training have experience or knowledge to guide them. They are inherently taking information on trust. But the online version of training has this advantage: you can try it out first. If that’s not part of the deal, then walk away.

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