Brian Gracon: Assessing Training Needs by Assessing People Skills
Consider the fact the retailers who are still with us after the recession, now face the glacial speed of the recovery, stepped-up competition from big box and other national players, not to mention a consumer that shops a totally different way than she did a decade ago and they are having a tougher go at it than ever before. In fact, most dealers have been sitting in these seminars because they realize they need a different set of skills to prosper moving forward.
The fact the seminar rooms from Las Vegas to Orlando and elsewhere were packed means that lots of retailers have realized their need to bone up on these new skills to contend with new technology, new competition and new shoppers—and these training events are great places to start.
Often the problem, using myself as an example, is after taking copious notes, asking meaningful questions and flying home with the best of intentions my notes end up in the top desk drawer as I’m sucked in to the crisis of the hour and my best laid plans never make it out of the drawer.
The really tough part of launching a meaningful training program is the process of self-evaluation. Knowing where the gaping needs are in one’s own business. After that initial step is under your belt, the rest should be a bit easier.
Recognizing these basic training truths caused me to contact Brian Gracon, who runs Brain Gracon & Associates. A training professional who evaluates the training needs of large and small companies both inside and outside the industry Brian has an extensive background in flooring and I set out the find the specifics of how a retailer can start with the enthusiasm they felt after seminars at TISE, for example, and turn it into a program that can make a real difference in their employees and their business’ bottom line.
The following are excerpts of my conversation with Brian. You can find the complete three-part video in the archives section on the TalkFloor.com website, which is also accessible via Floor Trends’ website, floortrendsmag.com.
TF: It appears from the popularity of the seminars offered at nearly every event held that retailers are indeed hungry for new ideas and finding ways to incorporate those ideas into their business. Do you see these new ideas being integrated into the way dealers conduct their day-to-day business?
Gracon: Every retailer is interested in gaining quality skills and training for their staff. But when they attend these various events they are not only exposed to new training ideas, but new social media strategies, how to find installers who are qualified and can represent their businesses well, as well as new marketing ideas and lots of other new [things].
They no doubt leave with lots of new ideas and motivation, but they also have a full-time job when they get back home. So the question becomes, how are they going to get all of this done? It’s difficult because they already have a lot on their plate.
TF: So we have retailers who like some of these new ideas, they want to weave them into their businesses, the problem comes in trying to make that happen?
Gracon: Exactly. They are often at a loss finding ways to execute some of these new ideas. They see the need to train their people in some specific areas. The questions then become: How do I actually do this? Is the training available for free or do I have to pay for it? Do I need custom training, or can I go somewhere and get [something] that’s already available?
These are the questions retailers often ask.
TF: Training is available from a wide variety of sources. Are these resources retailers should check out?
Gracon: Training is indeed available from a number of sources such as BizLibrary.com or Lynda.com. There you can find quality general purpose, business, sales and marketing courses available online. They are offered for a subscription fee.
There is also Carpet One, Flooring America, Mohawk University, Shaw Learning Academy and Invista, to name a few, that also provide training to their customers. And this is not just product training—much of it is award-winning programs, which are industry specific.
Other groups have training as well. The WFCA offers programs to its members as does the Marble Institute of America. Also, the Floor Covering Leadership Council is developing a training portal to make training available and accessible.
There are lots of different places any retailer can go for training. I recently went to YouTube and typed in “sales training” and found 552,000 sales training videos.
Two questions retailers may want to ask themselves is: Where can I go to get custom training that will give me a competitive advantage? If I’m in a market with a half a dozen other retailers who use the same training program that I use, do I have a competitive advantage?
Another question a retailer may ask is: How can I get uniquely better skills than my competitors.
One answer is to make contact with the speakers that impressed you at TISE and the other events and bring them in to [your stores] to offer you custom services.
TF: I get the idea from many of the retailer interviews I have done that many have sales meetings that focus on product knowledge to the exclusion of things such as sales technique, customer interaction and actions that basically support corporate goals and bolstering the bottom line. Training, it would seem, should include making salespeople aware of the various ways their actions can accomplish company goals and doing it according to company procedures.
Gracon: Absolutely. And this is where some of the larger organizations—both the online organizations and industry groups we discussed—provide these customer-oriented training opportunities. There are many more skills needed than product knowledge to run a profitable business.
TF: I’m sure a custom-tailored training program sounds attractive to most retailers, however I expect they would cringe when they hear the cost?
Gracon: Custom training could cost from hundreds to thousands of dollars. Hundreds if it’s something that is available and can be tailored to your specific needs; thousands if it’s something that has to be created for your individual needs.
The real question, however, is: What might that be worth to your business?
I’ll mention a few cases I’m familiar with. In one case a dealer had sales increase 60% as a result of a custom training program. In another operation, a multi-store business saw gross margins rise three points. In that multi-million dollar operation that was worth quite a good deal of money.
In another case dealers were guaranteed a $5,000 increase in profit if they went through a specific training program. If the retailers didn’t see that increase in their gross profits the trainer said he was going to write each a check. Well, the trainer didn’t have to write any checks because it was quality training and the retailers saw profit increases much more than the cost of the training.
TF: The $64,000 question(s) for a retailer would seem to be: What training do I need and how do I know what training I need?
Gracon: The short answer is what skills do your people need to better serve your customers and turn it into profitable sales? And, what are the characteristics of the training to achieve that?
The longer version of that answer is to initiate an audit of your customers to find their buying preferences—what are their needs, what are there communication preferences? One needs to audit their customers to learn what skills your people need to have so they can better serve your customers.
The second step is to audit your staff to learn the skills they possess verses the necessary set of skills to best serve your customers. When you find holes, they might be the places you target with training.
Third, you can look at the question of hiring verses training, if you need a person with a specific set of skills—such as designing—maybe you look to hire someone with those specific design experiences you require.
If you discover a general purpose skill is needed, say the sales team needs to be able to close better, then the answer is to bring in a closing program that helps people close the way you want members of the sales team to close.
This process is how retailers can get started at building their list of specific training needs.
Another question is whether this training is similar to what has been presented before, either by a vendor, a manufacturer or from a custom program, and what results people can get from that training. As a retailer it doesn’t do me any good to sell product A over product B at the same margin at the same ticket. What most retailers want is to increase their sales, their margins and their profits.
So the question is: Have people seen results from specific training programs?
Most product knowledge training is directed at selling one product over another. The question retailers should ask is: Does that really help their business? Does the training offer bottom line results?
Other key questions are: What are the results of the training? Is it the right training for my people? And finally, is it really training? Just because the guy brought donuts, passed out pamphlets and talked for an hour doesn’t mean it’s training.
Quality training is skill development. It not only gives information but it offers a chance to apply that information and a way to practice using the information so in the end you have a new skill and you are practiced at it so you’re not practicing new skills on customers.
The last step is reinforcement: Does the training provide any tools the retailer, as the owner of the business, can use to reinforce the training with staff members. The owner knows what the sales team and others were trained to do. If they do it, the owner congratulates them, and encourages them to keep it up because it’s generating results. If they don’t, you know what to do to coach them and get them on the right track.
Editor’s note: As mentioned, there is a great deal more to this interesting interview than space permits. To see the three-part conversation in its entirety visit TalkFloor.com, click on the TalkFloor TV logo and scroll down to the parts titled, “Brian Gracon, president of Brian Gracon & Associates.”
We’d also love to hear your feedback of this and other conversations you’ve watched or listened to on the site, as well as any ideas of people or companies you’d like to see interviewed. You can contact either Dave Foster at email@example.com, or Matthew Spieler at firstname.lastname@example.org