This article originally appeared in WQP June 2020 issue as "The Do's & Dont's"
Whether you are adding to an existing sales team or you are introducing a sales department to your existing business, it is common to become overwhelmed with the whole process. Hiring, training and retaining a sales team can be a challenge. The cost associated with bringing on a sales team is not inexpensive, so you want to make sure you get it right.
In this three-part series we will discuss best practices for hiring a sales team, the do’s & don’t of training, and retaining a team that will represent your company and the industry with honesty, integrity and passion for years to come. This segment will have helpful tips on properly training new sales personnel.
The first day is sometimes hectic. There will be introductions and onboarding paperwork. Because the first day is usually a Monday, the new hire would start on the busiest day of the week. The last thing you want is for the new hire to feel like they are walking into an unorganized organization.
It is recommended to have everything they need to succeed ready and waiting on the first day. Do you remember the pride of a new box of crayons and other supplies on the first day of school? When a new employee is welcomed by a demonstration kit, laptop, cell phone, business cards and company shirt, they feel like a part of the team. Spending an hour piecing together test kits with the new team can make them feel like they were an after thought. Your new employee is eager to learn, not stand around while you dig through drawers for a mixing bowl.
During the training phase you may want to consider a training salary. It is common for companies to have eight weeks of a straight training salary, then 16 weeks of a reduced training salary plus reduced commission to transition into their final agreed pay structure. This will allow the new sales professional to focus on education, networking and creating business. If they are properly networking, they should start seeing those relationships come to fruition within five to six months.
The Training Schedule
One of the biggest reasons for a high sales team turnover is improper training. Many sales people have stated they worked with a company which trained in a classroom for one week then sent them out to the wolves. This leads to frustration, lack of direction and incorrect equipment recommendations.
It is important to have a four-week tentative training schedule. This will most likely change as you get to know the strengths and weaknesses on your new team members; however, having a plan in place to ensure all necessary topics are covered prior to sending them out on their own is a great start.
Some areas of focus could include: testing and demonstration; water chemistry; common water concerns in your area; which equipment you offer to treat those concerns; organization; networking; canvassing; and creating business.
One of the biggest challenges is finding the time to work one on one with your new team or hire. There is so much to learn in the industry and some dealerships hire an outside company to train their team. Some have manufacturer boot camps. Some will rely on other employees in the company to help with the process. Either way, it is important the new employees are not left to figure things out on their own.
The First Day
One of the biggest responsibilities of the sales professional is in home water testing and demonstrations. The first lesson should be to watch a full sales appointment complete with water testing, explanations of each test, and demonstrations to support those tests. This will allow the sales professional to view the appointment with little knowledge of the water industry and as a homeowner would. Witnessing the response to a soap and tea demonstration is exciting.
Have patience. Every person learns at a different pace. Some will have strengths in customer relations and others will have strengths on the technology side. It does not mean one will be more successful than the other, it just means they will have their own trademark.
Repetition is important. You may focus on water testing and demonstration on the first day, but you have to make sure to practice consistently over the next few weeks until the sales professional is comfortable. This is the same with equipment, pricing, closing and more.
Do you remember your first day in the industry? If you grew up in the industry that might be a little more difficult, so remember the first time you were introduced to something new. It is easy as a trainer to start throwing out terminology and using industry lingo when explaining equipment. Make sure you start with the basics of how a softener works, the definitions of timered, metered, downflow, upflow and proportional. Then, explain the benefits of your equipment.
Long days are expected and necessary while training. You need your sales team to get used to the non-traditional schedule. However, do not be afraid to have short days also. If your employee is on information overload they will not retain what you are teaching. They will appreciate the mental break every once in a while.
Get in Homes
In the first week, have your new sales professional call existing customers. They can ask to swing by to introduce themselves and check the current equipment to make sure everything is working well. This is will get your employee comfortable with talking to customers, a feel for your company, knowledge on plumbing and application, and maybe a possible referral.
Your sales professional should also ride with each of your service and installation technicians. This will accomplish all of the above in addition to understanding what the technician requires from the sales team to ensure a smooth installation plus team camaraderie.
On the second day, ask how comfortable the employee would be if they were set free to run appointments and network that day. Ask them what they feel their strengths are and what their weaknesses are. Often they do not know what they do not know. This will allow you to refer to the training schedule and begin setting goals.
These benchmarks may look something like this:
- Week 1 — Employee learns testing and demonstrations.
- Week 2 — Employee grows plumbing assessments and basic water treatment knowledge. They visit 10 homes (current or new customers).
- Week 3 — Employee begins networking and building relationships with three companies.
- Week 4 — Employee can fully explain equipment and is comfortable with closing.
At the beginning of each week ask again how comfortable the employee would be if they were set free to run appointments and network that day. Ask them what they feel their strengths are and what their weaknesses are. This will not only determine what areas of training you need to focus on, but the sales professional will realize how much they have really retained.
From there, set one-month, two-month, three-month, six-month benchmarks and so on. These should include sales (units or monetary) goals, education goals, Water Quality Association (WQA) certification, networking goals, and self-generated business goals.
Lead by Example
As a seasoned water treatment representative you have probably picked up a few shortcuts. Those shortcuts are overcome by knowledge and confidence. When a new sales professional witnesses these shortcuts they will struggle. For example, teach them a full sales demonstration. Not every home will require a full demonstration; however, the new sales professional will have it available when it is needed.
When asking a new employee to make phone calls, network or canvass, it is important you perform these tasks with them a few times. Often they will state, “You make it look so easy.” Be sure to explain that there was a time it was not so easy and that it comes with both practice and experience.
Learning From Others
Teachers have different ways of teaching and students learn in different ways. Suggest your new sales professionals join groups were they can learn from others. Many manufacturers can match your team up with another team. You can also contact your regional or national WQA for recommendations of groups that are not product or manufacturer specific. Soon your sales professional will begin mentoring others.
The training process can be challenging; however, it is rewarding to see the excitement of a new sales professional learning about the water treatment industry. You are not only changing the life of that individual, but also of all the homeowners they are able to assist in their water needs.
In the last segment of this article series on training and staffing we will discuss how to continue that excitement and retain your sales team.