In a hurry to get newly hired salespeople into their territories and selling? The rush may be costing your company more than you know in lost sales and in sales-force turnover. At Paychex Inc., a $120-million supplier of payroll and other business services, every new salesperson goes through seven weeks of training before even meeting a prospect. The result: new hires become productive (that is, start earning more than their draw) twice as fast as before, and turnover has fallen dramatically.

Gene Polisseni, vice-president of marketing, calculates that Paychex spends $3,500 per trainee to operate a professionally staffed school at the company's Rochester, N.Y., headquarters. That amount includes instructors' salaries as well as transportation, housing, and meals for the trainees. It may seem like a lot, says Polisseni, but it's a lot less than the roughly $18,600 it costs Paychex to recruit, interview, hire, and train a replacement for a salesperson who gets fired or quits.

The thinking behind the Paychex approach is that every salesperson first has to know and understand the company's products. In Paychex's case, those are payroll and other administrative services provided to a national market of client companies. Consequently, during the first three weeks of the Paychex school, the 16 or so students that start every month take courses on tax laws and accounting principles, and study the services that Paychex sells to its clients.

During the three weeks, the new hires live in company-owned condominiums, drive company-rented cars, and pay their expenses out of a company-granted stipend. After three weeks they take a comprehensive exam. If they don't pass, they go home to look for another job. Those who pass are sent to work for two weeks at a Paychex operations branch to learn firsthand what the company does. They also accompany branch salespeople on calls, but only to watch and listen.

In the last week, it's back to Rochester for more classroom work, now, finally, on selling skills. The courses include Sales Presentations, Visual Selling (reading the customer's body language), Closing, and Time and Territory Management. Only after graduation does the new salesperson get to solo on an actual sales call.

Paychex's school employs 11 full-time instructors -- some former schoolteachers and some field personnel. Dan DeJoy, who runs the sales-training part of the curriculum, was Paychex's sales rookie of the year in 1988. He's committed to staying at the school for two years before going back to sales. "It's a good idea," he says, "to keep the teaching positions filled by people fresh from the field."

Even if you can't afford a full-blown sales school, Polisseni contends, whatever time you can spend teaching your salespeople about your company's specific products or services and procedures can help them get up to speed faster in the field. "Training is an investment that a progressive company can't afford not to make," he says.

-- Tom Richman

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