Throughout the world, Germany's automotive industry is celebrated for its exceptional efficiency and first-class quality. Its brands are among the most sought after on the planet -- particularly luxury cars BMW, Mercedes Benz and Audi -- and the industry is a critical component of Germany's economy.
It should come as no surprise then that Mark Wagner, a freelancer trainer in the automotive sector, strives to work the same way his clients do -- by achieving high-caliber results with minimum wasted effort.
To optimize every client interaction, whether it's a sales training, team building or leadership development event, the German facilitator frequently turns to experiential activities and Metalog tools. The tools give him a direct line to learners' visual and tactile senses, and he uses this connection to jump start the learning experience. Two tools he is especially fond of are Emotion Cards and SysTeam.
Wagner uses Emotion Cards to swiftly set the scene for maximum learning. In one instance, for example, he was planning an important strategy retreat for a car dealership that had experienced a fair amount of change. He was going to be working with a group of branch managers and department heads for a day and a half to help them develop a strategy for the coming months, and he knew the group would benefit from reflecting openly about the recent changes first. Additionally, because they already met every week, he sought to break them out of their regular routine.
To kick things off, Wagner set out two sets of Emotion Cards on two tables, then divided everyone into groups of three. Using a flip chart, he asked each person to select one card to address each of the following questions:
In their small breakout groups, each person explained their cards to the others. At the end, the two listeners gave feedback on what they heard by answering the prompts, What did I notice or perceive? and What questions are still open?
The entire experience took 45 minutes. Everyone had a great time choosing their cards and the conversation started instantly, according to Wagner.
"It never fails to fascinate me how easy it is for participants to take a card and be able to intuitively talk about it. And that's how it worked this time," he explains. "The kickoff exercise had a catalyzing effect on the group, making everyone more relaxed, open and curious about next steps. If the group had done the exercise without the cards, the whole thing would have been merely a rote, intellectual exercise."
Wagner used the cards again at the end of the retreat. This time, he asked everyone to form new groups of four people, and for three people from each group to give feedback to one person using the cards. They were to select one card to address the person's strengths, answering the questions, What do I notice about you? and What really stands out? and another card to send the person wishes, noting What do I want for you? and What would I like to give you?
"Again, the group had no difficulty finding the most appropriate cards, and they provided excellent suport for a demanding task," Wagner explains. "This brought the retreat to a very positive close."
When Wagner leads sales trainings, he is often charged with teaching sales teams how to ask for customer referrals. They're a crucial component to any career in sales, yet representatives are often uncomfortable or unskilled at asking for them. They may fear rejection or ask too early in the sales cycle when a customer's trust has not fully formed yet and be rejected.
To help them succeed, Wagner turns to a role-play exercise using SysTeam. By its very nature, the tool is ideal for teaching teams how to accept risk, deal with interdependency, and communicate clearly, but Wagner uses each element of the activity as a metaphor for the referral process.
He begins by dividing the group into teams of two - one 'speaker' and one blindfolded 'grabber.' The speaker is the sales person, while the grabber is the customer, and they must work together to remove all 16 figurines from the wobbly plate without allowing it to topple over. To succeed, the sales person must give very clear instructions to the customer, while the customer must be willing to follow along.
Like the real world, Wagner points out, there must be a good rapport between both parties before the sales person can ask for a referral, and it takes a certain degree of tact.
Wagner also uses the figurines themselves as a metaphor. He labels each one with a sticky note to denote a different group of potential referrals from the customer (family, friends, neighbors, etc.), underscoring the importance of a having good strategy for broaching the subject.
"Know your customer," Wagner tells the learners. "When you get to know your customer better, he will tell you about his 'social system.' You can then dig a bit deeper and write down the names he gives you. You could say, 'As you know, I live from referrals and would really appreciate it if you could refer someone to me. Which of your friends and acquaintances might be interested in buying a car from me? Who comes to mind? What would be the best way to get in contact with this person?'"
As the activity unfolds, the trainer points to other memorable metaphors the team quickly relates to, including:
"Like all the Metalog tools, Emotion Cards and SysTeam achieve something that few other forms of training can -- the ability to quickly tap into my customer's visual and tactile senses, and utilize them for the learning process. I am so happy to see that when I tailor the activity precisely to the needs of my customers, I can achieve deep and long-lasting learning. I am confident in the knowledge that my work is not just useful but also great fun."
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