At the time, Byte & Floppy Computers had a rudimentary training period for new salespeople that consisted mostly of self-directed learning activity (for example, reading computer textbooks and current magazines for up-to-date terminology and product specifications) and observing other salespeople in action. While a few hires developed successfully via this "baptism by fire" method, the learning curve for most was steep and the rate of employee retention for recent hires was unacceptably low. I proposed that we adopt a more structured training program. Specifically, the program would involve much more hands-on interaction, coaching, and direction from Management than had taken place previously. This paper that I submitted, both in class and in the workplace, includes an outline of the training plan that I proposed (mentioned in my résumé). It was implemented at Byte & Floppy Computers with minor modifications, resulting in a significant improvement in new hire retention and an overall increase in sales volume for the Corporate Sales Department. I believe that the timely relevance of the assignment serves as a prime example of the practical nature of the education that I received at the University of Phoenix.
Top (top of this page)
Background - Background of the Problem
Solving - Solving the Problem
Product - Training in Product Knowledge
Policy - Training in Policies and Procedures
Tools - Training in Using Tools
Cost-Benefit Analysis (CBA) - Cost / Benefit Analysis
Schedule - Training Schedule (Appendix A of paper)
Training New Salespeople at Byte & Floppy
University of Phoenix
Prof. C. Dawson
September 1, 1999
Training New Salespeople at Byte & Floppy
According to Katzenbach and Santamaria (1999), front line employees are in a position to create the most impact upon the organization. They are a customer's most important point of contact in conducting business with a company. It is interaction with these employees that will determine whether a customer forms a positive opinion of the company. Therefore, it is essential that businesses train their front line employees to create the best customer experience.
Salespeople are the farthest forward front line employees. They have the most direct and consistent contact with many customers. They must be knowledgeable about the products they are selling. They must know the internal procedures for placing and fulfilling orders. They need to understand customer service policies so that they can resolve issues. Salespeople also need to be able to use company tools to maximize their efficiency. A well designed training program for salespeople should seek to address each of these areas before turning them loose on the world.
Byte & Floppy Computers is a local family-owned computer retailer. Like many of its competitors, Byte & Floppy faces a challenge in retaining salespeople. Salespeople move on to other opportunities, relocate, or become ineffective in selling. When a new salesperson is brought aboard, it is in the best interests of the company to invest substantially in training that individual, for the reasons mentioned above. Currently, this training is achieved at Byte & Floppy by placing the salesperson on the sales floor, in the firing line as it were, and learning by doing. This paper will discuss why the current situation is ineffective, suggest a professional development plan to replace it, and evaluate the anticipated costs and benefits of this plan.
Background of Problem
Before solving this problem, it is first necessary to define it. Currently, when Byte & Floppy hires a new salesperson, they are given a brief tour of the office, usually a half workday, and assigned to work on the retail sales floor. It is hoped that the employee will learn what they need to know by observing and imitating other salespeople, presumably the most successful ones. This approach does minimize the cost impact of training, since there is, effectively, no training. However, it does create a substantial burden upon the company in other ways.
In the 12 months ending June 30, the company hired <PRIVATE> new salespeople. <PRIVATE> were still employed with the company 90 days after their hire date. Only <PRIVATE> are still with Byte & Floppy today (Company figures, 1999). Some of the turnover can be explained by job-hopping, differences between a new hire's expectations and the realities of the job, and poor performance. However, these reasons do not fully explain the trend. Much of it can be attributed to inadequate training that may leave new employees feeling frustrated and not competent in their job. Several ex-employees cited insufficient training as a reason for leaving (Company figures, 1999). Clearly, the current training method, while expedient and inexpensive, is inadequate.
Solving the Problem
According to Dessler (1997), the first step in developing a training program is assessing what training is required. As mentioned previously, new salespeople require training in product knowledge, internal procedures for placing and fulfilling orders, customer service policies, and in using tools provided by the company. Katzenbach and Santamaria (1999) state that many companies today devote very little time and effort to providing this training and, thus, present to the world a staff of ill-trained front-line employees. It will be the goal of this program to ensure that Byte & Floppy will not be numbered among the companies covered by that statement.
Training in Product Knowledge
Product knowledge is a salesperson's lifeblood. Customers look to a salesperson to provide expertise and intelligent recommendations. Before Byte & Floppy offers employment to a new salesperson, the candidate must successfully pass a basic knowledge test that touches upon industry jargon and general computer knowledge. Fortunately, new hires can be safely assumed to possess at least a limited working knowledge of the product they sell.
The new training program can begin from this assumption and work towards solidifying and building the new hire's knowledge. The best way for a new recruit to become familiar with the company's products is to inventory them. This stage of training will see the employee take a comprehensive inventory of the store's stock, noting locations of merchandise, major product features, and competitive attributes between products. As new salespeople can also be assumed to have a high degree of interest in computers, this inventory should be conducted quickly.
Focusing the new employee upon this task will enhance their familiarity with the store's layout, the range of products offered, and in understanding how products compare to each other. This portion of training will be allocated the one and one-half business days immediately following the initial half-day orientation.
Training in Internal Procedures & Policies
Byte & Floppy, despite its small size, has a fairly efficient system of communicating orders from sales to purchasing, placing and receiving orders, and informing salespeople when merchandise arrives. This efficiency comes at the price, however, of having a process to be followed that is not intuitive and must, therefore, be taught.
Here, the currently used methods can be modified to serve the purpose of training. The process for placing and receiving orders is not complex so it is well suited to learning by doing. As part of the new program, each new salesperson will be assigned a mentor, preferably their sales manager, who will directly oversee that person's training from start to finish.
On the employee's third day, he or she will assist their mentor in fulfilling orders for the day. At the beginning of the day, the mentor will perform the necessary work, allowing the employee to observe and take notes. Later, the employee will process the orders while the mentor supervises to correct mistakes or answer questions. This training will provide the new salesperson real experience with the process and foster a working relationship with their mentor.
Despite their best efforts, salespeople will inevitably encounter customer service problems. A thorough understanding of the company's policies allows an employee to confidently negotiate to settle any issues to the satisfaction of the company and the customer. During the fourth day of the new training program, the mentor can explain Byte & Floppy's policies to the new hire, citing examples from their experience. Role-playing can be employed to help the new salesperson become familiar with applying policies.
Training in Using Tools
The company provides numerous tools to increase efficiency. They include software for generating quotations, contact management, researching product information, sending and receiving voice and electronic mail, and the company's point of sale system. Each tool is a key ingredient of performing the job containing its own interfaces, commands, and displays.
Here, again, the mentor will be the primary training mechanism. The mentor will spend six business days training the new employee in each area, each day focusing upon one specific tool. This will allow the new employee to get specific direction in each application and then, also, to learn by imitating their mentor's use of them.
Costs and Benefits of the Program
This training program does add some costs in hiring. New salespeople will not be selling during their training time. Their mentors will similarly see reduced selling time by devoting time to training new hires. The new training program will consume the first two weeks of a new hire's schedule (Appendix A). This will effectively cost the company 20 days of labor (10 for the new hire and 10 for the mentor).
However, it is also anticipated that this program will provide substantial benefits to the company. According to Dessler (1997), a solid training program imparts company values and loyalty to new recruits. Although difficult to predict a monetary impact, it could be reasonably assumed that the installation of this training program could have enormous positive impact in reducing turnover and decreasing the frustration that new hires experience currently.
Summary and Conclusion
Salespeople are the front line of Byte & Floppy that customers deal with when they visit the store. A customer's impression of the company that they remember and share with friends and colleagues will be largely based upon their interaction with them. As a result, Byte & Floppy cannot afford to place inadequately trained personnel upon the front line. These employees must be trained in product knowledge, internal procedures, customer service policies, and using the tools the company provides.
The potential benefits to implementing the professional development plan outlined in this paper vastly outweigh the costs. Byte & Floppy has experienced a high rate of turnover and has received feedback indicating that poor training substantially contributes to that trend. It is this author's opinion that to reverse the trend, Byte & Floppy should immediately begin using the suggested training plan.
Byte & Floppy Computers (1999). Company figures. Available internally (confidential files).
Dessler, G. (1997). Human Resources Management (7th ed.). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall.
Katzenbach, J. R. & Santamaria, J. A. (1999, May-June). Firing Up the Front Line. Harvard Business Review, 107-117.
Proposed Training Schedule for New Salespersons
Day 1 - Initial Orientation
˝ day - Office orientation, completion of paperwork, assignment to mentor
˝ day - Inventory of store stock (self) - See mentor with questions
Day 2 - Inventory
Full day - Inventory of store stock (self) - See mentor with questions
Day 3 - Process for Placing and Fulfilling Orders
˝ day - Observe mentor placing orders with Purchasing (take notes)
˝ day - Enter mentor's orders based upon earlier activities (supervised by mentor)
Day 4 - Customer Service Policies
Full day - Following mentor, learning policies. Role playing scenarios to enhance understanding (supervised by mentor).
Day 5 - E-mail & Internet applications
Full day - Training on using Internet (Explorer) and e-mail (Outlook Express). Set up employee e-mail (with mentor).
Day 6 - Voice mail & phone system
Full day - Training on using phones & voice mail. Set up employee voice mail. (with mentor).
Day 7 - Contact Management Software
Full day - Training on contact management (Act!) (with mentor).
Day 8 - Product Research
Full day - Training on conducting product research (with mentor).
Day 9 - Quotation Software
Full day - Training on quotation software (IPAQ) (with mentor).
Day 10 - Point of Sale System
Full day - Training on POS. Entering invoices, payments, etc (Great Plains) (with mentor).
Also, evaluation and assessment of training. Q&A for any unanswered questions.
© Earl Langenberg - 2000. All rights reserved.