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New Hire Sales Training—An Investment Worth Making

Thursday, August 28, 2014
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A short quiz for sales leaders:

  • How much has the buying process changed in your market in the last five years?
  • Have you taken a serious look at updating your new hire sales training to keep up with the changes? (And I’m talking about sales skills training not product or welcome-to-the-company training.)

If you are like the sales leaders in most companies, the answer to the first question sounds something like: “It has been breathtaking.”
However, there is usually more variability in the responses to the second question. They range from “We have taken a pretty serious look at new hire sales training because it’s a big deal…” to “We have been busy with other priorities, plus the budgets have been cut, so we have postponed the new hire training initiative.”

If your response to the change question is like most, but your answer to the second question is essentially “not much,” then it is worthwhile to pause. Great new hire sales training can make a difference on such bottom-line issues as retention, early wins, and motivation.

The good news: In recent years, there have been a number of good things happening in new hire sales training. In the past, new hire sales training has often just been a shorter or simplified version of the sales skill training for the existing sales force. But emerging work suggests that new hire training should be specifically designed for them. Although the same sales process needs to be introduced, “what is taught” and “how it is taught” needs to be designed for the unique challenges facing new hires.

Five designs have proven to be particularly effective for new hire sales training

Expert video messaging

Top performers in the existing sales force possess a wealth of experience and insight of value to new hires. Therefore, for various topics throughout the program, pre-recorded video snippets of different members of the sales force can be used to deliver suggestions and best practices to the class.

These videos can be used to address standard topics like: How to open a call, closing, objection handling, and asking questions. They also can be used to focus on topics uniquely important for new hires:

  • How do you get started in your territory?
  • How do you establish credibility?
  • If I was starting again, what is one thing I would do differently?

Excellence modeling

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When it comes to new hires, it is important to demonstrate excellence, rather than just talk about it. For new hire training, “scripts” can be developed for selected skill sets that illustrate what excellence looks and sounds like.

For example, scripts can be effective for getting across the trap of jumping in too soon and doing a “product dump” vs. employing active listening and questioning skills to uncover and explore the customer problem and then presenting your solution. “Ineffective” and “effective” scripts can be reviewed and discussed to view the interaction from the customer’s perspective.

Scenario analysis

In new hire programs, it’s valuable to use real-world scenario exercises. Establishing credibility is a popular topic for scenario exercises.

The idea is to be more prescriptive. One series of exercises might play a pre-recorded video snippet providing some best practices about establishing credibility, discuss the best practices, and then immediately get the participants to apply those ideas to customized real-world scenarios about establishing credibility.

Online training

There is a knowledge component to every sales skill set. The knowledge piece can be learned via self-instructed online training. There are several advantages to using online training for new hires.

  • Ease of use: Training can take place anytime, anywhere.
  • Self-paced: In most new hire cohorts, there are some new to selling and some that are experienced but new to the company. With online training each person can navigate the course at his or her own speed.

  • Message consistency. With online training you are guaranteeing that the same message can be delivered in the same way to all the new hires.

Simulations 

Sales simulations are often used as a component in programs for the existing sales team for advanced training. Sales simulation also can be an effective component to incorporate into a new sales hire program. The caveat is the template to design the simulation needs to be different—less detailed product knowledge, different customer contacts, and easier sales challenges. Plus, more time needs to be allotted for planning and feedback. One template that works well is a “week-in-the-life” construct. A series of typical situations are presented that a new hire is likely to encounter during a week in their new life; they are then asked to plan and execute sales calls that handle these situations.

Providing new hire salespeople a great kick-start can go a long way in providing initial confidence and even some early wins. All too often new hire sales training is an area that receives less than the appropriate priority. But the results of great new hire sales training can show up in revenue figures, in turnover numbers, and in some cases—in ways not imagined.

About the Author
Richard Ruff has spent 30 years designing and managing large-scale sales training projects for Fortune 1000 companies, first at Huthwaite and then as co-founder of Sales Momentum in 2000 and Sales Horizons in 2010. Dr. Ruff is a recognized thought leader and author in the field of sales training for companies engaged in complex B2B sales. He also co-authors the blog, the Sales Training Connection.  
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