Supplier training – a corner piece of the engagement jigsaw puzzle

Over the last three years in my role as a supplier engagement consultant, I have attended several system training sessions, such as specification systems (e.g. PLM) for private brand suppliers for a number of large retail organisations and have experienced first-hand how important it is to engage with your suppliers at the appropriate level.

Ensuring the agenda meets the attendees’ needs can improve not only your way of working but also your relationship with these suppliers and their potential for future compliance.

Any experienced supplier will tell you that compliance systems such as PLMs are a ‘needs must’ but given the necessary detail and complexity are not the most user friendly systems to use - in my experience, retailers and PLM providers themselves will all agree with this.

However, that being said and with the obvious need for proper training on these systems, few organisations actually talk about what ‘good’ training is. I personally believe that effective training is as important as any other piece of the puzzle when it comes to supplier engagement – perhaps even more so, since a lack of it can quite easily be the difference between make or break for both parties.

Engaging participants in the training can be challenging but I have also witnessed how rewarding it is when it goes right. There are many training techniques that help participants stay engaged. Below are my top tips on how to do just that!

Keep it intimate (classroom vs webinar)

Unfortunately this is not a ‘one size fits all’ type of situation. Although there are strong arguments for both methods it really does depend on your audience, the topics you need to cover and obviously your budget.

In my opinion, e-learning has the reputation of being more convenient and cost-effective than classroom training. But it’s important to ask yourself if it will be as effective when it comes to learning specific troubleshooting issues and changing the behaviour of your supply base.

E-learning can be fantastic as a ‘go to’ reference library as a reminder of how, and allows people to learn at their own rate, but with e-learning and webinars it is difficult to be as interactive and engaging as face-to-face. Classroom learning gives that chance for questions and answers to fill in those gaps, give the context and reduce ambiguity.

Get the basics right – The rest will follow

If your suppliers truly understand the basics, they can build and better appreciate the complexities around any system. This can be as simple as knowing how to set up your company profile.

Anyone who lived through the Horsegate scandal of 2013 will appreciate the importance of having up-to-date specifications and contact information. These may feel like tedious tasks at the time but trust me when I say it will save you a lot of stress and resource in the long term.

An important part of the basics is actually not about the system, it is the context. Why does this system exist? What is its purpose? This will increase the perceived value in the system and the value in correct use of the system.

Something as simple as contact accuracy in a compliance system is a great example. When asked for seven names for seven different roles it can seem easy at the time to put one contact name against all of the roles.

The problem with this is that communications cannot be targeted to the right people. This results in some contacts being overloaded with communications, and others missing out on valuable updates. Proper audit trails and accountability can also be compromised.

Know your audience (get suppliers to use their actual data instead of examples/case studies)

Successful software/system training requires the learner to see and use the features of the program in a real-life context. We all learn more by doing than watching (which is one of the benefits of hands-on training over e-learning tutorials. These exercises can be easily accomplished by using practice files that demonstrate real-life use of the features being taught.

But ideally, get suppliers to use their actual data. If a fresh produce supplier is being trained on a PLM/spec system there is no benefit to training with a complex ready-meal example. If exercises allow suppliers to use their own data they will understand more, learn more (and can actually do real work in the training course so walk away with added value).

This may require you to think about the audience with a view to grouping similar suppliers onto each course, so they all benefit from interactive question and answer sessions. Our Educate™ training booking module in supplierENGAGE™ can help you manage this scheduling and booking process.

They think it’s all over!

What happens after your training can sometimes be as important as the training you provide.

The fact is that when training finishes, we have only just begun the process of converting what we have learnt in training into practice in real life.

With the best will in the world, you won’t be able to answer every possible question in the training course. Therefore, always provide your suppliers with a telephone number and/or email address so they know exactly where to go should they require support.

We are big believers in supplier self-help and therefore contact information, relevant course content and supporting information (such as those reminder e-learning modules) can all be available through a supplier self-help portal; available on-demand 24/7. It is up to you whether this content is only available to trained users (to encourage regular training adoption).

Finally, remember that great training shouldn’t end up as a distant memory or a course book filed away in the black hole that is your desk drawer.

You can set up automatic reminders or appointments to check in with some or all participants a few weeks after your training. Ask them to share examples of how they are implementing what they learned, and ask if they need any additional support.

We’d always encourage carrying out a post-training survey to also learn how it was for the trainee, so you can continue to learn and evolve. We see much better results from this when it’s carried out after the event rather than via an evaluation form on the day. It is only when back at their desk the trainee will really know how successful their training has been.

I work with a number of clients to support training (promotion, booking, execution and follow-up) and S4RB can help you manage the internal and external engagement. Contact us to find out more.

Tags: Supplier development, Supplier engagement

Team S4RB

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