By William Blades

Most 40-to-50-year-old salespeople think and act the same way they did at age 25 and 30. Depressing news? It shouldn’t be. For employers, it means you have a wonderful opportunity to more effectively recruit, select, train and motivate younger salespeople for success. Even better, you don’t have to coach these new recruits through un-learning undesirable skills and habits due to their minute amount of time in the profession.

As we enter the baseball season, major league teams take advantage of this fact of human nature every year. They send their rookies to instructional leagues so they can get the fundamentals in place. Can you imagine a team that just finished the season playing .500 ball and then announcing, “We’ve decided to cut back on our coaching staff, reduce practice, reduce scouting efforts and eliminate incentives. We hope these moves will strengthen us.” It wouldn’t make sense for them, just as it wouldn’t make sense for you or your company.

Whether you have one rookie onboard or an entire new team, you need to quickly develop them to perform at their peak. The following guidelines will help you devise a winning training and development outline that produces results.

Lead by example
Leadership is the key, and a great sales manager builds a great team. If your sales managers are not “10s” (on a 1 to 10 scale), get them a top-notch coach so they’re equipped to develop into 10s. Having 10s at the top results in 10s at the bottom. It’s a simple equation, but most companies have more 5s than 10s at the top. The less money you spend designing your company’s future, the fewer profits in everyone’s pockets.

Mentoring is a more targeted approach than classroom training. Effective one-on-one coaching enables you to invest necessary time and effort to help each individual rookie. This is important because each person’s wants and needs are different than the rest of the team. Yes, it takes time but the rewards are great. Focus on individuals weekly.

Provide incentives
Incentives work extremely well for almost everyone. If some of your players don’t get excited about incentives, move them to another department. Money is a yardstick for salespeople, and most rookies need it for their first new house or first new car. Older folks like making more money, too, because it helps them sustain the lifestyle they want to enjoy. Whether it’s commissions, bonuses, trips to the Caribbean, an extra week of vacation, stereos, etc., find out what pulls the younger reps’ trigger. Then, help them achieve it so they get their first taste of recognition.

In addition to money, employee development programs enable you to recruit and retain great players. For example, the SITE Foundation conducted a survey last year and found that almost three-quarters of the respondents stated that “professional growth and development” motivated them. Additionally, Jill Harrington, a performance improvement consultant, wrote in Incentive Magazine (July 2003) of a study where “participants indicated that 0 percent of managers actually provided coaching and encouragement.” That’s 0, as in zero! While the results are alarming, they’re also great news for you. Since your competitors aren’t fully developing people, when you decide to be great at coaching, you’ll dominate the marketplace.

Sending your rookies away for an internship is a great way to quickly broaden their perspectives. For example, one distribution company owner sent his newest recruit (his son) to work elsewhere as an intern for one year. He arrived at his intern position as a spoiled brat and departed as a mature self-starter. He very quickly rose through the sales ranks in his early 20s. Now in his late 20s, he serves as a regional sales manager and excels at getting modest performers to all-time highs. Without the internship, he would still be a mediocre salesperson. An internship with a “skills-building” company enables rookies to earn the privilege of joining you and ensures they’ll be equipped to hit the streets quickly.

If you aren’t able to send your rookies away for an internship, invest in an in-house program. Arrange for an outside resource to assist with field training and one-on-one coaching. Choose the resource carefully. A poor choice will cost you money; a great choice will result in millions in new revenues. The other choice is to do nothing and have a bunch of rookies forever.

Provide field training
You can’t expect your rookies to conduct good sales visits when they don’t know how. New people will not know the products well enough for a period of time, and they need the training from a more experienced salesperson. That’s where field training with a sales manager or a top producer comes into play.

If your rookies are as green as toads, plan on four consecutive weeks of field training before you let them run loose. Then, leave them alone for two weeks, but monitor their efforts/results in person or by telephone daily. Next, get back out there with them for two to three days and then vacate the premises for another two weeks. Any sales manager who won’t follow this regimen needs to re-evaluate whether he or she should really be managing, because developing rookies into star performers requires time, guidance and some TLC (tender loving care).

Plan and manage time
The average salesperson loses 3-½ hours daily. That tabulates to over 20 weeks of lost time annually! The prime cause for lost productivity is investing too much time with smaller clients. You need to teach your rookies to invest major time with major clients and minor time with minor clients. Then, they need to learn to never make an unplanned call. Help them plan the purpose of the sales visit including what to ask, what to say, and what support materials to bring with them.

Also, review their weekly itinerary. Catch them before the week starts and ask questions such as “Why are you going there?” and “What do you plan on accomplishing?” Give your advice on what must be added to the client agenda such as “Be sure to ask this…” and “Share this….” Doing so teaches them to think and plan for success.

Encourage self-education
As the leader, you must demand your rookies engage in self-education. Make sure they subscribe to the daily newspaper(s), as most young salespeople don’t read enough. Get them a subscription to every trade magazine. Buy them a few well-chosen books on sales, and get feedback on what they learned. They need to read about the industry and their profession to become experts in their trade. Also, provide them with audiocassettes about the sales profession. This enables them to turn their car into a university on wheels. The majority of clients want a savvy representative calling on them. Younger reps will not be very savvy unless they become serious students, and serious students get serious results.

Your future depends heavily on your rookies, and they’ll depend on you for the nurturing they need. Rather than squirm at the thought of training and development, look at it as a responsibility that can be very fulfilling. If, after all the training, your rookies don’t drink the water you led them to, remove or reassign them. Some youngsters are trying the sales profession for the first time and find it to be harder and not as glamorous as they imagined.

Bill Veeck, a great baseball man and former team owner, once traded 24 mediocre players in the off-season. A reporter said, “Mr. Veeck, that’s just about the whole team.” Veeck replied, “Yep. I figured the more of these players I got on other teams, the better chance we would have.” Develop the dedicated rookies and bench the others. Stay with the game plan and you’ll have your superstars ready to play ball by the first pitch.

About the author
Bill Blades, CMC, CPS is a sales and leadership specialist and author of “Top Gun Selling.” Blades can be reached at (480) 563-5355, email: [email protected] or website:



Comments are closed.