Budtender Training: How to Build an Effective Dispensary Onboarding and Education Program

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Your budtenders are important. That’s why your budtender training program needs to be effective, streamlined and built to last beyond a new hire’s first few days on the job.

This post dives into budtender training for retailers in the cannabis industry, including important skills to develop and a step-by-step guide to build an ideal employee training program.

How does budtender training impact dispensary success?

Budtenders are the most common entry-level cannabis dispensary role. They also have the potential to impact cannabis retailers the most significantly—either positively or negatively.

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Here’s how well-trained budtenders benefit cannabis businesses:

  • Brand reputation

    If you check the reviews of almost any dispensary near you, you’ll likely see someone mention service and customer needs. Strong cannabis budtenders lead to satisfied customers. These shoppers leave positive reviews and recommend your dispensary to their friends.

    • Sales

    Well-trained budtenders know when to target a customer for upsell and cross-selling opportunities and when to just grab what they want and let them on their way. Finding this balance takes time, training, and patience.

    • Operational efficiency

    The more time you can save during daily workflows, the more money you’re able to earn. Budtenders who are trained to work efficiently based on standard operating procedures are a valuable asset to your cannabis retail operation.

    • Compliance

    There’s no room for error when it comes to your dispensary’s regulatory compliance, so your budtenders have to be compliance experts. When a sales member understands the importance of state regulations and is properly trained, they’re not only saving you thousands in fines, they offer you something priceless—peace of mind.

    Improperly trained budtenders can hurt your retail business through:

    • Theft

    Without established zero-tolerance policies around theft or a general culture of lax security, you’ll see shrinkage due to internal theft. On top of proper dispensary training, it’s important to be diligent about inventory management, reviewing surveillance, limiting area access, and establishing security measures that reduce merchandise theft. Budtenders will take note of strict workflows and follow suit.

    • Manual errors

    Errors related to data entry are very common in cannabis retail. A missed decimal or rounding mistake leads to lost revenue. If these mistakes happen across your staff regularly, you’ll end up losing tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.

    • Negative customer interactions

    Because of the significant time budtenders spend with customers, they leave an impression on everyone they speak to. 78% of customers have backed out of a purchase due to a poor customer experience. If customers aren’t vibing with their budtenders, they’re less likely to return to your store.

    • Slow workflows

    Budtenders that aren’t trained to use software (like your POS) or hardware (like tablets or computers) are going to slow your entire store down. Customers will end up waiting in long lines and your sales per hour will decrease.

    Developing the right budtender skills

    The best budtenders have a similar skillset in common. By identifying the ideal characteristics you want to see from your sales staff, you can create a cannabis training program for skill development over time.

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    Introductory budtender skills to develop

    Introductory skills are the ones that your budtenders need to pick up right away. Think compliance and cash handling. They need to understand these things to keep your business safe and avoid costly mistakes.

    • Customer service

    Friendliness and customer appreciation should be built into your budtender job description. During the training process, set the standard that every interaction between employee and customer is positive, educational, and transparent. This will help retain customers while budtenders are still in the onboarding process.

    • Store policy

    Your budtender’s first few days should cover both customer-facing and internal store policies. Store policies set the tone for budtender expectations. The sooner your new staff aligns with the rest of the team, the sooner they’ll feel on board with your mission.

    • State and local compliance regulations

    When your budtenders are starting out, it’s important to explain cannabis compliance laws and highlight the importance of clearly following all regulations. If your budtender is new to cannabis, go over what compliance means and why it’s especially important in this industry.

    • Basic software usage

    Start small with software training. Show them how to log into your point of sale, complete a transaction, print a receipt, and pay with a debit card. Over time, they’ll pick up a comprehensive understanding of your cannabis tech stack.

    • Cash/payment management

    Because cannabis is heavily reliant on cash, budtenders will see a large number of bills throughout the day. Immediately covering cash handling processes and security measures will be crucial. Make sure you have proper cash handling procedures in place that budtenders can reference while on the job.

    • Product knowledge

    Most new budtenders should already understand this, but there is a wide variety of cannabis products and consumption methods that can vary from store to store. At a minimum, your budtenders must understand the basics of cannabis terminology, THC, CBD, cannabinoids, terpenes, product categories, and popular consumption methods before they start a standard shift.

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    Ongoing budtender skills to develop

    Ongoing skills should be introduced early on in the training process but will take time to nurture and develop. Don’t rush these hard skills! Instead, act as a resource to help your cannabis sales associates become budtender pros.

    • Upselling

    Proper upselling techniques require the right kind of training and a bit of trial and error. The golden rule of upselling is to always provide value—explain the details of this to your budtenders and let them loose to try and learn.

    • Cross-selling

    Cross-selling happens when a budtender gets a buyer to spend more by purchasing a product that’s related or supplementary to what’s being bought already. Encourage and teach cross-selling throughout your budtender training process.

    • Cannabis trends

    New cannabis research and information is constantly being released. Budtenders should be encouraged (incentivized) to stay up to date on trends, studies, and newly released cannabis knowledge. They can check out popular cannabis podcasts or newsletters for interesting, ongoing learning. Then, they can provide the most relevant information to your customers.

    • In-depth software and hardware usage

    As budtender training moves forward, your sales team’s understanding and usage of your software and hardware will improve. Encourage staff to dive deeper into your tools and check out things like analytics and inventory discrepancies. Be sure to set up employee permissions in your POS system to avoid serious mistakes!

    • Customer relationship management

    Budtenders have an opportunity to foster lasting relationships with customers. Encourage them to greet shoppers by name, discuss prior purchases, and cultivate a strong budtender-customer bond. Not everyone is a people person right out of the gate. Understand that it will take many interactions before a budtender is fully comfortable.

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    How to build a budtender training program

    Your budtenders are only as effective as your training program allows. If your training includes a strong foundation, relationship, incentive program and opportunities for growth, you’re going to see consistent results.

    Below are important steps to include in every budtender training program.

    1. Create your training materials

    Your training materials can be online or printed out and hand-delivered on a budtender’s first day. Employees will need to be able to reference this information throughout their onboarding process (and beyond) and should be encouraged to check their training manual regularly.

    Information and instructions that should be included in your training manual include:

    • The budtender’s job description

    • An overview of your retail store’s mission, vision, values, and history

    • Store policies like clocking in, allowable attire, breaks, hours of operation, and time off

    • Training materials from your hardware and software partners. If your providers do not offer these, you will need to create them yourself

    • Standard operating procedures (or the location of your SOPs) for procedures like cash handling, check in, safety, opening, outages and more

    • Expected practices for interacting with customers, such as introducing yourself, tone, eye contact, asking questions and engaging in conversation

    • Product information either from vendors or from resources like Leafly

    2. Plan and schedule regular training sessions

    Your first week or two of onboarding will be the most important, but training shouldn’t stop there. Incorporate quarterly or yearly training for your entire staff to foster consistent growth.

    Some states, like New Jersey, require yearly dispensary staff training for compliance purposes. This training includes:

    • State and Federal cannabis laws

    • New developments in cannabis

    • Security measures

    • Emergency response

    If you don’t have any state training requirements, you can decide what your team needs a regular refresher on. Feel free to mix it up and use these trainings as a chance to come together in person and have some fun!

    Another option is to require budtender certification courses or other budtender research and training as a form of higher learning.

    3. Incentivize your budtenders and gamify the sales process

    Creating a solid budtending team comes from the culture and experience you build. Most sales teams across industries utilize incentives to drive a culture of healthy competition.

    You can improve budtender sales and your staff’s culture with enticing incentives based on sales numbers and data.

    Set up weekly or monthly challenges with cash or product-based rewards and clearly explain the rules to your budtenders. Then, monitor sales data and update your team on standings and rankings.

    4. Document your process and iterate

    No great process is complete without consistent tweaks based on experience. Don’t just set and forget your budtender training process!

    A great way to find out what’s working and what isn’t is to set up 30, 60, or 90-day feedback sessions between you and your new hires.

    This gives you an opportunity to check in with new budtenders and allows them to contribute to your store’s processes. This kind of mutual respect and listening is key to employee retention and will maximize your onboarding program's success.

    Takeaways for cannabis retailers

    1. Your budtending staff is crucial to your store’s success. Treat them like it!

    2. Split out training between introductory and ongoing skillset development.

    3. Don’t overwhelm new hires on the first day. Give them time to grow into great sales associates.

    4. Gamify the budtending experience with fun incentives.

    5. Document and standardize your entire onboarding and training process from start to finish.

    Budtenders 💚 Flowhub. Schedule a demo to see why!

    Nick Headshot

    Nick Rudy

    Nick is a content writer, creator and editor in the cannabis industry. He helps cannabis retailers start, grow and expand their dispensary businesses. On the weekends, Nick enjoys 1906 Chill drops and long walks on the beach with his Dalmatian, Lady. Connect with Nick on Linkedin.

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