Take a stroll through any job posting from your favorite career search site and chances are you’ll see a familiar structure to the opportunity listing. The hiring company is almost always looking for someone that possesses a strong set of skills and abilities in areas that will be critical to achieving the goals associated with that position. Those are the “must-have’s” for strong candidates. After that, in cascading order, you might find “nice to have” items such as generalized experience in an industry or a related college degree in a certain field.
A reasonable person might conclude that acquiring a defined set of skills and abilities should be paramount to everyone that wants to architect a lifetime career path.
Professional sales careers are no exception to this rule. The good news is, most aspiring sales pros we meet and interview tell us “training and development” are critical factors when evaluating their potential first-ever sales job options. This is great! It means college undergrads and early stage sales professionals understand the value of acquiring great sales skills when selecting work opportunities.
Unfortunately, the firms doing the hiring of entry-level sales candidates don’t always make it easy to understand how they will help newly minted employees become polished sales pros. Way too many entry-level sales job openings should come with a big warning label when it comes to their sales training plans for you.
“Candidate Beware: We’re too busy and short-staffed to worry about your personal sales skills development. We only have time to teach you about us, now go sell!”
So how will you know if you’ve found a great sales job where you can learn, grow and truly advance your career?
Since we’re not holding our breath for firms to find religion when it comes to full disclosure, here are three hallmarks of an employer with an outstanding employee sales training program.
1. Sales Skills Training is Seriously Stressed
This is going to sound basic, but does your potential employer even offer sales-specific training?
It sounds laughable that an entry-level sales job would lack sales skills training, but it happens all too often. Many businesses are simply too strapped for time and money to put significant horsepower into professional sales skills development for employees.
Yet according to a Gallup Poll, 87% of Millennials indicate that professional development is important to them in a job. And that’s not just lip-service. According to EdAssist, nearly 60% of Millenials, if asked to choose between two similar jobs, will pick the job with strong potential for professional development over one with regular pay raises. This means the young workforce is willing to delay financial rewards to invest in their own long-term job prospects. However, according to the same study, only 26% of Millennials feel their employers are invested in their professional development.
In sales, your skill development is going to be limited if the focus at a prospective employer is purely on training new hires in a company-specific line of products and services. Sales skill building requires investment in ongoing, sales-specific training. There’s a wide variety of styles, formats and educational methods that work well to satisfy this need. All of it needs to be woven into the routine cadence of your work environment.
Is that company waving a stack of money at you able to offer the educational commitment that is needed for true sales skill growth?
Certainly, learning about a company’s core business basics is important for every new hire. But take time to understand if your potential new employer is going to simply ground you in their offerings and turn you free in the sales world or if they plan to invest in your professional growth and development. Ask detailed questions about when, where, how and how often sales training activities takes place. Make sure you both share a vision for your long-term development instead of you being a quick fix for their needs only.
Grabbing a little extra cash in the near-term in exchange for stunted professional growth won’t get you very far in the long run.
2. Training Comes in a Variety of Forms
We covered this topic previously in a detailed post on our blog (“Sales Training: To Entertain Your Employees, Send Them to a Comedy Club”), but it’s important to highlight some key sentiments here. Great sales training is not a short-term “do it once and you’re good” concept. Sending new hires out to a short sales course or giving them a few sales books to read will simply not get the job done.
And a lack of concrete, ongoing sales skills development is going to leave you feeling lost, frustrated and unable to complete your new sales job with any success.
Look for a firm that is offering real skill building activities that will be part of your daily, weekly and monthly work schedule. This is the only way to go from being a novice to a pro in anything. Sales call coaching and breakdowns, regular group training sessions, sales book club-style reading assignments and presentations, computer-based courses, instructor-led learning sessions, a mentorship program and on-the-job experience all help complete a well-rounded sales training program.
This terrific breakdown put together by the Association for Talent Development can help you understand the advantages and disadvantages of a few different modern sales training methodologies. This only covers a few of the more common forms of training, but it can help you understand why finding a firm that offers a mix of these sorts of activities is beneficial.
Your potential can only come to full fruition if your employer is a committed partner in the learning process. Make sure they’re planning to provide you with a strong set of learning activities if you take a sales job with them.
3. Passionately Pushy on Professional Growth
The final hallmark of a firm that plans to invest in your sales skill growth is a demonstrated passion for professional growth. This is tougher to identify when you’re an outside job candidate, but it’s something that you will know when you see it.
Here are some signs that a company prioritizes sales training and coaching:
- Sales training plans and programs are discussed early and often in the candidate interview process. The topic is emphasized and dissected rather than minimized or left largely unmentioned. If the job discussion is more focused on the dream of all the riches you can pile up (if you max out your comp plan) instead of one about the vision for your professional sales future, it’s a red flag.
- The company highlights the value of its people in a variety of ways. Their employee-centered approach will shine through in their online presence, their social media platforms, their marketing materials, during your recruiting process and more. The flip side is a firm that, instead, emphasizes how great its products and services are. Companies that focus on their employees are usually firms that care about professional development.
- Former employees have gone on to enjoy large success and build great sales careers. This one may take some research using LinkedIn, Glassdoor and other online avenues. But if you can find out where people go after they leave a potential employer, you’ll get a good view into the market value they were able to build for themselves while there. That’s one great hallmark of a firm which emphasizes professional sales skill development and growth for brand new hires.
Professional development is a long-term commitment from a company to its staff. But it also carries short-term rewards such as increased employee loyalty and retention, higher employee engagement levels and improved performance. Make sure you evaluate that critical first sales job using the criteria above and you’ll join a firm that is committed to forming a mutually beneficial partnership with you.