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Buyer beware: Choosing a training programme

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Jeff Toms, director of marketing and client services at Farnham Castle International Briefings, explains what to look for when choosing a training programme.


Since the arrival of the Internet we have all become experts, particularly when it comes to buying. Whether it is flights, hotels, clothes, books or support services for our businesses, we have acquired the skill to find the ‘best deal’. But as many of us have found out cheapest is not always best.

If the Farnham Castle International Briefing Centre is representative of the training industry as a whole, increasing volumes of new business are being developed as the result of an initial web contact. It is the first place everyone looks to find a supplier of the service they are looking for. Often the choice is overwhelming. Type in ‘Intercultural Training’ and on a good (or should that be bad) day we have access to nearly 1.5 million websites! – All purporting to offer training in this field.

The problem with the website, particularly for the inexperienced, is that you often do not know who or what you might be buying. Anyone can set up a website and call themselves an expert.

So how do we avoid wasting time and money in buying high quality, good value training? Here are some simple rules:

1. Talk to companies who have been introduced to you by recommendation
How many of us, to our peril have chosen a builder or plumber out of the Yellow Pages? Ask around in your company or one of your industry peers. Most will be prepared to share their experiences, provide practical advice and recommend someone with whom they feel comfortable.

2. Try to find well-established companies with a strong reputation
Again talking to colleagues will quickly help you identify the leading companies in their field. Generally there will not be a large number. Training has very low barriers to entry and many service industries has many practitioners who see it as an easy way to make a ‘quick buck’ by offering fashionable training.

3. Buy from specialists
Training is a very fickle business and is full of people who have very little expertise or who, when one area of training is out of fashion, quickly move into areas where the trends are leading. Intercultural training is a great example of this. Cross-cultural issues are rarely off the agenda currently. Many organisations and individual trainers, particularly those in a related field, have added a portfolio of superficial training programmes in support of their core offering; language training providers, finding homes, moving boxes. With a bit of research it is easy to identify those companies with real expertise. Look at the detail of the proposal – have they just given you a price for what you have asked for? Or have they thought ‘out of the box’ or suggested a different approach? What range of programmes is offered? What is the background and depth of experience of the trainers delivering programmes?

4. Avoid ‘One Man Bands’
Often their depth and range of expertise will be limited. What happens if they are unable to make the training session on the day? Why are they never available to discuss your training programme development? Can they really provide the support and reassurance you need from that office bedroom?

5. Do not buy on price alone
Avoid entering into a ‘Dutch auction’ with selected suppliers – cheapest is inevitably not the best. The supplier’s business model is very similar to yours. Cost + Profit margin = Price. The more established companies will inevitably have higher overheads than single and small operators; offices, administrative staff, accounts departments, which have to be paid for. The supplier usually wants your business so will be trying to offer you the most cost-effective deal for both sides. Good trainers are not cheap so if you want good quality delivery you are going to have to pay for it. A supplier who feels they have beaten down will probably not have the same level of motivation.

6. Ask to speak to their existing clients

7. Anyone who is confident of the product they are offering, should not have a problem with you talking to existing clients. Try to speak to a range to avoid being offered a ‘friendly’ option

8. When you find a good supplier, try to build a long-term relationship with them
The rapport that you build with your supplier is no different to any other relationship. In general people prefer to work with others they feel comfortable with. Over a period of time the supplier will get to know you and your company and will interpret your needs. You will feel confident that you will get the quality of training you are buying. You will save time in not having to brief the supplier in as much depth as would be needed with an unknown source. As with all successful relationships – the more you put in the more you will get out. As loyalty grows the supplier will give you the ‘value’ you are looking for – always going beyond what is asked for because they appreciate the stability a longer term commitment provides.

So in conclusion, ‘Cavaet Emptor’ (‘Let the buyer beware’) is the underlying advice. You may score brownie points with your boss for saving a little on the budget, but remember these are more easily lost than won!


Farnham Castle is an International Briefing and Conference Centre, specialising in cross cultural management development programmes and international assignment briefings for every country in the world in addition to those coming to live and work in Britain. For more information call 01252 720 406 or email : Jeff Toms. www.farnhamcastle.com

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