The Benefits Of A Sales Training Program
Biometric VAR trains his salespeople for one year on products, support and installation before they call on potential customers. Can this approach work for your company?
How many salespeople do you know who would be willing to wait one year before making a sale? Probably not many. But the salespeople who work at Time Recorders Unlimited (Glen Mills, PA) do just that.
"The basic company philosophy is unless you are going to learn the products inside and out, we're not going to let you go out and sell them," says Chris Biddle, sales manager for the company. The mandatory one-year training program for his salespeople is paying off. According to Biddle, his company's sales increase by 35% each year as a direct result of having a technically-trained sales staff. Time Recorders Unlimited sells time and attendance hardware and software primarily to the manufacturing market. The privately-held company has 12 employees. The company is anticipating opening additional offices in the southeastern United States to be closer its growing customer base.
Wanted: A Technical Background
The "on-the-job training program" as Biddle describes it, requires a salesperson to spend equal time working in the service, support and installation departments. "People often weed themselves out of the hiring process once they learn of the training involved," says Biddle.
When evaluating potential sales candidates, Biddle looks for candidates with technical experience, not necessarily people who hold college degrees. "A background in IT or payroll processing is highly preferable," says Biddle. "Ultimately, we want our salespeople to have strong technical backgrounds and speak confidently about the products we resell," says Biddle.
"The first year is spent functioning as a "second" on the job," explains Biddle. A new salesperson, for example, will spend several weeks sitting with telephone support staff. At that time, their job is to just listen. "You get a different idea of what comes up in various installations. Someone may call because their system has failed and payroll is due out in five minutes," says Biddle. How does this benefit a salesperson on the job? According to Biddle, the salesperson will be better prepared to answer support questions during a sales call. Handling support issues is key. "The majority of our business comes from referrals. These referrals are often based on how successfully we've handled service and support for someone," Biddle explains.
Salespeople also spend a period of time at actual installations. "They don't just stand around and watch," says Biddle. This experience pays off when the trainee is working in sales six months later. "When a customer asks, ‘can you mount a time and attendance unit here,' the salesperson, having done it, can answer confidently, 'yes' or 'no'," explains Biddle.
Building Customer Relationships
Biddle says while his program isn't unique, it's unlike some traditional sales training programs. "We don't hire three or four salespeople, put them out in the field, and keep them on only if they meet quotas," says Biddle. "We're planning for long-term growth. Part of that means maintaining customer relationships and encouraging referrals." Biddle does not want salespeople in the field making promises the company can't keep simply because they don't understand the products. "To sell the products, you have to understand their limitations, as well as their capabilities," says Biddle.
Sales Training Is Ongoing
Because of its steady growth, Time Recorders Unlimited has a cyclical training program. When one salesperson's training is completed, another salesperson's training is beginning. The salesforce receives on-going training by attending weekly meetings. Every Monday, Biddle reviews new products and applications with his staff. The status of each person's sales is also discussed. "We share ideas on how to move those sales forward," Biddle explains.
One-Year Program Can Slow Growth
While this system works for Time Recorders Unlimited, Biddle does not recommend it for every company. He admits the year of training costs his company both time and money. "We're basically eating that person's salary for one year. However, if that person makes five reasonable sales the next year, we're ahead," says Biddle. Public companies or those funded through venture capital may find that this method slows growth. "If you're concerned only with monthly bottom line results, this not the approach for you," says Biddle.
But, if you want confident salespeople and customer referrals, Biddle strongly recommends this type of approach. "The book is no substitute for experience," Biddle says.