Length of Training of New Sales Associates

Finding effective flooring sales associates in today’s employment landscape is very challenging.  Now retaining them once they are hired has proven to be even more difficult.  Keep in mind those statements come from someone who owns a recruiting company that has hires hundreds of flooring professionals each year.  Since the economic downturn there has been a noticeable downward shift in the length of time that flooring owners are willing to allow for their newly hired sales associate to become a productive member of the sales team.  Many owners are looking to hire a unicorn that has phenomenal experience, can bring a big book of business, and needs very minimal training.  Owners are reluctant to hire inexperience, even thought that candidate may have great potential, because of the training requirement. 

I cannot begin to count how many times I have heard presenters stating or authors documenting that it takes at least a year for someone new to the flooring industry to be proficient in sales.  I have also had hundreds of conversations with flooring owners that agree that it takes at least a year for their sales associates to become peak performers.  If this is so well know in the industry, why is it that most flooring owners train their new sales associates for less than two weeks before they release them to the wild without even providing them the basics?  To me it is like allowing medical students to practice on live patients?  Wouldn’t most of those patients die and many medical schools would be forced to close their doors due to malpractice?  If you really think about it, is that much different for the flooring industry?  Releasing sales associates to work on live customers only to kill the likelihood of purchase and put the store in jeopardy of having to close due to malpractice related to selling skills is pretty much the same thing.

This has become such an issue in our recruiting business that we had to change our replacement guarantees.  We found that when doing exit interviews with candidates that voluntarily quit, the overwhelming majority of the time we were told the same thing; the training was terrible.  The old joke of a flooring owner telling a new sales associate after only 5 minutes of training; “Just remember fuzzy side up” and “You’ll be alright because now you know a little more than the next customer that will walk through the door” is really not that far from the truth.  A recipe that will not work with the millennial work force who demand involvement from their managers and knowledge in order to continue to come to work and produce. 

I remember about 13 years ago when the consulting division of Benchmarkinc was formed we conducted workshop with flooring professionals in the Northwest.  We brought together a group of sales associates, sales managers, and flooring owners to develop the best process to pump out productive sales associates in the shortest amount of time possible.  After that workshop a ten-week training program was created in which sales associates did not speak with a single customer until the entire process was completed.  Yes, I did say ten weeks.  That program, which was used by well over a thousand Benchmarkinc clients, produced sales associates that didn’t take very long to start outselling ten-year veterans.  Through the years that training program has been reduced to eight weeks because of the increase in technology and access to information. 

If you are struggling to quantify how spending that much time and money on training staff will produce results that provide a return, there is valid data available.  According to a survey conducted by Benchmarkinc in which several hundred flooring owners participated over a three-year period ending 2013 independent flooring stores that train their new sales associates for four or more weeks experience:

  • An increase in gross profit of 3%
  • Sales associates that earn nearly 8% more than those who are trained less than four weeks
  • $1.1 million in greater volume

It is important that when developing a training program that the outlined tasks do not overwhelm the system or any of the trainers involved.  Eight-weeks may seem like a lot of time to invest in someone if it is one person doing the training.  However, training should involve your Reps, installers, eLearning content, secret shopping trips to your competitors, various members of your sales, operations, and administrative team, and outside training classes offered by your cooperative/franchise group and/or the WFCA. 

At the completion of the training your new sales rep should have a firm grasp on features and benefits of all flooring categories, have hands on experience on how each is installed, fully understand how to quote each surface, know how to process an order within your system, and be exposed to customer based selling strategies.  All of this comes with lots of practice and roleplay with members of your team throughout the training. 

Just keep telling yourself throughout the process, the cost of implementing an 8-week training program will be a lot less than the cost of employee turnover and bad will i