Who, what, how, where, when and why: the 5W and 1H approach to introduce our continuous learning plan

Products knowledge and the talent to narrate them from different perspectives is a key expertise we ask our sales staff to invest time and resources on. And in which we invest too, as a company. For this reason, since a couple of years, we have developed an extensive training program dedicated to our sales network, with the aim to develop together a deep knowledge of products, with a comprehensive gastronomy approach.Formazione Valsana

1. WHY
"The more experienced and a knowledged a customer is, the more (s)he appreciates the value of our selection": this is what we tell the young people who start working with us during our first introductory meeting.

On the other hand, dealing with expert customers is a great challenge: it requires to our people to be well-knowledged on a demanding catalog. In our range we have more than 2,500 products, each one with a story to tell, made up of territory, people, techniques, traditions, recipes, pairings, historical and cultural contaminations, market dynamics.

We started a couple of years ago with on-site meetings dedicated to new agents, but soon also some of the "old ones" started asking to join the meeting, to have the opportunity to "review" and taste some products.

In this way, step by step, we opened-up our meetings to the entire sales network and also to internal collaborators, and we came up with a training and tasting program that includes about one session per month, for a couple of hours dedicated from time to time to a specific product, producer or product line.
Formazione ValsanaFormazione Valsana

At least a couple of times a year we bring our sales network to visit the producers.

The summer trip, which usually includes a couple of days of travelling outside our region - we have to confess - is usually very popular and requested and - we cannot hide it - it is also a moment of great fun. In recent years we went to Apulia, to visit I Contadini and Santoro; to Piedmont, to visit Cascina Oschiena and Fiandino Farm; and, going back over the years, to Tuscany to visit Il Fiorino, Cugusi and Lischeto; to Lombardy to visit Carozzi and Val Gerola, to see the production of Storico Ribelle (a memorable "trip" that has become a legend in our company). Last year, due to the pandemic, we had to stay in the area, but we still managed to organize two interesting appointments: a visit to Le Capanne, to see the Limousine farm, and to the Follador Bakery, for a tasting of focaccia and panciotti.

However, most of the meetings are organised on our site, sometimes inviting producers to participate: when we started designing the new venue, we immediately imagined a tasting room dedicated to training events.
Then Covid arrived and we had to revise our programs, as has happened a bit for everyone. Looking at the "half full glass", during the lockdown we have learned to manage our training first with Zoom and then in a mixed mode, with a few people in presence and a few people at a distance.

4. HOW
It is Alessandro De Conto, our sales director, the heart of our training program, sometimes helped by Giorgia Barbaresco, our quality director, for the more technical features. Usually we start our meetings with a little bit of history; then we move on to the presentation of the producer, his territory and production tecniques; and finally we get to the description of the product, its characteristics and distinctive elements.

And, of course, a tasting part is also always provided: even if at a distance, we cannot give up the tasting. Every time we organise a meeting, we also send a tasting sample to all our sales persons who signed up for the training.Formazione Valsana

The topics addressed in the trainings are the most various: they range from the presentation of a producer - as in the meeting with Eggemoa for example - to a comparative tasting of different products of the same line, to understand the depth of our selection and the differences between the different products in the assortment: we did it for example with cooked hams, mortadella, blue cheeses or with washed rind cheese (this one in collaboration with the ONAF, the Italian organisation of cheese tasters). Sometimes, in comparative tasting, we also have fun organising blind tastings, in which the name of the product is only declared at the end.

But there are also more technical meetings, as the last one, led by Giorgia and dedicated to the main defects in cheeses and charcuterie: what they are, how to recognize and manage them. In this case the tasting was a little less pleasant than usual!!Formazione ValsanaFormazione Valsana

Trying to focus again on the positive effect of distance meeting, we have to say that Zoom allowed us to systematically engage the whole sales network, even the farest agents, which were usually excluded from most of the appointments. Now, sending samples and handling the meetings in the mixed presence+distance mode, they always manage to join our trainings.

But it is not only the "far-away" agents the ones that we recently manage to involve in training: since a couple of months we have also started to invite the guys who work with us as warehouse-workers. Our aim is that all the people involved in the sales process, from those who place the order to those who physically prepare it, are knowledged about our products, to be able to recognise and intercept any defects.

And, in the near future, we hope to be able to expand our audience even more, with a training schedule open to our customers as well. For this year maybe we could try with a webinar ... stay tuned!

Martina Iseppon
Marketing Director