Article

How to Get the Most from Training Events

March 2012, Auto Dealer Today - WebXclusive

by Jennifer Murphy Bloodworth - Also by this author

Advantages and Disadvantages of Different Types of Training



With one of the biggest industry events of the year coming up, the NADA Convention and Expo, it’s a fitting time to discuss how dealers can get the most from training events, both large and small. In the automotive retail industry, ongoing training is a necessity, especially with the accelerated rate of change fostered by technology and government regulations.

The first challenge every dealer faces is determining which events to attend and/or send employees to. There are a myriad of different types of offsite training events to choose from: extremely large events with up to 20,000 people, large conventions that draw up to a few thousand attendees, smaller conferences with a few hundred people in attendance, and workshops that can be set up for anywhere from three to 30 attendees.

While it’s sometimes hard to schedule time off for yourself or other team members for offsite training events, they have some significant advantages that you simply can’t get from onsite and online training.

One of the main benefits of large events is the depth of education available. These events tend to cover a wide array of educational topics, from tried-and-true topics like achieving 100-percent service absorption to new, emerging ideas like mobile marketing. An additional benefit is the opportunity for peer networking. Also, at large events, there are typically exhibit halls to explore to learn about products and services. Sometimes exhibitors and other vendors at the event offer specials or discounts that are exclusive to event attendees.

Additionally, offsite events provide a change of scenery for attendees. If you see the same processes and procedures day in and day out, you begin to think those are the only ones that work. Getting out in another environment and listening to other dealers oftentimes offers different perspectives and helps spark ideas that can lead to improvements.

Steve Pitt, NADA’s vice president of conventions and expositions, said, “The [2012] convention theme ‘Leading the Way’ indicates that the entire auto industry is helping to lead the economic recovery. The theme also reminds attendees – dealers, automaker executives and exhibitors – that the NADA convention is a time to work together and share ideas, so that we can move the industry forward.”

However, large conventions like NADA are not for every employee in the dealership. Those who will get the most out of large conventions like NADA are usually dealer principals and top-level managers. Also, one disadvantage to some of the larger events is the time off required to attend them; some events require four or more days out of the dealership.

Smaller conferences (some of which are national in scope, while others are hosted regionally) are more apt to meet specific dealership departmental needs. Dealers and top-level management often attend these events and include specific managers for specialized training in areas such as F&I, BHPH or digital marketing.

These events still offer many networking opportunities and new ideas, and sometimes, they are easier on the wallet per attendee. Additionally, they typically don’t require as much time out of the store as the larger events do, instead condensing the training down to two or three days.

Workshops are another option for ongoing training and are normally regional events. Workshops are often one- or two-day events and typically do not include exhibit halls, although they often include some type of vendor participation during the event. Workshops tend to provide targeted training for specific individuals (for example, service training workshops designed specifically for service managers or service advisors).

One big benefit to workshops is that attendees have more of an opportunity for one-on-one time with trainers. Kevin Cunningham, director of 20 group operations and executive conference moderator at NCM Associates, said, “We put a lot of emphasis on [attendees] asking a lot of questions … Our goal is to have two [trainers] in every training session. That way, if someone is in need of a little extra attention, you don’t have to stop the meeting. That other faculty member will go over there and personally address whatever that issue is one-on-one while the rest of training continues.”

In addition to these very different types of offsite training, onsite training is another option provided by many consultants in the industry. Costs vary widely, but some consultants create highly customized experiences for dealerships. If you need to train several employees, bringing someone into your store can make much more sense than sending several people out of the store at the same time. Plus, in some cases, it can also be more cost-effective.

Cunningham said NCM Associates has several clients who own dealership groups and bring in consultants as opposed to sending multiple employees outside the dealership for training. He said, “It is just simpler for us to go to an organization that has multiple dealerships in one city, so they can have that training right there [on site]. They don’t have near the training costs.” He also suggested onsite training for dealers looking to make dealership-wide changes. For dealers who “need someone to roll up their sleeves and help you affect change,” onsite consulting is a great option. That way, dealers will have someone there to help managers, explain to them exactly what needs to happen and review the results with the dealer. Cunningham likened having an onsite consultant to “a coach on the sidelines at a football game.”

Webinars provide another form of interactive training that dealers and their staffs can complete onsite. Today, they are widely available on numerous topics. If you or your staff absolutely cannot leave the store for training or if cost is an issue, webinars offer a great solution. Many webinars are free, and for those that charge a fee, the cost to attend is usually a fraction of the cost of offsite events or onsite consulting (especially when you consider how expensive travel and hotel expenses can be).  Another advantage is webinars have minimal time requirements compared to other training events that can last for days. Usually, webinar attendees only have to set aside a couple of hours. While webinar training isn’t the best way to train on all topics, it’s a good way to learn about new compliance issues or how to use new or upgraded software. 

According to DealerTrack, “Prerecorded webinars for point-and-click navigation training is very impactful and effective. Customers can split the computer screen and follow along as they use our software and tools.  The Webinars are designed to allow the participant with the ability to pause, rewind, or skip content they are familiar with … Live webinars are best for sharing information. DealerTrack uses live webinars for a variety of software and compliance training and updates.”

However, one drawback to some webinars (particularly free ones) is that they offer limited perspectives because many of them are sponsored by vendors. Also with webinars, the networking opportunities are extremely limited. The key to a successful webinar experience is to ensure that the staff member who is attending remains uninterrupted during the entire webinar. Constant interruptions during a webinar severely inhibit a person’s ability to retain the material.

“Using webinars to learn can be a challenge due to the many distractions dealers have during their day. Webinars may not be as effective as classroom training for some, because participants may lose their focus and not learn all of the content, thus reducing the value to the customer,” according to DealerTrack. Trainers “don’t have the ability of seeing when a participant is confused with the content or distracted” and “have no way of knowing when to bring [participants] back into the material and conversation.”

After examining the various training options and weighing the cost and benefits of each, decide how to best educate yourself and your staff. Once you’ve chosen which training event(s) to attend, formulate a detailed plan. The type of event you chose dictates how much planning will be required.

For conventions and conferences, you should first outline the education sessions you want to attend. Many larger training events which draw crowds of 100 or more have concurrent sessions, and you don’t want to be left choosing which sessions to attend five minutes before they begin. Make a written list, enter them in your smart phone’s calendar, or use the event application on your smart phone (if available) so you’ll know where to be at all times during the event. NADA provides both a mobile app and an online planner to help attendees make a schedule.

In addition to picking which education sessions to attend, consider which keynote speakers and networking events to add to your agenda as well. It’s also important to set your expectations appropriately for networking events. For example, when at an event sponsored by a vendor, you should expect to interact with the vendor. If the invitation list for the event is likely to include dealership personnel you would like to network with, make an effort to meet other dealers at the event. Remember to be willing to share as much as you hope to learn from the event. Sometimes it’s difficult for dealers to discuss their operations because they’re so used to not divulging information with other dealers in order to maintain a competitive edge. However, when talking to dealers who are not competitors and own stores hundreds of miles away, sharing information and networking can be extremely beneficial.

If the event includes an exhibit hall, determine in advance which exhibitor booths you want to visit first; you can always visit others if you have the time. A little homework about what products or services you need to add or upgrade can help you make the most of your time in the exhibit hall. The event’s website most likely has a list of exhibitors to peruse and might even have a map available for reference.

Smaller workshops/seminars don’t usually require as much planning as larger events, since the schedules are usually set for attendees by the trainer. However, prepare any questions and compile information you might need to bring with you. When planning for onsite training, it’s important speak with your trainer/consultant prior to his or her arrival, prepare any necessary data and adjust employee scheduling as needed. Preparing for a webinar is pretty simple. You may have to download a particular program like WebEx in order to attend, but other than that, you usually just have to set aside time to attend it.

Regardless of what type of event you attend, once it’s over, you may be tempted to jump right back into day-to-day life at the dealership. However, before doing that, you should begin determining what process changes and/or new products/services to incorporate into day-to-day operations. This is easier to accomplish when all the information is fresh in your mind. Plus, you should capitalize on the energy and excitement a good training event instills because the excitement will show when explaining these new ideas to your staff.

Rick Morrison, NADA’s convention chairman and a new-car dealer from Alaska, said, “When I return home [from the annual NADA Convention and Expo], I find myself reinvigorated and energized. The exchange of ideas, updates on the newest marketing concepts, getting the industry pulse and networking with fellow dealers is a rewarding experience … I have also found that taking my dealership managers has been even more rewarding. Each of my managers returns home with the same spirit of excitement. They are full of new ideas that quickly become a reality around the dealership.”

Also, soon after you return home, go online (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, AutoDealerPeople.com, etc.) and connect with the dealers, managers and other industry professionals you met and networked with at the training event. It’s a good practice to build an online network so you’ll have people to reach out to if you need advice or want to share ideas between events.

What you get out of an event not only depends on the type, size and scope of an event; it also depends on how you plan for the event, interact at the event and use the information once you’re back in the dealership. For most types of training events, you should get at least one or two new ideas to help improve your business. All it takes is one great idea to improve your bottom line by thousands of dollars.

Vol. 9, Issue 1

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