How to Train Your Young, Inexperienced Sales Force

If you’re a sales manager these days, there’s a good chance you’ve faced the problem of having young, inexperienced sales reps who don’t have the background or training to succeed in their new career without help. They might need more direction than you’re used to giving your direct reports and it can be difficult to know just where to begin. To solve that dilemma, here’s a five-point plan to follow and bring the millennials up to speed.

Start with the basics.
The exciting part about having a neophyte sales force is that there’s an opportunity to influence and mold them to fit your company’s sales process and selling philosophy. So, with that in mind, start with the very beginning. You might think that means product knowledge. While knowing your offerings is a key part, it’s important to go even deeper – to things like what objections are, the general outline of sales conversation, and other things you might take for granted. Literally, this is Sales 101. It’s especially important for those young reps who didn’t take any business classes earlier in their education, or who took courses that looked at macro theory rather than micro, nitty-gritty daily interactions.

Software and cloud-based content are king.
While you might not have grown up around computers and online technologies, having had to acquire the skills later in life, for millennials, such things were part of their formative years, and so it’s intrinsic to them. That means one of the best training strategies you can use is to have content available digitally as part of your overall development process.

That doesn’t mean you replace live instruction or rely wholly on e-learning. Rather, offer a blended set of instruction tools that will appeal to different types of learning styles. Also design the infrastructure of your content storage to make it easily accessible and teach your young sales staff how to access it and find the information they need.

Use model examples – both people and material.
One of the best ways to help guide new sales reps is to provide sample examples and clearly defined structures to work from. Having access to templates and models provides a baseline for them to build off – whether it’s putting together a presentation or seeing the transcript of a sales conversation.

Also have them listen in on sales calls with more experienced reps and use those veterans who display a willingness and capacity as mentors to help teach your new and early career reps. If none are available (for example, your sales force might be wholly new), then you’ll need to provide this level of instruction yourself.

Begin with simple sales, then get progressively more complex.
Regardless of your products or your target markets, there will probably be some sales that are small in size or relatively straight-forward. These are the ideal opportunities to start inexperienced reps on – the price of failure (if it does happen) is comparatively small, and there’s less things for the greenhorns to keep track of.

If you’re in an industry that doesn’t offer any less complex sales, consider a team-based selling approach, where more senior reps take the lead and the junior ones work on some small aspects of the project. The more tenured rep can model the proper selling behaviors and process while the newer ones can still get hands-on experience with an actual sale as a stepping stone to eventually handling the fuller experience themselves.

Expect to reinforce and repeat.There’s an old joke in the teaching profession that the job involves saying the same thing over and over. There’s some truth to that, and it’s something that you’ll have to be aware of when dealing with an inexperienced sales team. We’ve talked before about the importance of reinforcement, but for new sales reps, repetition will involve repeating yourself, repeating yourself, and repeating yourself. Keep calm and carry on – advertising, too, needs repeat exposure before things stick (just to give a related example).

While it can at times be frustrating dealing with a sales team of Jon Snows who know nothing, the potential for sales heroes reside within. Patience, a slow and gradual process, support from multiple streams of people and technology, and a willingness to go over things multiple times will eventually nurture your new sales reps (in every sense of the phrase) into possible star performers who lift the company overall.

Interested in additional information on best onboarding practices? We’ve recently published a new research report in conjunction with Selling Power that takes a closer look at formal onboarding practices for new sales reps. You can download our report and its findings here.