It’s no secret that channel partners are vital components of manufacturers’ selling strategies and with time their role has also changed tremendously. Channel partners have rapidly metamorphosed into solution providers and as service providers to end-users, they represent the brand or the vendor in the market. It, therefore, doesn’t come as a surprise that channel training has taken off in almost all industries and the power electronics domain is no exception.
These training programmes equip channel partners with the ability to offer first-level services to their customers, helping them to strengthen customer relationships and maintain customer loyalty. Most importantly, these programmes offer partners an opportunity to ascend the value chain in the market.
By Rutaksha Rawat
Saturday, May 16, 2009: Globally, companies have been enriching their channel partners for years with authorised and systematically structured training programmes and offer formal certifications for the same. In India, too, the virtues of channel training have become known and some manufacturers have started commencing training initiatives for their distribution networks. However, the number of companies providing training is still very low, with even fewer companies offering formal certification for these programmes.
There are various facets to channel training. Vendors organise workshops, roadshows and other programmes to conduct training sessions. Emerson Network Power (India) Pvt Ltd offers different kinds of trainings for its different categories of channel partners under the banner, ‘Liebert Power Academy’, named after its UPS/inverter brand, Liebert. The manufacturer claims to prime 120 enterprise business partners, 90 network solutions partners and 600 value added resellers (VARs) annually in after sales services alone. For its enterprise business partners, Emerson, whose UPS require dissemination of detailed training, proffers training on product selling, lasting an entire day. To its network solutions partners, it teaches ways of pitching the products to customers and other aspects of sales training, again lasting a day. The company provides only fundamental training of product usage to its VARs as they are essentially box pushers and do not interact much with customers. The VAR training only lasts a few hours since it is not extensive or time-consuming.
Introducing a new product to the channel not only represents a significant opportunity to create a buzz about the product or service, but also to create awareness about one’s own enterprise and overall brand. “We train twice a year. In addition to that, we conduct extra training conferences if a new product is to be launched,” says Mandeep Gupta, country manager, channel business, Emerson. The company provides online, as well as on-thespot training. “Infact,” volunteers Gupta, “we give most of our training online as we want to reach all our channel partners—even the ones living in faraway areas, where we don’t have physical presence. We have recently released a sales guide, which is available on CD so that even our remotely situated channel partners can receive adequate knowledge.”
Genus Power Infrastructures Ltd, whose online UPS, inverters and solar inverters require detailed training programmes, only provides on-the-spot training. The manufacturing firm holds technical sessions for its dealers, distributors and their service engineers, in which a competent team of inhouse senior technical persons answers the partners’ technical queries pertaining to home/online UPS, inverters, solar inverters, etc. It also organises marketing and training programmes, in which, marketing tips are given by senior Genus sales officials and strategies discussed in order to stimulate sales. These sessions last a couple of hours only and are executed during the ‘dealer meets’ Genus organises in various parts of the country. “We have one such meet every month in a different state every time in order to reach all our channel partners,” informs Janak Singh, marketing communications specialist, Genus.
Hykon India Pvt Ltd, which has won the prestigious ‘National Award for Quality Products’ from the Government of India, strives to maintain its standards through the constant brushing of skills and refueling of the knowledge bank of its channel partners. The Bengaluru-based company gives two-day long, indepth training to its channel partners for its UPS, solar heaters and inverters.
Hykon makes its channel partners undergo training programmes on technical issues, as well as on marketing. On the technical front, it educates them exhaustively on the functions of its products and also the technologies that are involved in these products. The training faculty also tries to imbibe in them clarity, in terms of marketing technique. “The training guides channel partners in identifying Hykon’s real target customers and where to find these potential clients. For instance, for a product like inverter, we give them important tips on the kinds of sectors they can tap, in order to save time and accelerate sales,” says Santosh Koshy Thomas, senior vice-president, Hykon.
Technical training sessions at Hykon are managed by an inhouse R&D team and the company’s managing director, whereas marketing training is engineered by Thomas himself. The firm, which offers only on-the-spot training, conducts these programmes four times a year. It is one of the few power electronics companies that invites specialists to impart comprehensive technical-based training to its channel partners. These expert consultants belong to certain agencies of the Government of India and are called upon every six months. The company also has a full-fledged after sales team, which receives intensive training every three months.
Kirloskar Electric Co. Ltd administrates tutelage on product features, commissioning and servicing for periods of upto three days and trains upto 10-20 people in after-sales services every year. Parker Power Systems Ltd, whose training regime includes workshops and lectures, with a question answer session towards the end, holds 6-8-hour long training sessions, which extend to two days on rare occasions.
Microtek International Pvt Ltd schedules periodical dealer meets to conduct training programmes, where it educates partners on the principal developments in the company, the new products launched and their features and advantages.
A tool to drive sales
A technically skilled channel partner, if armed with the right marketing strategies, has the knowledge to satisfy customer requirements and business acumen to push the products—a recipe for success. “The chief reason for devising these programmes is to enlighten our channel partners on product awareness and the latest developments in product technology, so that they can serve customers better,” says Mahadevaswami P, manager, electronics division, Kirloskar. “These training programmes are excellent platforms for giving out strategies to combat competition and providing channel partners with imperative tips on sales and technical skills. We tell them what the unique selling points of Parker Power products are and coach them on how to market those virtues,” says N K Verma, chairman, Parker Power.
Partners benefit from these programmes as they leverage the former’s fundamentals on product knowledge and marketing tactics. “They feel more confident about tackling competition afterreceivingtraining and indeed, theydo make smoother sales thereafter,” vouches Verma.
“If the dealer himself is ignorant about certain aspects of the product, how can he make the customer aware of its advantages? We train our channel partners to ensure that they are efficient enough to solve consumer problems themselves and come to us only as a last resort,” says Singh.
Manufacturers, too, benefit from training because it instills in channel partners confidence in themselves and the product, which makes the customers believe in the products as well, consequently leading to a surge in sales. “Training creates a positive “domino effect”. We benefit because the added knowledge yields better sales, which, in turn, increases our sales too,” says Gupta. Today, a new product introduction can include a special dealer meeting or event to which top partners get invited, special incentives are offered based on upfront purchases, as well as participation in co-op marketing and sales training programmes. Su-Kam Power Systems Ltd, which trains thousands of people in after sales every year, uses training to introduce its channel to its new products, give it indepth knowledge on them and enlighten it on their features so that it can convey the same to end consumers. “Through training, they become acquainted with the competitive edge our products possess. They also become aware of the technological advancement that is taking place in the field of power backup in India, to which, Su-Kam is wholly devoted,” explains Kunwer Sachdev, managing director, Su-Kam.
Since the UPS/inverter business is seasonal, where the summer stands for prosperity and winters for commercial arrest, principals want to facilitate profits as much as possible in the strongest sales period. “The lean period puts our channel partners in a sluggish state of hibernation. Training programmes serve as an activating agent. They prepare our partners for the hustle bustle of the approaching peak season and incite them into becoming more motivated and focused in order to make better sales,” says Ravi Mundra, director, True Power International Ltd.
Training is also an excellent way for manufacturers to enhance partner loyalty while driving increased revenues from the distribution network. In addition to the primary goal of educating partners on products and technologies, these sessions also serve as a podium for mutual interactions. “As manufacturers, we can incorporate any feature or product/service related suggestion we receive from our partners, thereby establishing a bond of common interest between them and us,” shares Jain.
Hykon makes alterations in its products with directions from the market feedback it receives from its channel partners. “All this interaction back and forth wouldn’t have been possible without proper training to the channel partners because one needs to know the product thoroughly in order to sell it and also to comprehend market feedback and trends. We get the feedback that is pivotal to our improvement process; they get more business. It’s a win-win situation!” exults Thomas.
Most companies offer certificates upon successful completion of these programmes. These credentials authenticate the knowledge accorded, giving dealers a sense of confidence and faith in the information they have received. Emerson, Kirloskar and Microtek provides certification for training programmes they provide.
“We provide appreciation and achievement certifications as they add considerably to the credibility of the channel partner,” affirms Sunil Jain, vice-president, public relations, Microtek.
“We render certification for all types of trainings. Channel partners find these certificates very fruitful and feel better equipped to sell after completion of the training,” says Gupta.
Hykon, on the other hand, grants certification for specialised government training programmes exclusively. Parker Power grants certification only for training pertinent to equipment servicing and Su-Kam and Genus do not offer any kind of certification for their training initiatives.
For an increasing number of principals, trainings are becoming indispensable to the smooth running of business as they help in reviving the knowledge of previously trained partners and equip novices of the distribution network with key information that drive sales up. Hence, they look upon these training programmes as a must to sustain business and not as business-enhancing catalysts. They, therefore, don’t mind spending on these training programmes.
Emerson spends 10-15 per cent of its annual marketing budget on training programmes. “At Emerson, these programmes are not intended to merely boost revenue. Our main objective is to propagate our brand through them,” says Gupta.
Parker Power trains 150 engineers every year in addition to 350 to 500 after sales professionals of its channel partners. “We invest around 1-1.5 per cent of our TCO in these endeavours,” reveals Verma.
Hykon has allocated 7-10 lakh a year to training but “more than gets recovered, in terms of heightened sales,” according to Thomas.
For some companies though, these training programmes serve as a revenue-generating exercise, where training is offered and orders are taken on the training spot. “We recover all the money pumped into training as we take product orders at these meets from dealers and distributors,” discloses an eminent industry player, who wished not to be named.
If properly implemented, training programmes can be an incentive for the partners. Many dealers welcome vendor training programmes, especially if they emphasise on critical skills that can benefit the reseller organisation as a whole.
“They feel very proud and happy to be associated with these kinds of programmes. Very few manufacturers offer training, so when some of us take the initiative of giving them that, they are more than pleased to attend,” says Verma.
“They are always excited and enthusiastic about attending these programmes because they know that ultimately the knowledge acquired through them will lead to a rise in sales,” says Thomas.
Some dealers, however, are only interested in box-selling because they don’t deal with end-customers. “The VARs are not too keen on training as they’re more concerned about box-selling,” informs Gupta.
A small step forward
Currently, in India, only the major power electronics companies are furnishing channel partners with training programmes and not all enterprises offering them have structured, formal training modules to offer. Many companies do not even provide formal certification for these programmes and most of these sessions are informal half-day affairs, which happen to occur during revenue-inspiring dealer meets. However, taking everything into consideration, there is no doubt that the Indian power electronics has taken a step, no matter how small and unsteady, in the right direction with these training programmes.
Electronics Bazaar, South Asia’s No.1 Electronics B2B magazine