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Training Officer Tip Archive

May 10, 2005 - Reverse Marketing: Selling Your Organization to Attract the Best Vendors

Training officers like you purchase services from vendors, namely executive coaching, training programs, mentoring programs, distance learning solutions, and any number of combinations of such services. Essentially, you spend much of your time on the receiving end of sales pitches, proposals, and course catalogs. Culling through all of the information you receive and sorting out the personalities of your vendors is a tall order, and it is not an exact science.

We have a suggestion for making life as a training officer easier and more fun. We call it "reverse marketing". The idea is that you hold a substantial amount of power in the training officer/vendor relationship, and you can use this power to bring in the best vendors possible by marketing the benefits of working with you. How is this done? We've outlined a strategy for you below.

Transparency is Crucial
When seeking your business, vendors lay everything on the table. They give you pricing, course information, instructor information, references, and past performance details. Many times, they'll allow you to audit a local session, and some vendors will even offer you discounted pilot sessions so you can test drive their services. They attempt to make their business, and especially their offerings, transparent to you so there will be no surprises if you decide to contract with them. The importance of transparency is one reason why we always bid our services as flat fees, with everything included. We never want to mislead our clients. Being as transparent as possible helps you choose the vendor that is the best fit for you.

How does transparency apply to you in the training office? Well, first of all we need to come to terms with the fact that every client is not a good fit for all training vendors. Some clients are easier to work with than others. The reasons are many, but what often creates snags in the client (training officer)/vendor relationship is the lack of transparency on the client side. However, you can become more transparent with vendors by being upfront about what you're trying to achieve with the training, how likely it is that the training you request will indeed occur, who the incumbents are and what they were paid, etc. Informing your vendors of your situation with as much detail as you're allowed by law will actually attract better vendors. Communicating important details ahead of time will improve the quality of training because the best will want to work with you and make you look good.

Advertise Your Strengths
The second facet of reverse marketing is to advertise your strengths. This is what vendors do to you. By marketing your best attributes, you will further increase your chances of attracting the most competent vendors who will deliver the best value to you. For example, demonstrate to them how the upper management in your organization endorses your office and the work you do. Remind them that your training budget and the number of employees trained has risen in recent years, and that you are looking for partners to build upon this momentum. Try your best not to discuss budget cuts, uncooperative management or declining class participation. Make the vendors want to work with you not because of the money they can make, but rather because of the long-term relationship you can build and the prospect for substantive, results-oriented training down the road. Talking up the negatives of your organization will turn off potential training partners, so be positive (but honest and realistic) about your role in improving your human capital. Shine up the best things about the training office, and vendors will do everything in their power to deliver you high quality solutions.

Sell Your Needs
We're going to let you in on a little secret. Here it is: Vendors want to know why you need what you say you need.

It's obvious, right? Yes and no, because sometimes it can be difficult for training officers to obtain the real needs of their internal clients. Often, this is because your internal clients don't know why they want (or need) what they say they want (or need). But, if you can persuade your internal clients to make crystal clear why they need what they need, you can pass that information along to the vendor in an attractive way. In turn, the vendor will respond better to these needs and make life more pleasant for each party involved in the transaction. Vendors can't do their jobs well flying blind, so accurately identify the reasons for the need, sell the vendors on the reasons, and watch the effectiveness of their work skyrocket.

The Power Resides in You
We mentioned earlier that you are in a power position relative to your vendors. This power should be used in a positive, professional way. Vendors do not like to discount their services until they become the lowest priced vendors. Quality vendors will move on to the next project if price becomes the central issue. Best value is what counts, and quality vendors will work with you to provide the best value possible. Don't be afraid to negotiate on price, but remember that the best vendors will only discount as low as they can make a reasonable profit. Anything less would put them out of business.

So how do you get the best value and a good price? You need to sell the vendors on the idea of working with you and why doing so will be a good long-term proposition. Make yourself look attractive, outline the benefits of lowering prices for the vendor's long-term gain, and vendors will buy into your ideas. Purchasing/selling training is a two-way transaction where both parties need to sell themselves. Use your power wisely, and your vendors will respond accordingly.

Training is a big business, but both sides need to do things to engender the respect of each other, and everyone can come out a winner. Hopefully these ideas will make you think about your important role as a training officer in a new light and make your job less stressful and more fun. And, in the long-run you might even see your training budgets and management support improve!

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