Bringing on new hires can be frustrating, for business owners and customers alike.  As business owners, we have a tendency to rush the training process because we either believe a new hire should be able to do things innately (as we do), or because we desperately need them to be functional immediately. However, if a new hire is not trained properly, it can have terrible effects on customer confidence and directly impact your business growth.  I learned this the hard way; I've sometimes allowed new reps to help our customers before they truly had the skills to do the job.

In order to safeguard our customer relationships and guarantee that new hires have been given the right tools to succeed, Metal Mafia, the wholesale jewelry company I founded, now has a five-step training process for our sales recruits.

Here's how it works:

1. Observe

When a new sales rep starts, he first spends time observing veteran sales reps performing the same duties he will be expected to master. He will listen to multiple sales reps make sales calls, watch them enter orders, take notes on how they interact with their customers, and evaluate which communication techniques seem to be most effective in meeting customers' needs.

2. Learn 

Only once the new hire has studied the job being performed in its entirety is he taught the details of the job.  In this phase, he learns our products—in specific and meaningful ways.  A sales rep is taught about the materials, fabrication, and sizing.  We demonstrate the products for him, and then ask him to spend time using  them.  We also ask him to generate questions about the products, so he can feel comfortable speaking about and selling them. Then he is taught how our customers use our products.  Only when he has mastered these specifics through repeated memorization exercises, game playing, and testing is he deemed ready to move on to the next step.

3. Practice

In stage three, the new hire spends time practicing what he has learned.  He is asked to enter written orders to master our computer system. He takes fake role-play style orders over the phone—read to him by other sales reps who make sure that he experiences how real customers may say things or actual questions he may encounter. Any errors are recorded and discussed at the end of each session, and then re-tested in a similar circumstance the following day.

4. Shadow 

When the new hire is ready, he moves into the shadow stage.  Here he will follow seasoned sales reps on each of their calls, and attempt to take the same order the veteran rep is taking without making mistakes on his own computer. After each shadow order, he compares his order to the veteran's.  After getting perfect scores on multiple back-to-back orders, the rookie graduates from the shadow stage.

5. Prove. The new rep is now given the opportunity to talk to real customers, with a veteran rep shadowing him.  When actual customers call in, they are offered the option to allow a new hire to take their order, knowing that a seasoned rep will be taking the order simultaneously to be sure the order is error free.  Our customers generally like to participate in our training programs because they receive free shipping in exchange—and they get a peek at the new hires they might one day choose to work with. Only when the new hire proves he is able to handle the job in real customer interactions does he become a full-fledged member of the sales team.

This process can be shorter or longer depending on the experience and skills the new recruit brings to the table, but the vision always remains the same.  New hires must be shown what they are going to learn, and then given the chance to learn it. Once they demonstrate in-depth product knowledge, they must be tested to see how they apply it. Only when they have proven that they can both talk the talk and walk the walk, do we set them free—giving the new reps the confidence they need to help our customers, and me the peace of mind I require to allow them to do so.