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As the sales manager in Baton Rouge, La., I recently introduced a concept that seems to be making progress when it comes to recruiting new sales candidates. For several months, I worked with Louisiana State University staff in the career services department and networked among people I knew. The goal was to identify three college seniors interested in a sales career and who possessed the basic salesperson profile.
CHALLENGES WITH HIRING SALESPEOPLEHiring Small - Many small businesses can only budget so many dollars for salespeople. This leads sales managers into a situation whereby only one or two additional sales reps are hired. This works against everyone due to the fact that salespeople are driven by their competitive nature and ego. There is an entirely different environment when a minimum of three salespeople are hired at the same time. No one wants to be the last, and they all want to be first when it comes to mastering the first call message, learning how to phone for appointments, and most importantly, closing orders. There is an undesirable and unacceptable pace and standard that takes root typically when only one or two salespeople are hired.
Corporate Obligation - Another dilemma is the commitment that a moral and ethical company feels when they hire someone that has graduated, has begun a family, and has financial obligations. When things are not working out, such companies are slow to terminate marginal performers. This sets in motion an environment that tells the sales team that mediocrity is tolerated and becomes part of the culture for the sales department. Wrong message! With interns, everyone understands that the stint is short and not permanent. The employer is in a very good position to decide if this is the person that will make a difference on the sales team or advise the intern that they need to consider another career.
Demand For Graduates - There is something about the current college graduates that has many of them believing that they are owed a job with good pay and benefits. The current market demand has companies making job offers to many college students well before they graduate. As a small company, it can be difficult to compete for college graduates from a top university.
Learning Curve - The challenge of expedited learning for sales reps seems to be more difficult in this age of being entertained. College students in their senior year are accustomed to taking in and applying information that is more difficult than most sales training requirements.
Time Management - The discipline of time management is probably one of the most difficult things for full time salespeople to master. They begin to feel that they have plenty of time to accomplish their tasks, and certainly they put off until tomorrow, more often than not. Interns seem to be proficient with managing their schedules and finishing deadlines with all of the activities they are juggling. They seem to be stressed and pressed, working hard to fit in their appointments and surveys with their existing demands. They view every free moment as key and critical.
A WIN-WIN SALES BOOT CAMPI had seen these challenges first hand as a sales manager and implemented a sales boot camp that has exceeded the “ramp-up” time for sales reps. The opportunity was positioned to the candidates as an opportunity to learn how to master the basic selling disciplines that are applicable to many industries. Therefore, for the candidate that knew he was seriously considering a sales career and had no classes or training in selling, this fit a need. The outcome concluding the intern period was clearly communicated:
• The intern would be well poised to interview for another sales position elsewhere and had this freedom to do so with no guilt.
• Star had the freedom to terminate employment at any time.
• The intern could transfer to another Star office upon graduation and successfully demonstrating success.
• The intern could apply with another Linc Services location in another city. Louisiana has a considerable exodus of college graduates and this needed to be an option. Star has committed to helping them find work elsewhere if they are successful.
All of these clearly communicated outcomes actually helped achieve the best outcome. The students were eager to perform for their future job reference. They were serious about learning the art of selling. Star Service was also free to do as they please without any future obligation.
KEY MILESTONESThe sales process used by Star Service requires proficiency with the following milestones in order to be successful:
First Call Message - Being able to articulate the services being offered to a decision maker and positioning the sales process and gaining commitment with a signed Action Plan.
Prospecting - Effectively being able to identify a good/bad prospect, early in the game.
Surveying - Understanding air conditioning basics and identifying opportunities
Financial Justification - Knowing how to position the current mode vs. going with Star Service and doing a trial closer.
Close the Sale - Strategizing and finding ways to close those stubborn orders.
EXPEDITED RAMP-UPThe training was very specific, all done in-house and the interns were routinely challenged to see if they were able to apply what they had learned. A great deal of competition existed among the interns with the following results:
The sales coaching was very demanding in the first 60 days but worth the effort. The training was reinforced each time the intern worked a real opportunity, which made the learning much more effective. The key was getting appointments so that the intern was trained on a real opportunity and they could really learn quickly. I joined each sales rep for each phase of the sales process, until the intern could demonstrate the learned and required skill for each task. This required daily planning and posting of appointments so that the interns didn’t overlap appointments. Each intern was averaging three to five first-calls per week (effective phoning took root at the end of the second week) and the signed Action Plans from prospects began to flow. Everyone knew who had the most appointments each week and who had the most signed Action Plans. Tracking of first-call appointments and the hours worked were factored so that the comparison would compensate for the intern working more or less hours when compared to others.
I never had to confront any of the interns about their lack of activity or accomplishments. They were engaged in a competitive warfare. The full-time sales rep that was with the company for eight months was the only one struggling. He had convinced himself that appointments over the phone were nearly impossible to attain. In 30 days, each intern was far exceeding the sales activity of the experienced and trained sales rep. His resignation soon followed.
The training was efficient, since all three of the interns were embarking upon the same challenges. In addition to the ongoing coaching with every job being worked, sales training took place once a week for about an hour to educate each one on issues such as handling objections, getting the most out of the surveys with pictures, dealing with different personality types, and perfecting the verification/trial closer call.
FINANCIAL IMPACTThe owners agreed to be generous with the hourly pay of $11 plus some car allowance. Currently the average intern in this area is making between $7 and $9 an hour. The total payout for the three-month program came to $14,899 (hourly wages, bonuses, car allowance, cameras, and other essential tools).
Booked business totaled $30,024 for three GLP contracts, $10,560 for three CPM contracts, and they stumbled upon two projects worth $14,200 for a total of $54,784. Weighted bookings came to $111,192. Don’t overlook the pipeline of over 45 signed Action Plans.
The return on investment proved to be superior to the hiring of one full-time sales rep. As time continues and the sales pipelines continue to grow, the benefits will outweigh the traditional approach of hiring an experienced sales rep or even a graduate. Two of the interns were enrolled in summer school while one was able to work 40 hours and therefore there just wasn’t an enormous amount of hours being funded. The flexibility for the students worked well. They all knew the clock was ticking and they were all very competitive, so there was no abuse in missed work.
The interns were required to document their prospecting and call information and are handed over to the secretary to input into a sales management system. The focus needed to be phoning and appointments, not inputting data into a sales information system, which is a distraction for a procrastinating sales rep. Therefore, current names, addresses, and a brief description or status will be in the system for future mail outs or call backs. This is a valuable benefit that can be cultivated in the future.
One intern has been offered full time employment with Star, having only one class to complete for graduation. Another finishes in the spring and has plans to move to Houston and work for Star Service of Houston. The third intern has requested that he continue in the intern program into the fall as he decides his college career options and further studies. All have expressed their satisfaction with the job, as they have compared their pay and learning with other interns. All of the interns have tasted sales commissions and they can’t get enough.
Additionally, their networking and word of mouth has created more interest from other students than available slots. This is probably one of the best benefits to Star in today’s competitive employee market. One of the interns has served as an officer in the Business Fraternity on campus and plans are being made to position this opportunity to others interested in a sales career.
This also was a research and development mission for Star Service. Training will be much different and faster. It has become clear that the speed at which a new hire learns also correlates to sales success. Termination of marginal learners will now be the norm now that the bar has been raised. The company had a paradigm that it takes six months to learn how to sell this service and a full-time salesperson was the only way to attack the market. Sales training costs will likely be half of what it once was. Another interesting find is how the universities don’t seem to be adequately positioning students that have an interest in sales with career opportunities.
Publication date: 11/12/2007