The gas/electric Toyota Prius is probably one of the most technically advanced automobiles on the road today. It has a hybrid synergy drive system including energy flow, fuel economy and emissions modes; by-wire technology that replaces the traditional mechanical connections; and an AT-PZEV rating.
Sound complicated? Try being a Toyota sales consultant. They not only have to list the features, they have to explain and sell them. Because Prius is not your typical car, Tokyo-based Toyota had to provide its sales consultants with more than the typical training. So the company launched an application of wireless PC technology, DiscoveryTab, with the help of Maritz, a St. Louis enterprise performance management company.
The technology was introduced in the Elite Experience as part of Engines of Change, Toyota's 2004 Prius launch training tour for its 18,000 sales consultants across the nation. Above and beyond its basic Prius training, Toyota offered the Elite Experience to a select group of 1,200 sales consultants, about 10 percent of its sales force. These consultants were chosen based on their tenure, participation in Toyota's education certification programs and whether they had already sold the Prius, explains Paul Williamson, product education manager for the University of Toyota's School of Product and Technical Education.
For the Elite Experience, 40 sales consultants meet in a classroom setting at regional offices. Many of the Web-based training modules from the basic training are used, but the University of Toyota has also created new ones for the Elite Experience.
Using DiscoveryTab, for example, the PCs display a series of images that walk the consultants through the Prius's complex navigation system. But the consultants still have a facilitator available for questions and comments, as well as the opportunity to converse with their fellow trainees. Another module makes a game of finding the nine storage compartments in the car's interior.
Sales consultants like the Elite Experience for two reasons, explains Williamson. First, they enjoy the richer media and increased personal interaction. But more importantly, they get to learn among like-minded consultants. Only having the top 10 percent of the sales force participate allowed the training to run more smoothly, with fewer interruptions for clarification questions or confused trainees.
The Engines of Change tour has received the highest aggregate Level I scores of any Toyota model launch. On a scale of 1-5, Engines of Change was rated 4.87. Because Toyota has stopped using social security numbers as a form of identification to protect privacy, however, Toyota has had a difficult time tracking individuals' sales after training.
Williamson says Toyota wants its consultants to understand and explain the technical features of the Prius—not just spout them off. "It ultimately is not about the technology, but the level of understanding," he says. —H.J.