Life as the Training Manager at Continental Tyres in Australia is exciting, challenging and most of all: immensely satisfying.
I have been entrusted to create materials and resources that deliver our message of our premium quality, technology and value to our customers. Once created, we have a platform from which our sales managers may also have conversations and training sessions with dealers that are designed to create a higher level of expertise and therefore, greater competence and confidence when selling to consumers.
Recently I met with the training manager of one of our major channels, the Bob Jane group. Tony and I work together to create tailored training for his sales force of franchise and company stores. He wanted to take training to regional areas in Queensland where the opportunity of this are all too rare. We were only too happy to facilitate this for him and the Bob Jane stores. We met again to coordinate itineraries and sessions.
We wanted to promote via education the General Tire brand which is a relatively unknown newcomer in our market. It is a great 4×4 – SUV tyre product in our portfolio and has the potential to capture a respectful share of the local market. Queensland dealers, particularly in the regional areas, have a massive opportunity to capitalise on this exciting range- all they need is learn about the product and where the range sits in their markets. Our training would include discussing market segments, technical design aspects as well as the traditional F_A_B points. Armed with a dynamic presentation that reflected the General vibe, packed full of product information, driving sound tracks, an exciting video, a cut sample of the awesome SRL (Grabber) and our recently written product digest on General Tire, we were all set to educate and entertain.
Along the way, we would also drop into remote regional customers who would never normally see anyone from the corporate side of Conti other than their Sales Manager. I have to mention here that the reception was always warm and welcoming. They truly personify the saying ‘tyre business is people business’.
This was a full on endeavour that would result in 12 flight legs covering over 10,000 km in the air and 1,200 km on the ground in a hired car, 12 days away from home and family and conducting 11 training sessions reaching 29 stores and some 80 customer sales staff. Our sales managers would be joining me where possible making this the biggest training tour ever undertaken by Continental Australia.
Our first stop was tropical Cairns at the top of Australia, 2,312km north of home (yes, Australia i a big place!) Stepping off the plane, I was greeted by warm, sticky tropical heat.
I caught up with Philip, who is one of our Queensland Sales Managers and we set off to check in to our accommodations and do some work before the training session. The drive from the airport to the hotel was along wide roads, lined with palm trees and lush, boards and green leaved vegetation in the roads side plantations. We soon set off to the first store for training.
Training in-store means you need to be flexible and creative: finding a wall to throw up your presentation, shuffling seats, rearranging showrooms, working in limited spaces…
Our initial session was awesome. The owners, their staff and we huddled around the laptop in a tiny office. It was friendly and felt so natural and relaxed as we discussed the product, answering their questions and helping them understand our product, the technology in it and how to sell the product better. It was great to see the enthusiasm and smiles. We were even treated to some lovely baked goodies with our coffee.
All too soon we were back on the road heading south towards Townsville. We passed endless fields of tall green sugar cane and passed through small townships like Tully and Ingham – lush green little oasis communities far from any major centre. We dropped into a few customers along the way, visiting, training, and talking business. Until you actually do this, you cannot appreciate how important it is to be able to build good, strong relationships with these customers. Some are very unique and quite out there but all are great folk. I could see they respected our product and that our guys do a good job looking after them. Certainly distance creates its own challenges however we seem to be able to come through when it counts.
Lunch was crab sandwiches in a cafe that had no front windows. The frontage was totally open, across the street, a beach stretched away in a crescent, blue green water sparkling in the midday sun. Islands dotted the horizon. The breeze was warm and caressing.
After many, many kilometres, darkness was starting fall as we arrived at Bob Jane in Townsville. We were greeted by Grant and before long, we were training his staff. The presentation ended, the staff left, but Phil and Grant continued the conversation long into the evening.
The routine proved to be travel, train, talk tyres, eat, sleep, travel and repeat!
The biggest drive was five and a half hours in temperatures ranging from 32°C to 38°C. I watched the landscape change from lush cane fields, coconut palms and jungle to the edge of the road to low scrubby hinterland with termite mounds, to open cattle country where Asian cattle grazed under the searing sun.
Stopping for a break at a lonely old town, the scene was ubiquitous Australian outback. An old fuel stop, so 60’s in appearance, a huge cattle road parked off to the side. Walking into the roadside diner, the wooden screen door creaked. Ceiling fans spun lazily from the ceiling. Even though it was hot outside, the hot food carvery was full of greasy roadside style of food. Potato scallops, pies, burgers, deep fired battered fish, chips and the like. Looking in fridge I spotted some great looking apples so I settled for those. You have to stay healthy right?
I was sent an email after our session in Rockhampton. The business owner had attended our training, liked what he saw and so had just ordered a set of Grabber SRL’s for his own vehicle. I think he may have been impressed!
Arriving in Hervey Bay, I could see why this has become a popular holiday destination. A beautiful harbour and marina, fringed with cafe style eateries on the boardwalk and a large hotel complex.
The only problem was that no one had informed that it’s almost impossible to get something to eat late at night! We had to do some exploring before finding an all night convenience store to grab a tin of tuna and some lovely fresh tropical fruit. Ah, the glamour of life on the road.
Another few sessions, more road, more sights and it was time to head further south into the Sunshine Coast, Brisbane and the lights and night life of the Gold Coast.
And always, the warmth followed.
The first morning before training I rose earlier than usual, put on my running shoes headed to the beach. Running on firm sand, the salt in the air, breathing in the ocean, I watched the sun rise probably before anyone else in Australia that day, being so far so east and on the coast. Breakfast was taken on the beachfront as I checked my emails and called my children back home before they set off to school. Even when you are away, you still have to be a good Dad!
And so it was, back in the city, more training, late nights and before long, the week was over and I was back in the airport. Airports have become a routine. A place to while away some time, make calls, do some work when flights are delayed. You even to get to know a few faces here and there. I am actually typing this blog on a plane. Flight QF772 in seat 31D. It is Saturday morning and I’ve just spent two days training and racing in V8 Commodores in Perth, running on ContiSportContact 3 and ContiMaxContact 5 tyres – buts that’s another story… I will be home again in a few hours but on another plane again tomorrow rolling out our Australian CRM project Nationally.
Occasionally people will approach you to comment about Continental, having spotted my branded shirt. They always have good experiences to chat to me about. That’s a nice thing to be part of.
Everyone who attended the sessions was interested and really seemed appreciative of the new insights. We had some great conversations as I learned more about our customers, the challenges they face and importantly, how we at Continental can listen and develop training that is targeted and adds real value.