In the past two issues, we wrote about hiring or being hired. Deone Johnson, vice president of sales with Brissman-Kennedy, an AmSan distributor in St. Paul, Minn., and I continued to discuss training new hires. We would like to share our thoughts.

I keep hammering on the idea that to be successful in the selling business, you need to have: a) product knowledge, b) industry knowledge, and c) selling skills. Numerous times, Deone and I have noticed that success and failure are contingent on these three areas. For that reason, your training must concentrate on each one.

The intensity of the training first depends on your new hire’s experience. Has the person been in the jan/san industry? Maybe the hire is coming from within your organization, from a competitor, or even from a customer. If so, that hire probably has product or industry knowledge, and maybe some selling skills. You should know that from your interviews during the hiring process. You should ask the right questions in order to determine the extent of their knowledge.

To be successful in selling janitorial supplies, the sales rep must be an excellent janitor; this takes time. We recommend a heavy dose of floor care, both hard floor and carpet care with hands-on training along with restroom cleaning and general cleaning. Have you ever seen an untrained person trying to wet/damp mop a floor? How about run a floor machine? If they try this in front of a customer for the first time, they may get laughed out of the place. Precise product knowledge might sound obvious, but it requires the right kind of training.

This training should be done by someone who can do it thoroughly. It should include demonstrations and discussions of the proper use of chemicals, types of chemicals, dilution ratios, pH, and MSDS sheets, along with the proper use and care of your full range of equipment.

In order to be successful in sales, you must have confidence. Confidence comes from knowledge, which comes from thorough training. Hands-on training, role playing and performing actual cleaning duties will build knowledge and confidence.

That’s a little bit about product knowledge, but what about industry knowledge?

You should explain a number of things to your new hire: Who is selling what in your market? What products are yours alone and what products should be treated like a commodity? What is the difference between a national brand, a house brand and a private label program? How does your product line stack up with your competitors? What about pricing? We could go on and on about product knowledge and industry knowledge, but you get the idea.

What about selling skills? How much time do you spend working with your current sales force in this very important area, let alone with a new hire?

I have seen it happen many times: by not asking the right set of questions, or by handling an objection improperly, a sale goes to a competitor and, of course, the excuse is, “They undercut my price.”

Selling skills include abilities such as planning, asking questions, listening, handling objections, and explaining the features, advantages and benefits of a product. Finally, your salesperson has to know how to close the order. If you don’t have a plan for cultivating these skills in your training program, chances are you will waste a lot of money and you and your new hire will be very disappointed. More on selling skills in our next article.

To share your selling ideas, fax: (414) 228-1134, contact Mr. Dixon at (877) 379-3566 or e-mail.