New hire sales training – analyzing four poor substitutes

New hire sales training

Leading edge companies realize that prospering requires not only great products and services but also a sales team that can sell and be a competitive advantage.  As a result sales training is becoming increasingly important.  One aspect of sales training receiving increased attention is training new sales rep hires.

In the past many companies have elected not to install new hire sales training and instead implemented alternatives for getting new hires up to speed.  Four alternatives are often used … and the time may have come for their replacement.

  • Hiring successful sales reps. Is this a viable substitute for new hire sales training and the answer is yes – sometimes.  It works best when a company has only a few reps. When that is not the case, the approach is suspect.  There are a number of reasons why a rep might have been successful in the previous position, for example they had a great territory.  This approach also makes it more difficult to establish a common sales language which in the long run is a significant plus. 

  • Sales manager coaching. Management coaching is a great idea – it works.  The downside is front-line managers don’t have much time available for coaching.  So, the time they do have is best devoted to coaching people in the middle part of the performance curve rather than trying to get new hires up to speed.  Overtime this is a poor use of a scarce resource.
  • Shadowing. A third substitute is shadowing.  Here the new hire is paired with a top performing rep for a week as an observer.  One problem is no rep is good at everything so one gets an incomplete picture of what to do.  A more basic problem is the difficulty of learning some of the fundamentals by watching a top performer who has integrated the individual behaviors into a seamless pattern.  Lastly, there is no reason to assume the experienced rep is skilled at coaching.
  • National sales meetings. A fourth substitute is to postpone the training and incorporate new hires into training for the entire sales force at the next national meeting.  Here, the problems are straightforward – one is the time lag and the second is such training is not targeted for the specific needs of new hires.

All of these approaches have some merit but they’re not substitutes for a new hire sales training program.  In recent years there have been significant advances in designing sales training programs micro-targeted for training new hires.

As reported in a 2012 Salesperson Onboarding Survey, 8 out of 10 sales management executives and business leaders responded that they weren’t satisfied with how long it take to get their new sales people up to speed. Yet it reports that salespeople most satisfied with the onboarding they received got up to speed 34% faster – or 4 months – than those that were dissatisfied. That translates into revenue! And executives who reported the greatest satisfaction with their onboarding programs have longer onboarding periods that are highly structured and comprehensive.

So, if you haven’t already, it’s time to take a second look if you haven’t already. Giving folks a great start has numerous short and long-term positive consequences.

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©2012 Sales Horizons, LLC

About Richard Ruff

For more than 30 years Dr. Richard Ruff and Dr. Janet Spirer - the founders of Sales Horizons - have worked with the Fortune 1000 - such as UPS, Canon USA, Smith & Nephew, Boston Scientific, Owens & Minor, Textron - to design and develop sales training programs. During his career Dick has authored numerous articles related to sales effectiveness and co-authored "Managing Major Sales", a book about sales management, "Parlez-Vous Business" which helps sales people integrate the language of business into the sales process, and "Getting Partnering Right" – a research based work on the best practices for forming strategic selling alliances. Dr. Ruff received his Ph.D. in Organizational Psychology from the University of Tennessee and a B.S. from Rennsselaer Polytechnic Institute.
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