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Training in tough times

Veyance Technologies wins the 2010 Industrial Supply magazine Manufacturer Training Award

by Rich Vurva

During challenging economic times, distributors and manufacturers struggle with how to provide training opportunities for distributor salespeople. Distributors question whether they can afford to send someone to a manufacturer's training program, not just because of the high costs of travel and out-of-pocket expenses, but because they don't want to divert a sales or customer service rep from their primary tasks. On the other side of the coin, manufacturers struggle with maintaining a high-quality training effort when there's pressure from management to scale back on all non-essential expense items.

Some distributors and manufacturers view training as a nice perk, but not a requirement to stay in business, especially during a recession.

Veyance Technologies Inc., the exclusive manufacturer of Goodyear Engineered Products, continued to support its Veyance Business Academy even when the economy took a turn for the worse. Although the number of distributor salespeople attending sessions has decreased, the company believes it's important to offer a comprehensive training program to help sales teams improve product knowledge, hone selling skills and identify ways to create savings for their customers.

With business on the upswing, distributors who continued to invest in training for their sales force during the recession are better positioned to capitalize on improving markets.

While many manufacturers provide free training to distributors, Veyance asks Goodyear Authorized Distributors to pay course fees of up to $250 for regional training courses covering fundamentals of industrial and hydraulic hose, conveyor belting and power transmission products.

"If companies feel strongly enough about training, they should be willing to invest in their people to learn more in order to sell more products profitably," says Michael Braucher, director of sales for Veyance.

Braucher said that when training was offered at no cost to distributors, some companies didn't give a lot of thought to who should be trained. When Veyance began charging distributors as a way to offset some of the training costs, Braucher says distributors became more thoughtful about selecting the right person who can benefit the most from the specific instruction being offered. "When they're sharing training costs, they want to make sure they send the people that are best suited for the training," he says.

"The benefit of having people trained and knowledgeable about products more than offsets the cost of sending people to the schools," says Jeff Crane, CEO of Lewis-Goetz. The Pittsburgh-based distributor sent seven field splice technicians to a mid-June training session held at the Veyance conveyor belt plant in Marysville, Ohio.

"We're glad they offer this kind of training. It's an important aspect of the value they add for us," Crane says.

In 2008, more than 400 distributor salespeople participated in training activities at Veyance headquarters in Fairlawn, Ohio, or at plant or regional locations. The recession caused the company to cut back to two formal basic training sessions in 2009.

Three levels offered
New salespeople entering the Veyance Business Academy typically start at the beginner level, which is a "home study" course on products, compounds and reinforcements. The self-paced course, which can be taken online, takes less than a day to complete and covers basic applications, terminology and product nomenclature. Intermediate level training consists of a one- or two-day school for inside and outside salespeople who want to learn more about products besides basic instruction, such as troubleshooting, failure analysis, market and product applications, product differentiation and selling techniques.

Kansas City-based IBT is a regular participant in the Veyance Business Academy. Tim Zerger, IBT's Bearing, PT and Gearing Group manager, says the courses have benefited field service technicians and inside and outside salespeople. "You learn something every time you go to these schools," he says. "Goodyear does it right. I'm always impressed with them and what they're trying to do. Their training and customer service are the best."

Advanced level training courses, which cost from $500 to $1,200, last from one to two weeks and are available only to salespeople with a minimum of three years of outside sales experience. Conducted at a plant location and led in part by application engineers, the advanced level courses delve deeper into the proper use of specific testing tools and how to understand and explain technical data to customers.

"This is more of a consultant level course," says Braucher. "It's about understanding conveyor belt or hose systems, not just our products."

Braucher adds that while online training is growing in popularity, particularly at the basic level, he doesn't expect it to replace all face-to-face training.

"We do a lot of demonstration and failure analysis where you've got to see and feel the product. It's one thing to watch a video, but it's another thing to see it live. We can show different ways we test and different failure modes that you just can't get online."

Bob Boyle, director of PT Products for Applied Industrial Technologies, sees value in manufacturer-provided training for outside and inside salespeople. He agrees that online training can be a cost-effective way to get information into the hands of salespeople, but shouldn't replace in-person efforts.

"I don't believe online training is the pill that's going to cure everybody's training needs. I still think you need to have face-to-face communication," Boyle says.

Congratulations to Veyance Technologies Inc., winner of the 2010 Industrial Supply magazine Manufacturer Training Award.

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2010 edition of Industrial Supply magazine. Copyright 2010, Direct Business Media, LLC.


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