At a recent Inc. magazine conference, speaker Norm Brodsky, CEO of CitiStorage in New York City, asked a simple question: When you hire new salespeople, how long should their initial training session last? One attendee shouted out 30 days. Another said 60 days, explaining that salespeople at his company are required to get out on the shop floor and actually make the product they sell. After a few more comments from the crowd, Brodsky revealed his benchmark: No more than a week or two, with only a few exceptions.

"We tell people, 'You're going to learn our operation in six days.' They get a few hours on the phone, three hours in accounting, four hours having coffee with key managers. Then, after they've been with us for two years, they come back inside for a month of training. We schedule it in, we have our sales map for the month, and we just make believe the salespeople are on vacation. It's amazing. They learn my product better. They learn the internal problems firsthand, and assimilate into the company. I can't afford not to have my company running as a single, cohesive unit. Working together means the customer gets better service, higher satisfaction."

Other helpful tips from Brodsky, otherwise known as the three C's:

 

  • Cross-training: Employees from finance, administration, customer service -- you nameit -- go out on sales calls for a week with Brodsky (to learn sales techniquesand how to talk to would-be clients) or with other salespeople who areconsummate deal closers. The result: operations people learn how demandingcustomers are and become more willing to help sellers, who reciprocate bylending a hand in customer service when time allows. "Now when salespeoplereport that competitors are selling a service for $5 and the best we canoffer is $7, they get together with people on the inside and make it work."
  • Compensation: With commissions the norm in his industry, Brodsky offersnew sellers a generous salary plus a two-year commission deal. At the dawnof year three, they come in for training, and he buys them out of the dealby offering 100% of total earnings for the previous year. "Cutting salariesis tantamount to firing them." The result: a more pleasant, homogeneousworkplace where salespeople actually take vacations, have meaningful annualreviews, and participate in the overall bonus game.
  • Communication: "In seven years we've lost only one customer, and it cameto us as a shock. By the time we found out, they had already made up theirmind. We did some talking and came up with a solution: encourage customersto re-sign contracts a year before they expire instead of the usual 60 days.Now we have a whole year to fix anything." The result: open communicationmeans more creative solutions.

 

All told, it took five years for Brodsky to get his salespeople on board, and so far his strategy has worked. This year, his largest company has grown 40% without adding asingle salesperson. "It's like the tortoise and the hare," he says. "Give me people who will do $2 million with no headaches instead of $3 million with plenty of headaches. The good people are going to get there. Ultimately, they will thank you for it."

Copyright 1999 Open-Book Management Inc.

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