An outside sales rep for an equipment rental company walks onto a construction site and notices a hole in the ground filled with water. The outside sales rep knows this is potentially a huge problem, and recommends the right type of pump to remedy the situation. You might think this would be the job of the construction foreman or contractor, but the outside sales rep has specialized knowledge about the equipment that’s available for rent. The rep’s skill and knowledge level directly impacts his customer’s revenue, so he must be able to walk onto any jobsite and assess critical needs in the moment. It is the reason why his role as an outside sales rep is a critical element of the construction industry.
The world’s largest equipment rental company, United Rentals, has roughly 18,500 employees who help rent over $14 billion worth of heavy equipment to industrial and construction customers, utilities companies, municipalities and individual homeowners. Like all equipment rental companies, outside sales reps are key to their business.
They must be comfortable and confident stepping onto job sites that are often loud, chaotic and dangerous. Making sure these men and women across 1,000 rental locations are properly trained is critical to safety outcomes as well as sales potential.
The company had long struggled with how to consistently train reps so their on-the-job learning curve wouldn’t put them in harm’s way or jeopardize their decision-making in a high-pressure moment. Unfortunately, standard classroom training couldn’t replicate the actual experience of being onsite. “Powerpoint’s just a fixed picture,” admits Jeff Perry, a United Rentals outside sales rep. “It puts people to sleep.”
Facing these challenges for such an integral part of their business, United Rentals teamed up with Strivr to develop and implement training in Virtual Reality (VR) that would simulate the real-world experience of being on a construction site.
I’d like to take my group of 20 or 25 attendees to a construction site to look around, but it’s just not feasible. So instead, I bring Virtual Reality into the classroom so we can visit a jobsite without leaving the training room.Bill Dwyer, Training and Development Manager
Effective training for a high-stakes environment using VR
With Strivr, United Rentals was able to implement Immersive Learning, specifically designed to train outside sales reps. Immersive Learning combines the sense of presence of VR with advanced learning theory, data science and spatial design, which makes for highly engaging and effective employee training experiences. Reps engage with a real-world construction site to learn skills in customer relations, safety and site awareness without ever being onsite.
Once in the headset, trainees are dropped onto a live construction site, which is captured using 360-degree video of a real location. As they look around, they see everything one might see at a real construction site: unfinished buildings, large machinery and equipment, workers, and dozens of hazards. Reps perform scene explorations, where they learn about problem areas on a site; then they are tested using scene hunts, which are timed assessments of how well they can identify the problem areas in a new environment. These experiences were created across five different construction phases and each experience was developed using instructional design best practices to ensure that reps learn the right amount of information in each module for maximum retention.
Training and Development Manager Bill Dwyer has found that their reps enjoy and respond to training better than they ever have. “Virtual reality is ten times better,” said one rep. “It keeps me engaged.”
My first impression of VR was that I was completely blown away.Bill Dwyer, Training and Development Manager
Maximizing consistency, effectiveness and scale
The qualitative metrics around VR training have been overwhelmingly positive at United Rentals. “It leads to this organic, incredibly productive conversation that I don’t think would be possible without VR,” Dwyer says. “It’s great to really dive into what’s important on a job site. When reps get out of that truck, the first step isn’t as difficult. They feel like they’ve already done it.”
The quantitative results of Immersive Learning have been just as encouraging. The effectiveness of the training has improved nearly tenfold, and the time spent in training has been reduced by 40%.
United Rentals is now using Immersive Learning for all new outside sales reps, which Dwyer says “keeps us in tune with what we’re really trying to accomplish here: being productive on a job site, asking the right questions, renting equipment, building a relationship.” One of the major benefits for the organization has been the ability to standardize and scale-up effective field training, since it has successfully contributed to keeping the workforce safe,customers well-supported and the bottom line healthy.