Getting the Newbie Up to Speed

What with the shortage of experienced salespeople these days, more and more sales managers are finding themselves forced to hire “newbies” – people who, while interested in sales, have had little or no experience. This can often cause more problems than it solves.

Frankly, I consider the hiring of non-salespeople for sales jobs to be a sales manager’s last resort. My hiring preference is for someone who has both sales experience and experience selling what I want sold. My second choice is someone who knows how to sell and has been successful selling something other than what I want sold. Number three is someone with no sales experience (a newbie) but is familiar with what I want sold. And way down in fourth place is someone with no sales experience and isn’t knowledgeable with what I need sold.

Hiring a Newbie

When I am forced to hire someone in the last two categories, the newbie, I look for enthusiasm, a good work ethic, and someone who is a self-starter. Selling isn’t for someone who needs to be jump-started in the morning or who thinks selling is a nine-to-five job.

The two big realities of hiring a newbie is that: (1) I’ll be lucky if he comes up to speed and starts paying for himself in nine to twelve months, and (2) he’s going to take an inordinate amount of my time and energy if I’m going to make the investment pay off for me, particularly in the early stages of his employment.

Getting the Newbie Started

If your newbie is familiar with what you want sold, you’re more than halfway there. Now all you have to do is bring him up to speed on how to sell. People who are new at selling invariably think that “telling is selling” and that all they have to do is find someone to “tell” their story to. Professional salespeople are not fast talkers, they’re smooth listeners.

At an absolute minimum, I feel you should get the newbie a good book on basic selling and monitor his progress as he works his way through the book. You may even make the reading of the book mandatory before he shows up for the first day of work. If he isn’t interested enough in the job to invest time getting prepared for the career change, you’ve hired the wrong person. Set aside an hour a day to make sure the newbie has at least a passing acquaintance with the basics of selling.

If you already have salespeople, you might consider sending the newbie out with one or more of your seasoned people. I call this the B-L-B method (blind-leading-the-blind) and it doesn’t always work well. What usually happens is that the experienced hand teaches the newcomer all his/her bad habits. After all, it’s easier to learn a bad habit than a good one as is evident by all the bad habits most of us have!

If you’re unfortunate enough to have hired someone who is not only unfamiliar with selling but also has no real expertise in what you want sold, you have a long row to hoe.

First Things First

Your first task is to get the newbie familiar with your product or service. Your challenge is figuring out how to transfer years and years of knowledge and experience to the new person in a matter of week or months. No easy task and I don’t have a ready answer for it. I just know it has to be done. I tell new salespeople that there is no easy route to gaining product knowledge and they’ll have to slog their way through several months of hard work.

The product knowledge and sales training efforts can be done at the same time. Listed below is what I consider the minimum that needs to be covered in getting newbies up to speed. This is only an outline and the information is covered in more detail in my e-book,  Breaking in the New Salesperson:

1: Company Policies & Procedures, including:

  • Travel and entertainment expenses
  • Automobile expenses
  • Company credit terms
  • Product return policies
  • Product/service warranties
  • Service policies
  • Company benefits
  • Remuneration plan/commission structure
  • Internal contacts
  • External contacts
  • Paperwork flow
  • Sales reports
  • Sales quotas
  • Commission sales
  • Order processing

2. Product Knowledge Training, including:

  • Product features and benefits
  • Availability
  • Product reliability
  • Profitability
  • Product history
  • Product future
  • Price lists
  • Discount policies

3. Sales Training, including:

  • Selling techniques
  • Customers, prospects, and suspects
  • House accounts
  • Sales territory
  • Making joint sales calls

Take the Time

As I mention in my book, a common response to this list is, “It’s going to take a lot of time to go through all this with the new salesperson and I don’t have the spare time.” You’re right. It is going to take a lot of time, and you probably don’t have any spare time. But this is not a project you do in your spare time. This is a prime-time project. That’s why you have to plan it out in advance. That’s why you have to clear your slate so you will have the time during the first few days (or weeks) to get the newbie up to speed as soon as possible.

Bottom Line

Breaking in a newbie is like breaking in a new car engine. The more care you take, the longer it will last and the fewer problems it will give you. Making sure that you break-in your new hire properly will ensure you a good return on your investment of time and money.