A little over two and a half years ago, I started as a Vendor Manager at Spreetail. I spent roughly one year in the role until a new opportunity presented itself. A small group of vendor managers began an objective to redesign our team’s onboarding program. The Training & Tools team was created with the intention of providing targeted training to our merchandising team and specifically to our vendor managers. Throughout the last year and a half, and through the different iterations of training programs we’ve created and executed, I’ve learned a few lessons about how we can adjust training to meet our changing business needs.
- Think About Scale
Historically, our vendor managers were ‘jacks of all trades’. They built listings, planned product assortment, researched new vendor potential, and hustled to grow their books of business. As a team of 10 buyers, this structure was manageable. However, as we grew to a team of over 70, we needed a smarter way to scale. One of the biggest shifts in our business over the last two years is moving from generalists to specialists. And we’re a much stronger company because of it.
We’ve built teams to manage every part of our vendor life cycle, from adding new business to researching product potential, to driving true merchandising strategies that go beyond simply listing a product online. We’ve also been able to provide those services as a value add to our partners and distinguish ourselves from the competition. From a training perspective, becoming specialists meant we had to adapt and evolve how we trained. Instead of focusing on the 100 tools and processes our vendor managers needed to know, we had to go deeper on the 10 most critical concepts to grow our business.
For vendor managers, this centers around two very different skill-sets. One focuses on the relationships we build and foster with our partners. As we continue to automate our business processes, this allows vendor managers to spend more time on calls with their vendors, building relationships and partnering to grow our business. Our training must prepare our vendor managers to be able to negotiate with our partners and align on a shared vision for our partnership. The other key skill-set is the analytical ability that is required to understand one’s account health and create a strategy to grow your business. That is also one of the most rewarding aspects of enabling our team to thrive in their roles; our team gets to be a part of helping vendor managers shape and grow their business from the ground up. As you think about how your business is changing, what are the 5-10 core concepts that impact your team and business?
- Over-communicate the ‘why’
I’ve learned this lesson through trial and error. Last year when we launched a new re-order process, I was so focused on being able to explain the logic behind our new process, I lost sight of our why. I remember speaking out to an audience of vendor managers and inventory planners, communicating the technical factors that played into future ordering decisions, yet I still felt like I lost people. The problem was I left out why it mattered. In that case, our why was the new process was going to significantly improve our visibility on out-of-stock rates and increase our re-order accuracy at each of our six fulfillment centers. Looking back at how critical this new process is, we’ve seen the positive impact over the last year with significant improvements in our inventory turn and continued automation of our processes. If I could rewind, I would clarify the why before ever diving in to the what or how. Whether it’s a weekly team check-in or a quarterly All Hands meeting, if you’re pitching an idea to others, make sure you communicate why it matters to everyone in the room and how it will impact them.
- Create spaces for formal and informal learning
Training best pivots with changing business needs when it happens in both structured and informal ways. We shape our own learning and it’s something that takes place at all levels of the business. Much of our learning happens on the job, through professional experiences and interactions with others. It happens because we feel safe enough to ask questions and because we take the time to teach and support others. In an online environment, building trust with your peers must be more intentional.
One way we’ve managed this in trainings is through our six-week, one-on-one coaching program called ‘Level Up,’ which aims to provide vendor mangers support and direct their growth after onboarding. One of the capstone projects from this is our growth presentations. In this, vendor managers apply the knowledge that they have learned over the last six-weeks not only to analyze three of their accounts, but also show that they can use data to tell a story about their business and to set clear growth goals for the next 3-6 months. By teaching others, our vendor managers are becoming experts in their business. As we think about how we are adapting to our new, digital environments, consider what you can do to support others in their roles and how you continue to drive and shape your own learning.
Currently, we measure performance and success of our training programs through pre and post assessments that measure knowledge of the business. The Training & Tools team also partners directly with vendor managers to set account growth goals and work with their managers to ensure those are aligned with team goals. Outside of metrics and goals, we value qualitative feedback from those going through the training program:
“Training overall has been stellar since day 1, especially compared to most companies of it's size. I've worked other places that could only dream of having such a program built out, plus they provide continuous training on a weekly basis to help you make better decisions for the business. Overall my peers and management seem to genuinely care about me as a person as well as providing all the tools I need to be successful in my career.
In the last 90 days, we’ve seen ecommerce, as a percent of total U.S. retail, double. Understanding this growth will continue and the impact this will have on Spreetail, our team is planning on how to continuously evaluate and pivot our training to ensure successful onboarding for all vendor managers. Do you want to experience our targeted training first-hand? Apply to one of our open vendor management roles.