Porsche Cars North America is nudging dealers onto the Internet in an effort to improve training and save Porsche nearly a half million dollars a year in training costs.
Porsche has put all its sales training materials - videos, reference materials, phone-based testing -on a dealer Web site. As of April 1, the only way dealership salespeople can get certified is via the Internet. Each user gets a password to enter the site.
The resulting cost reduction will more than offset Porsche's initial investment of $200,000 to put the material online, said Dave Parsons, marketing and sales training manager for Porsche. The savings include postage, printing, video production, faxing and a toll-free phone line.
The Web site enables Porsche to communicate with dealers in real time. In the past, dealers often consulted dated information. The site offers a reference library, video collection, self-study courses, chat rooms and links with Porsche engineers.
CAN BE COSTLY
Dealers can post questions in chat rooms and receive answers from Porsche employees. Porsche engineers are available to answer technical questions from the sales force.
'It's an amazing tool to get information quickly,' said Bill Hodges, Porsche sales manager at Southpointe Porsche-Audi-Volkswagen in Sarasota, Fla. But Hodges laments that dealer principals often fail to see how useful the Internet can be for employees and they are reluctant to invest in new computers. He says he had to invest $30,000 of his own money to develop a Web site and buy new hardware and software for himself and two salespeople because the dealer would not pay for it.
For most of Porsche's 206 North American dealers, this means an additional investment in personal computers and Internet software.
As of July 1998, when Porsche began developing the Web site, 83 percent of its dealers had Internet access on at least one computer. The typical dealer has three PCs - one in the parts department, one for administrative staff and one in the showroom.
ONE PER SALESPERSON
Eventually, that will not be enough, said Parsons. He believes every salesperson should have a PC. Porsche intends to use the Web site more and more as a sales tool to inform customers. It has been used mostly to educate dealership employees.
To ease the transition, Porsche has arranged a group discount for dealers with two major PC vendors - Dell Computer Corp., of Round Rock, Texas, and Micron Electronics Inc., of Nampa, Idaho. Dealers can purchase PCs at discounts of $300 to $400, Parsons said.
Porsche also has rolled out the Internet training services gradually since January to help dealer employees adjust to the shift to online training.