When I started VerticalResponse we had just four employees. With such a tight knit group there wasn't really a need for company or product training. We all knew everything that was happening, who our customers were, how our product worked, and how to sell it.
But what happens when a company starts to grow and the tight knit group starts to unravel? Inevitably you hire people you don't know and people that might not know your product or market as well as you.
I can tell you that we waited way too long to start formally training our new employees, and for a while it showed. We didn't take the time to invest early in our employees so that they understood our company, our customers, our culture, and our product.
One day I witnessed one of our salespeople who had been with the company for a few months selling something we didn't offer. We could have lost a valuable sale and had an unhappy customer as a result. How could they not have known such a simple thing after months of being here? I cringed. So I put them through a demo of our product with three product experts. They failed miserably. I gave them two more shots. They rose to a C. Could they have gotten past a C with proper training? That remains to be seen. But what I did do that very weekend was go home and construct the first VerticalResponse training program. I also made it someone's job at the company to train all new employees.
I take our training program very seriously. New employees are not only tested on a bit of history about the company, but everyone hired from finance to engineering is put through a training program made up of 12+ chapters. It culminates with a written quiz and a live demo. Engineers can see how our customers use our product so they can make more informed decisions when they write code. Finance can see exactly what they are accounting for, and obviously sales, support, and marketing know exactly what it is they're selling and to whom.
It's never too early to start your own training program in your company. It can start out being pretty simple depending on what your business is. Take the first week of a new employee's time and really engage with them to make them feel welcome. You might follow these simple steps.
Create a document that the employee can be walked through and refer back to.
Go over how the company was started and what your story is. You want to get across why you're passionate about what you do.
Highlight your culture. If you've got published culture, bring them in on it early on.
Get them understanding your products or services and who your customers are.
Investing up front in your new employees will save a lot of time -- and even customer service -- from all parts of your company in the long run, and it'll show in your sales numbers. Start today.
Last updated: Oct 16, 2009
JANINE POPICK is the CEO and founder of VerticalResponse (a Deluxe company), a leading provider of self-service email and event marketing, online surveys, social media, and direct mail solutions. The company was ranked No. 2,802 on the 2012 Inc. 5000. @janinepopick