Exclusive Features

Making the Grade

-
Making the Grade

Lighting manufacturers offer top tips on effective training and education strategies in today’s fast-paced LED environment.

 

With LEDs evolving so fast and some product standards remaining in limbo, manufacturer-sponsored training and education on applications, system compatibility, dimming, and other features continues to be a vital means of accelerating marketplace adoption of this light source. Following, two lighting manufacturer veterans — David Kaminski, Wattstopper Product Marketing Manager at Legrand, North & Central America and Benjamin Koyle, Director of Training at RAB Lighting – share their experiences regarding the most (and least) effective approaches to distributor and end-user training.

 

lightED:  Given today’s fast-paced lighting market, do you feel that education and training have become more important than ever?

Kaminski: Yes. The advent and adoption of LEDs have dramatically changed the world of lighting. In the last 10 years, the technology has gone from a simple point of light that was used as an indicator in items like watches and calculators to the energy-efficient lighting technology of choice that can be used in everything from general lighting to automotive, parking lot, and even light-up sneaker applications. The 0-10V nature of LEDs allows them to be more easily controlled, and this controllability along with their color rendering capability, higher lumen output, and the introduction of controlled color tuning RGB, human-centric lighting, and IoT are changing what was just an energy-efficient light source to a means of improving lighting quality for better occupant experience within buildings. To this end, more training is needed to fill the gap in knowledge of and confidence in these emerging technologies.

Koyle:  I don’t necessarily think that education and training are more important than ever. Lighting education and product training are the lifeblood of a growing, vibrant company and are as important and indispensable today as they were 20 years ago. What has changed, however, is that products are becoming better and faster than ever. In the past, for example, a customer could attend training every 5-10 years and be okay, but in the last several years that I’ve been working for RAB Lighting, our product offering has both increased by over 50% (e.g., new products never sold before) and been significantly upgraded (e.g., over 50% of our existing product families have been improved and 10-15% of our legacy LED products have been removed). The bottom line is that someone attending RAB training today would have a completely different product experience than they would have three years ago.

 

lightEDFrom your experience, what types of lighting education/training (online video, blog, hands-on, etc.) have been the most successful with distributors and why?  What hasn’t worked as well with this audience and why?

Kaminski: I’ve found that hands-on learning (such as through ‘lunch-n-learns’) is the most effective way to train our distributor customers. There’s no substitute for having an in-person and interactive hands-on demonstration to fully understand how a new product or solution can meet a customer’s needs. I must stress the ‘hands-on’ aspect of this style of training — too often trainers show up at a distributor site with a 50+-slide presentation. While they want to share all the bits, bytes, and other specifications that make their product special, what really provides value to distributors is how to sell the products.

One approach we’ve taken that’s been successful is a program we developed called ‘Spaces Training’ to help distributors and contractors easily choose the right type of lighting control product for the application. Many distributors are afraid that recommending lighting controls may complicate a lighting project, but now that renovation and new construction projects are predominantly using a standard 0-10V platform, adding lighting controls to a project has never been easier. Because the demand for lighting control training has never been higher and several states and cities are adopting new energy codes like IECC and ASHRAE 90.1 (which require the addition of lighting controls to lighting upgrades and construction projects), we created the resource www.legrand.us/codesolutions to help distributors and contractors understand the impacts that these codes have on their market and specific applications. Many distributors are also beginning to request digital training in the form of brief 3-5 minute ‘On Demand’ videos. The typical delivery method is via the Blue Volt platform, but some distributors have internal studios that they use to create their own training. They’ll request that the manufacturer provides the training, which is usually moderated by a distributor employee, and will often use these videos on screens in their lobby to educate their contractor customers on new and innovative products. Finally, we’re also making big investments in in-person training; we’ve just built state-of-the-art facilities in Richardson, TX and Carlsbad, CA where we’re preparing to do in-depth, hands-on training with specifiers, distributors, and contractors.

Koyle:  People appreciate and crave a personal touch, and distributors have the best experience when they see things in action – e.g., seeing a light distribution on a wall or on the ground, turning on, off, and dimming a luminaire with their own phone, opening up a fixture themselves to see what’s inside and the elements we’ve engineered to make it easier for contractors to install, or holding a high bay light or wallpack in their hands to understand the difference between an economy family and a specification-grade family. With the proliferation of social media networks, you can create videos which come close to an in-person experience, but there’s no substitute for face-to-face communication. Online video is a good medium to quickly convey how the general masses can use a fixture in a vanilla space and it ‘hits’ more people than you could ever ‘touch’ with live training or live demos, but online video can never keep up with the new and innovative application questions I’ve continually heard throughout my 16 years as a trainer. As for what doesn’t work, a monotone monologue rarely goes over well in live or recorded sessions. With hot new topics like circadian rhythms, horticultural lighting, lighting controls, etc. being discussed in the lighting world today, training and education need to have a short, simple, applicable message to the occupant in the chair; otherwise, you’re wasting your time and theirs.

 

lightEDFrom your experience, what types of lighting education/training (online video, blog, hands-on, etc.) have been the most successful with end users and why? What hasn’t worked as well with this audience and why?

Kaminski:  End users in commercial markets rely on the specification community to provide them with recommendations on new construction and renovation projects. In smaller jobs like retrofits, many end users tend to use resources like online reviews, blogs, and videos when researching products for their lighting projects.

Koyle:  Owners and building managers are less ‘hands-on’ but still ‘get into’ a hands-on experience. Their eyes are often opened when they see the product in action. Sometimes you can see the order being placed by the expression on their face.

 

lightED:  What advice or tips would you offer distributors to help them get more out of manufacturer training and education in lighting?

Kaminski:  Work with your manufacturers and let them know what you’re focused on so they can tailor training that’s right for your team and specific to your areas of focus. If your sales team is focused on a particular vertical market opportunity, for example, let the manufacturer know what that market is, as a product presentation for the industrial market is going to look very different than education on retail markets. In addition, let your manufacturers know the pain points you and your customers are experiencing so that they can help problem-solve; if they take your problems into consideration, it will help avoid any presentations that aren’t relevant and provide your team with greater value.

Koyle:  Ask questions and create a dialogue. It’s more enjoyable for both the trainer and the attendee when it’s a conversation.

Tagged with , ,
Susan Bloomis a 25-year veteran of the lighting and electrical products industry. Reach her at susan.bloom.chester@gmail.com.

Comment on the story

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *