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Feature   March 1, 2006   by Doug Jordan

Countertalk: Knowledge Building: Hosting a Successful Clinic

There’s no doubt about it, knowledge is power, and jobbers who want to increase sales need to educate themselves and their customers.

Take it from the pros, there is more to putting on a clinic than bringing in the manufacturer’s rep, ordering a couple of pizzas, and handing out a few hats at the end.

Ride control, because it often takes more “selling” than other categories, is a good example of what can be accomplished with attention to training. Regardless of what category of product is being discussed, the key points do not change.

“The technician has to get something out of it. It has to impact his business,” says Mike Shanks, area sales manager, Niagara, Ont. Region for Tenneco. “It has to be relevant, not just a sales pitch,” he adds.

“Clinics have to have interaction; it’s crucial,” says Carlo Falcigno, North American training manager for ArvinMeritor’s Gabriel business. His clinics often feature a game similar to Who Wants to be a Millionaire, “Although the prizes aren’t quite as rich,” he quips.

Here are some other tips from the pros:

Right off the top, pay attention to the date it is being held. Obviously, no one is coming out to a clinic on Grey Cup or Super Bowl Sunday, but don’t forget other dates like a big hockey playoff game, election night, or a religious holiday. Think also about other groups or jobbers that may be holding events.

Make sure the presenter knows his or her stuff. It is surprising the number of clinics that are put on by salespeople who may know the marketing side of a product, but don’t know the technical information that technicians want and need. Consider insisting on a dry run by the presenter, or attending a prior clinic, before your clinic is planned.

A presenter should never talk down to his audience. It’s not enough to just know his material. He has to make it lively and interesting. “People will stay all night if it’s worth it,” Falcigno notes.

Scout out the location well in advance.

Does everyone know when and where it is being held? Is it central to your audience? Is there enough parking? What time is it being held? Is this enough time for your audience to get home and cleaned up before coming out?

Pay attention to the details. Is the clinic room big enough? Can you set it up the way the presenter wants it, such as theatre-style or a horseshoe-shaped seating plan?

Does the audio and video work? Can everyone see and hear the presenter? Test these items twice before customers arrive. (Few things are worse than a microphone that doesn’t work or a video monitor that won’t play the tape or CD the presenter has brought.)

Are there enough handouts for everyone? Will some people want to take notes? If so, make sure there are pencils and paper available.

Let’s not forget refreshments and prizes.

Generally speaking, more winners equals happier customers. Spend your prize budget carefully.

Be careful what kind of food and beverage choices there are. The last thing you need is a boisterous crowd that spends all night in the food and beverage line-up and precious little time listening to the presentation. Consider non-alcoholic venues (or at the very least do not make alcohol available until after the clinic), and make sure the food offerings are generic – no shellfish or foods that will offend religious cultures or be unacceptable for those with allergies.

A lot of hard work and good information will be quickly forgotten if your customers only remember how bad the food was or how noisy someone was in the audience.

Finally, or maybe firstly, who is going to pay for all of this? Distributors want the manufacturers to pay for it (after all, you’re selling their products), but manufacturers want the distributors to pay for it, since you’re making a profit on the increased sales you will make. Installers may want everyone else to pay.

Let’s just say that maybe everyone should pay. Service providers are more likely to perceive value if they have to pay for it, but make sure you deliver. Manufacturers and distributors/jobbers are each benefiting from increased sales and better informed customers, so a three-way split is in order, but it is up to you to decide how much.

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