According to an IndustryWeek.com article by Douglas Gastich titled, “Educating Your Distributors in a Short-Attention-Span World,” manufacturers are making training both accessible and a competitive weapon. Gastich writes that “…some manufacturers are linking their distributors to channel learning via mobile devices, tablets, desktop computers, and classrooms. The goal is educating an on-the-go, multi-generational workforce of warehouse staff, sales representatives, and distributors about a product’s unique features, what sets a product apart from the competition, and strategies for selling the product’s advantages.”
If your notion of a ladder is simply something to climb to reach a job, then here’s news for you: There are almost as many types of ladders as there are projects. And ladder manufacturers like WernerCo go well beyond step and extension ladders to also offer secure jobsite storage solutions, van shelving, and lighted truck boxes. The challenge is communicating all this, along with presenting opportunities to buy.
Teaching an extended enterprise of customers (consisting of professional contractors, construction companies, and large and small retail businesses) about ladder construction, as well as how to pick a ladder of the right size, weight, anddurability, matters a great deal. A product for a professional worker could be entirely wrong for the typical do-it-yourselfer. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 20 percent of all workers’ fall injuries involve ladders, and for construction workers, nearly 81 percent of fall injuries treated in emergency rooms involve a ladder. Education can mitigate those accidents.
My employer sells approximately 85 percent of the ladders bought annually in North America. We’ve found an investment in training is a way to educate people about selecting and safely using our products. Showing customers the right way to work with these products builds confidence and trust in us as a business partner and manufacturer, which helps us sell.
Responsive User Interface
We began investing in online training as early as 2009. But our original e-learning classes weren’t Agile; learners had to be sitting in front of a computer. Those early online educational efforts weren’t able to meet our type of learners where the work was happening. Our modern training is written in HTML5 and delivered via a learning management system (LMS) with a responsive user interface. Learners can be on any device anywhere, including an airplane, and take training courses. In the last two years, making training cogent, concise, and easy to use has been our mission. Since that time, we’ve developed 25 courses across the company’s global brands, including instruction in English and Spanish.
Having worked with nearly 15 learning management systems, even open-source ones, in previous roles, I’ve learned that training an extended enterprise of learners requires a system that is:
- Data compliant
- Equipped with a user interface trainers can modify
When it comes to ladder safety, usually a person’s knowledge is variable (if he or she has any formal training at all), which is why WernerCo offers a course called Ladder Safety 101. Since launching Ladder Safety 101 with our LMS via www.mywernerco.com, nearly 30,000 people have finished the course. The lesson includes videos showing how to select and set up a ladder, and how to select the correct height—the optimal staging ratio, by the way, is 4:1 (i.e., for every four feet in ladder height, the ladder must be one foot away from vertical).
Statistics such as course completions are among the metrics that are important to generate with an LMS and disseminate to executives. Knowing which courses are popular helps a company make investments in training. It’s critical to build feedback into every course a company creates. For instance, a course about pump-jack safety might tally merely 1,000 course completions for WernerCo, but that doesn’t mean the course isn’t a success. First, pump jacks are a smaller percentage of our company’s total product offering. Second, soliciting user feedback helps create a full picture. So although the pump-jack course completions are less than Ladder Safety 101, feedback for both online lessons is meaningful. We also turn to Donald Kirkpatrick’s work, “Evaluating Training Programs,” to evaluate extended-enterprise training in terms of how learners react, what they learned, which behaviors they’ve changed, and what benefits the company is deriving.
We also look at what type of learner our courses attract. The student might be a counter clerk at a distributor, a distributor’s customer, or a facility manager inside a company. Training is a tool for selling to these channels, which vary in their interest and buying patterns.
We promote our brand by supplying training content from WernerCo’s LMS to customers such as Ford Motor Company and the Houston Astros. We then syndicate the course by allowing the Astros to download the course and upload it into their LMS via a feature built by Werner Co’s LMS vendor. The Astros then deliver the ladder course to their maintenance and grounds personnel.
Training Helps Product Marketing
As a manufacturer launches new products, online training can be an integral part of a company’s strategy for product marketing, too. When a company introduces a new product, its training team can build a course that’s ready to launch when the product becomes available for sale to the different sales channels. When distributors, for example, learn that WernerCo is bringing a new fall-protection product to market, we give them an online training module to help them understand the benefits of the product and share that know-how with their customers.
It’s also a good strategy for a company’s training courses to present a range of products. That way, customers become aware of many possibilities. With that information planted in their mind, customers may recall the product and then the manufacturer might make a sale. That’s the way it’s worked at WernerCo.
EJ Fromer is Marketing and eLearning Content manager for WernerCo, a worldwide manufacturer and distributor of consumer and professional products providing a wide range of climbing and access related products, fall protection, jobsite, truck and van storage equipment.