While there is no written rule requiring manufacturers to provide educational information to their customers, an unspoken rule suggests this is an invaluable practice to incorporate and follow as much as any top-dollar marketing plan. There are a number of different ways in which manufacturers can touch base with their reps, dealers, consultants and employees in a personable way that will, ultimately, ensure an educated and well-served customer base. The following are some examples of how some of today's manufacturers keep the industry and their customers current on the newest products and practices.
Beyond Product Training
In 2002, audio electronics manufacturer Biamp Systems built an entire facility at its headquarters in Beaverton, OR dedicated to ongoing education for sales reps who deal directly with Biamp distributors, consultants and systems integrators around the world. Appropriately dubbed the Learning Center, Biamp hosts four-day training sessions, twice a month for 10 months a year that incorporate more than simple product overviews, as well as using the facility for continuing education for many of their own employees.
To give the Learning Center attendees a true hands-on experience, it houses 12 networked, interactive learning stations equipped with Biamp's Audia digital audio platform. The stations afford "students" a multimedia-learning environment via their own laptops. The center and work stations also incorporate the latest in distributed audio components, giving attendees an educational environment that mirrors the real-world scenarios their customers work in.
"What started as a very sophisticated, interactive facility for product training has evolved into a place where we can do so much more," said Ralph Lockhart, president, Biamp Systems. "The facility now doubles as a meeting space where we teach additional sessions for our employees such as English as a second language, mathematics, IPC training and demand flow manufacturing. We also occasionally host critical industry meetings."
Although the Learning Center hosts a wide range of activities, it is in the three day, twice-monthly sessions for Audia training that the facility really shines. As with many of the industry's newer, advanced technologies, Audia's market has expanded rapidly in only the past few years. This means the Learning Center often hosts former analog users who need training in the use of DSP-based equipment and further experience with connecting the system to a network.
The end result for many of those who attend a training session at the Learning Center is a new certification for Biamp's Audia digital audio platform. But for some, a training session is a means for updating their knowledge base on Biamp products as well as some of the industry's newest digital audio techniques, such as room combining, digital snaking and networking for audio and video. Learning Center training sessions also provide systems integrators with Audia certification, as well as 11 hours of InfoComm certification.
Tips and Tricks
Exercising its commitment to helping channel partners and customers in the commercial AV and MI markets improve profitability, Middle Atlantic Products hosted its first comprehensive workshop for all of its independent AV representatives at their headquarters in Riverdale, NJ in the Fall of 2005. The workshop provided reps with specific tips and tricks for using Middle Atlantic Products solutions to create an integrated system, while providing a better understanding of the required elements, including power distribution, thermal and cable management.
One of the most important elements of the AV workshop was the hands-on experience that reps received with Middle Atlantic Products cabling and power management solutions-including gaining a better understanding of how an integrator can realize added value of these solutions in the field. The hands-on work additionally involved products that offer a myriad of customization options, like the Modular Power Raceway system, where a thorough understanding of configuration options can provide customers a UL listed power solution that is tailored to their specific needs, using off-the-shelf components.
"We wanted to expose our reps to some of the common challenges that installers face, put them in real world situations, and then teach them practical solutions," explained Mark Tracy, director of marketing, Middle Atlantic. "It allows them to see everything from the installers point of view. We show them how to do things, and more importantly, explain why we do the things we do. That way, they can provide a great deal of value when questions arise."
Taking away such practical lessons not only provides the reps invaluable tools they will be able to use immediately, but also creates other long-lasting affects. Attendees build a relationship with a manufacturer that is greatly enhanced when special attention associated with workshops is given.
"It is reassuring to see a manufacturer take this level of interest in what we say and do," said Michael Klickstein, Western Audio sales. "For Middle Atlantic Products to proactively seek us out and give us the tools and added know-how to improve our business really makes us feel appreciated and part of the family."
Getting The Show On The Road
An effective way to reach as many dealers and partners as possible is by taking the training on the road. With dealers spread across the country, the Crestron Experience Road Tour brings the products directly to the dealer's area, creating a direct link to the company that they may normally only work with on the phone, via e-mail, and at occasional trade shows. Dealers have a chance to meet Crestron representatives and see interactive demos of new products, while Crestron is able to receive feedback directly from the dealers.
Two programs of products and applications training offered in the Road Tour provide commercial and residential dealers with an opportunity to interact with new Crestron products while learning valuable sales techniques, application designs and other skills that can be taken away from the course and applied immediately on the job. The intense half-day program shows dealers the latest product and software releases, but does not focus solely on product information. Instructors provide real-life applications training, effectively relating various situations in which attendees might find themselves in, and arming them with useful solutions.
"The presenter was comprehensive, presenting situations that would be useful for when I'm out dealing with a client," said Jim Fuller, systems engineer from Goodwin's High End in Waltham, MA, who attended a recent session in New York City. "He gave a lot of great examples and case histories of people who have used these products in situations that are similar to what we would use them for. It was right on the money."
With a range of products available for AV professionals, the Road Tour provides dealers with more opportunities to grow their business by providing detailed understanding of the technologies in high demand by corporate, educational and governmental markets. Attendees are given examples of how the latest touchpanel technology from Crestron's MediaManager family can be applied, how iMedia can bring control to small rooms, and how the different applications for the UPX-2 presentation system can satisfy a variety of client's needs. Overviews of RoomView asset management software and other software solutions and design tools are given with real-world examples. With chances during the session to test out products, dealers have a better understanding of how to finish more jobs in less time. It's a series of lessons that are difficult to come by in such a short amount of time.
"I've got information about that I wouldn't have been able to get anywhere else," continued Fuller. "I would travel a long way for something like that, but I didn't have to."
Feedback...Is This Thing On?
Each company's educational session involved more than just product-specific seminars. The programs allow the companies to hear directly from some of the people that matter most to their businesses. They include open forums to discuss best practices, question-and-answer sessions, and a general availability for concerns or ideas that attendees may have. Being accessible with answers seems simple, but is the best way to ensure the right message is reaching customers.