An online test was the inspiration behind Colin Appleyard Cars’ training initiatives which led to the company winning this year’s AM Training Programme award.
Sales director Nigel Smith explained its motivation to improve the workforce’s performance was the Financial Services Authority’s online test to ensure businesses comply with its standards.
Smith said the company, which has six sites, five in West Yorkshire and one in Manchester, wanted to create a similar assessment to test the staff’s product knowledge.
“It was undertaken by all customer facing staff on our website. If people got any questions wrong we would train them in that specific area,” he said. Various training schemes followed, including one to improve people’s techniques and procedures and another providing vocational and classroom experience in sales leading to a recognised qualification.
The sales training was introduced to provide a firm foundation on which up-and-coming sales people could build their careers.
A leadership coaching scheme was also introduced for managers who already had a sound track record working in one of its dealerships which teaches people the skills to lead a team and get the most out of their staff.
Smith said: “I think we were weak on planning training because we were so busy selling and did not plan how to expand the business. Even though we are successful, what the training programmes have done is put structure into the business.”
To help implement the schemes the company teamed up with the Blue Water Partnership and Yorkshire Sales and Marketing Developments, which run accredited training programmes.
It was the first time the company had brought in external training.
In the Blue Water case, trainer Tom Anderson assessed a cross section of 12 people employed in management, sales and aftersales to ascertain strengths and weaknesses.
These ranged from sales wanting to improve their CSI to aftersales increasing retention. Anderson also taught the business how to delegate so staff could concentrate on what they were good at.
Training increasing efficiency
Blue Water delivered its training in six months at the rate of one seminar a month.
Smith said the Blue Water programme had been extended because it allowed people to learn from each other and subsequently become more efficient in their role.
One seminar was conducted in May and three more are planned.
Attending these sessions will be mostly customer-facing staff who the company feels have the potential to progress to a senior position.
Smith said: “The other benefit of extending the training is that everyone in the group learns best practice.
“I’m also only spending a quarter of my time at our Huddersfield dealership because my salesman, Ijaz Ali, went on the training and can now oversee the site while I visit our other dealerships.”
Smith said the cost and time implications of the training programmes were outweighed by the benefits.
He added: “The training has given me the skills to go to another branch and put in our own standards and operating controls.
“I have also learnt time management and communication skills.
“One of our dealerships was under- performing and rather than going in there and saying do better, I got everyone together and said this is where we are now, this is where we want to be and this is how we are going to get there.
“What I have learnt is how to put in a structure and process. We have found the programmes helpful because we are all hands on, but the training has helped impose structure in the business.”