In late 2018, AriensCo announced the Ariens Academy. The goal was to open a variety of educational opportunities for employees and dealer partners so they could develop both personally and professionally, honoring the company’s core value to encourage intellectual curiosity.
With the opening of Ariens Academy, the company also sought to transform the way it offered product, sales and service training to a more modern approach. Instead of focusing primarily on machine functions and specs, Ariens Academy turned to the power of storytelling to bring more attention to the benefits of its products.
“A benefit-led approach, where we sell with a story is extremely powerful,” said JW Washington, senior director of sales, learning and development. “Top brands like Nike and Discovery Channel are putting a lot of effort into this, and it’s becoming more prominent in many industries.”
Since the “Feature to Benefit” initiative launched, Washington has taught close to 2,700 hours of instructor-led training. Due to COVID-19, much of the training has been via eLearning on Workday software, as well as virtually via Microsoft Teams, but this shift to digital has not affected its quality. The training is highly interactive and includes videos, exercises and quizzes to keep participants engaged.
“Even with face-to-face training, a basic PowerPoint presentation is never going to keep people on track. We have to work harder than that,” he said.
The Ariens Academy learning approach certainly seems to be appreciated so far. Participants evaluate each module when they complete it, and the numbers indicate that almost all of them would highly recommend the program.
“This new style of training that we are providing through Ariens Academy is really resonating with both AriensCo employees and our distribution network,” Washington said. “The Net Promoter Scores (NPS) have been through the roof and we are super pleased. Anecdotally, folks at the dealerships are telling us these courses are along the right lines and they are asking for more training opportunities.”
The foundational training program consists of five modules, each centered around a key benefit: durability, power, operator comfort, ease of maintenance and premium cut quality. The new training methods equip participants with the skills to weave these competitive advantages into a compelling story for the users of AriensCo equipment.
U.S. analytics and advisory firm Gallup has been researching productivity and fulfilment in the workplace since the 1970s and a third of questions in its renowned Gallup Q12 Employee Engagement Survey relate to development opportunities and the ability to do a good job. These factors, along with teamwork and management support, form the foundations for staff motivation and retention, Gallup found.
“The biggest impact dealers tell us that storytelling-led training has had is in reducing their employee turnover,” Washington said. “Everyone wants that investment in them as a person. It makes them feel valued and boosts their confidence.”
Staff loyalty is crucial for AriensCo distributors to deliver high levels of customer service. Knowledgeable and seasoned employees can provide more expertise, generate long-lasting relationships with customers and better provide informed solutions to their challenges. Effective training plays a pivotal role in giving employees the building blocks they need to further their careers and meet their own personal goals.
“People are a company’s biggest asset, which makes it so important to invest in them now and in the long term. Having the most knowledgeable and skilled staff makes all the difference to our customers and is what ultimately distinguishes us in the market,” Washington said.
Following a successful first year with “Feature to Benefit,” Ariens Academy is now starting to stratify training modules according to participants’ function and position within their company. Sales staff, assemblers, technicians, and business owners will all have content tailored to their needs. Training will also begin to encompass strategic business development topics, such as how to leverage social media for sales.
“We started at a very broad foundational level and are now becoming more strategic. Over the next 24 – 36 months we’ll move on from pure product to business development topics. Eventually, we’d like to offer a full curriculum of training. We’d also like to find a way to incorporate employee-generated content so we can capitalize on the valuable experience of our strong district managers,” Washington explained.
In addition, the Ariens Academy is investigating new technologies, such as augmented and virtual reality, that make it quicker and easier to learn.
“Imagine teaching our landscapers to use a zero-turn mower in virtual reality, where they sit in a chair with paddles in their hands. How exciting and convenient that would be! Experimenting with these new avenues of technology and the value we can get from them is definitely on our agenda."