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Developing a Product Training Plan – Part 2

Strong product knowledge can be the difference between a good salesperson and a great one, but most retail employees have had little to no official product training.

A formal training program can be as sophisticated as learning management software. It can also be as simple as a single document. And while developing a formal training program may feel like too big a project to tackle, especially with limited resources, here are some steps to help you start.

  1. Set a Goal. What is the overarching reason for training? The simple answer is: "To sell more product." A more complete answer might be: "To equip employees with product knowledge so they can ensure customers purchase the products that best suit their wants and needs." Whatever your goal, define it completely. Seek employee feedback on the wording of this goal because the more input employees have, the more likely they are to be engaged in the training process.

  2. Determine Your Objectives. Write down a list of the product areas an employee needs to master. Don't try to include everything – pick the five most important. What are the five products or product areas that would have the most impact on revenue?

  3. Gather Resources for Each Objective. Resources can include product brochures, marketing materials, YouTube videos, and other online sources. Check with your manufacturers – many have additional resources or even formal training materials on products. Look specifically for materials geared toward sales staff, as educational resources may be too detailed for sales purposes. Then gather these materials into a single location – it might be a folder on a shared computer or a binder of printed materials.

  4. Set Aside Time to Study. Learning new product information during slow periods on the sales floor may seem ideal, but these slow moments easily get eaten up by other tasks, and training is often the lowest priority. Set aside a specific time that should be spent on developing product knowledge. Shorter sessions are better – it is easier to retain knowledge that has been broken down into small pieces. Fifteen to thirty minutes at a time is ideal.

  5. Check for Comprehension. We don't know we have mastered knowledge until we have been tested on it. Testing doesn't need to be a written exam. Write out a checklist of the key information needed for each objective. For example: "Name the five benefits of product A" or "Explain which accessories are most important for product B." Have the employee go through this checklist verbally with someone who has mastery of the product.

  6. Acknowledge Competency. Consider how you can reward your employees with a credential. For example, a designation might be added to their name tag which indicates the employee has been trained in a specific product area.

  7. Review Quarterly. Once you have developed a set of objectives, identified resources, and created a checklist for each objective, make a note to review your materials once a quarter. Have any products changed, or are there new products in the category? Have you learned over the last few months that there were key items you left off the checklist?

  8. Build on Base Knowledge. Once employees have demonstrated proficiency in the five most important product areas, build a new set of objectives. Don't simply add these to the first set. Instead, create a new document and repeat the steps to set a training plan for the next set of objectives.

  9. Utilize Product Experts. Experienced staff can be helpful in creating your training plan. Delegate key tasks, such as gathering resources for each objective.

  10. Seek Employee Feedback. Ask employees what they gained from the experience and to provide at least one actionable suggestion.

The benefits of a product training plan are immediate and long-lasting. A documented training plan can be a real source of energy for employees and management. Completing a training plan will give employees a sense of accomplishment and the confidence needed to begin directing customers to the right purchase. Putting the knowledge into practice will create more positive customer interactions, increasing satisfaction on both the customer and the employee's part. Managers will rest easy knowing that they are providing employees with the right tools to be successful.

Ultimately, sales will increase as employees make smart recommendations and demonstrate products with confidence.

Christy BurchamChristy Burcham

Reprinted from SQE Professional, February 2017