Training New Hires for Competitive Advantage

Tom Cunningham

By Tom Cunningham, vice president, Talent Management; Dorman Woodall, director; Willard Scott, program manager, Sales; Paul Wheaton, learning consultant, SkillSoft

Because sales performance is linked directly to customer satisfaction, it’s important for organizations to be vigilant about training to ensure employees have the skill development tools needed to maintain quality customer service. If done well, new-hire sales training can not only positively impact the business but be rewarding for sales professionals. There are several obvious indicators of success, including increased revenue for the company and income for salespeople. But customers also benefit from having company representatives who are knowledgeable and better able to help them solve their problems.

Top-performing sales organizations recognize that sales performance is related to providing clearly defined organizational goals that are relevant to individuals. Most often this is achieved through a system of competencies. These competencies provide behavioral benchmarks and an internal focus that management can use to understand what is required in its sales force. By identifying, articulating, and training to support these competencies, management helps salespeople and others grasp what is required to reach new levels of excellence and achievement.

A provider of e-learning solutions for global businesses, SkillSoft uses a targeted new-hire training program to accomplish this, as a well-trained and motivated sales team is an essential ingredient for the overall growth of its business and the satisfaction of its global customer base. This initiative requires that new SkillSoft sales professionals are trained on how to understand their customers’ unique needs, and how to advise them on how SkillSoft’s varied learning assets can be used to advance their goals for organizational learning. SkillSoft puts all newly hired sales professionals through an extensive blended learning program that ensures they will be able to provide consultative value to prospects and customers as soon as they begin their SkillSoft sales careers.

The overall program theme is “Learn as you Earn,” which emphasizes the new hire’s involvement with sales activities while concurrently participating in the training program. As a provider of technology-enabled learning solutions, SkillSoft is aware that a single formal event without proper support and follow-up activities will endanger the long-term retention of knowledge and skills. For this reason, the sales training program includes a broad array of activities designed to address a variety of learn­ing needs, including blended learning and assessments. SkillSoft products are employed throughout the programming, including SalesPort, SkillSoft’s learning management system that provides employees access to an array of business training resources such as virtual classroom technology (Dialogue), e-learning courseware, and online books (Books24x7), videos (Leadership Development Channel), job aids, and assessments.

The program maps to both formal and informal learning. For example, new hires practice their newly learned skills in a realistic setting with live coaching sessions, simulations, assigned exercises, and role-play presentations. New hires also collaborate and work within a community of peers and colleagues to solve problems and share ideas through virtual and face-to-face meetings, as well as being a member of the SkillSoft social network.

Traditionally, salespeople learned through more of a trial-and-error approach. However, SkillSoft has found this program helps reduce errors, and increases sales satisfaction by shortening the time to certify a new hire’s fundamental knowledge and skills from one year or more to their first three or four months of employment. The program also has allowed management to identify high performers.

SkillSoft sales and senior management team perceive the program to be providing significant value by making the new hires more productive, and, therefore, more successful, in less time than previous approaches.

The bottom line is a new-hire training program can have a huge impact on helping companies meet their business goals, even in a more challenging economy. Because of the commitment SkillSoft made in this area, today the program helps improve sales performance, increase revenue, ease expansion into new global markets, enhance customer relations, enable more cost-effective selling activities, reduce turnover of sales personnel and training costs, and, overall, allow the company to better prepare its sales force to reach new levels of excellence.

Tom Cunningham is vice president of Talent Management; Willard Scott is program manager, Sales; and Paul Wheaton is a learning consultant at SkillSoft. Dorman Woodall is director of Skillsoft Learning. For more information, visit