December 14, 2012

As published on Contractormag.com on December 10, 2012

Ask any successful business owner for the key to attaining a competitive edge in today’s economic climate, and you’re likely to hear this simple fact: listening to what your customers want, and delivering it better than your competitors, is vital to stand out from the crowd. And in the end, it can mean an increase in your company’s bottom line.

One company that has learned this firsthand is Johnstone Supply, a national wholesale HVAC and refrigeration distributor. When polled, their contractors said they wanted more training in order to stay competitive in the field.

While the distributor already had a robust training program in place for their internal sales staff, they hadn’t yet offered online training (or E-learning) for their contractor customers. Once they discovered the need, though, they decided to utilize BlueVolt’s online learning management system to create Johnstone University for Contractors. Today, more than 2,600 contractors are registered in the University, a number that’s increasing daily. The result? Stronger relationships with their suppliers and contractors alike.

Here’s how E-learning can help your business stay competitive in today’s challenging economy.

A win-win partnership

While Johnstone originally debuted their E-learning program in order to help their customers succeed, it drove business for the company too. And they’re not alone. A recent BlueVolt survey indicated that 81% of companies polled reported increased sales as a result of online training.

Equally important, yet intangible, is the strengthened relationships as a result of E-learning. After all, by offering Johnstone University for Contractors, the distributor is successfully establishing itself as a trusted, go-to resource, and what happens when a company remains top-of-mind for its customers? Often, it’s increased sales and a leg up on competition. The E-learning program also provides avenues to set up a two-way communication street, solidifying the relationship further. Johnstone is continually adapting to the ever-changing needs of their customers, adding more and more courses as a result of overwhelmingly positive feedback.

You may be wondering, how is it possible that a simple concept such as E-learning can be so good for business? After all, job training has always been a necessary part of the industry. Well, it’s time to expand your idea of what online training is, and how it is different from typical classroom learning. These days, E-learning has become much more dynamic, interactive, and customized to each individual learner. Think of it as the difference between dial-up Internet (remember that?) and high-speed wireless. Just as the Internet itself is constantly updating and improving, so is E-learning changing the way we learn, and helping businesses succeed.

The brave new world

E-learning has successfully started to navigate its own path in the world of HVACR and there are several reasons for this. One is availability. Workers, and companies as well, no longer need to rearrange their schedules to attend a class on a particular day and time. Instead, they can choose to participate whenever, and from wherever, is convenient for them.

A second reason is how E-learning courses work—they’re more dynamic and customized than ever, and focus on how people learn best, no longer simply relying on a one-size-fits-all approach. E-learning allows learners to proceed at their own pace; you can focus on what you need to brush up on, and skip what you already know. Learners are also able to quickly assess their strengths and weaknesses, since online quizzes offer immediate feedback. Perhaps most important, though, is that online learning is focused on how people learn best. From interactive games, product simulations, and high-quality videos, the focus shifts from "telling" to "showing" and even "doing."

Added incentives

Traditional in-person training programs often have a narrow audience due to their single or limited locations and times. And if you flip through a typical training course catalogue, you’re not likely to encounter much variety and/or specialization. E-learning, on the other hand, has the advantage of offering very specialized training since its learner pool is almost endless. From business training courses to NATE certification training on safety applications, from product training by suppliers, to personal development and safety training, with E-learning there is almost literally a course for every type of contractor. And the courses are highly specific versus generic, as are traditional training classes. Furthermore, the Johnstone University for Contractors is specifically designed for the HVACR industry.

E-learning courses have another advantage in terms of boosting business, and providing incentives for learners. Johnstone, for example, has partnered with some of its key suppliers to support new product launches by offering special product promotions to enhance E-learning course enrollment.

The company recently partnered with Testo Inc., a manufacturer of refrigeration system analyzers, to offer an E-learning course in conjunction with a new product launch.  To draw attention to the course and encourage enrollment, contractors were entered in a weekly drawing for a chance to win one of Testo’s new analyzers. The Testo E-learning promotion was so successful that the distributor is currently working with other suppliers to more closely integrate their training materials with their overall marketing strategies. These types of promotions help increase customer awareness of new products and innovations that can help them succeed. In addition to product giveaways, Johnstone also utilizes BlueVolt’s popular $BlueBucks incentive reward system, where learners can earn dollar-for-dollar rewards (redeemable at major retailers such as Cabela’s, Amazon.com, restaurants and more) for successfully completing certain E-learning courses and quizzes.

In this current economic climate, it’s becoming more important than ever to create ways to differentiate your business from your competitors. E-learning offers an invaluable solution for doing just that. It’s a way for distributors like Johnstone to become a better partner for contractors by creating cost effective and easily accessible learning options beyond the traditional classroom. And, just like any good business owner knows, helping your customers succeed will help your business’s bottom line too.

 

About BlueVolt

Portland, Oregon-based BlueVolt is a provider of online Learning Management Systems (LMS) for the manufacturing, construction and service industries. BlueVolt’s LMS for the extended enterprise delivers easy-to-use training across an entire company and its suppliers, sales channel, associations and customers. The LMS delivers affordable training, verifies knowledge and reports results all in one place. BlueVolt’s unique approach to online training encourages learning with its proven reward program that is valuable to those offering and participating in learning. BlueVolt recently won a Learning Leader award from Bersin & Associates for Vendor Innovation in Learning and Talent Management and also was named to the TrainingIndustry.com Learning Portal Companies Watch List for its innovative approach to learning. For more information, visit www.BlueVolt.com.

By Lisa Bordeaux, director of sales, BlueVolt