Time to Competency:
By Thomas Hood
You get a call from a sales leader in the
business you support. She wants to
know why it seems to be taking so long
for her newly-hired sales consultant to get
trained and out into the field. Do you know
what to say beyond that the training schedule
has been posted and agreed to for some time?
Are you able to share with her that your time-frame
is consistent with industry standards?
Our industry is challenged when hiring a
new sales consultant to balance the need to get
them in the field in front of customers quickly
and to also ensure that they are competent and
appropriate in their approach to the customer.
Time to competency is defined as the time
from date of hire and the time when the sales
consultant is considered competent enough to
be in front of customers unsupervised and
properly promoting company products. Time
to proficiency is defined as the time period
between hire and the sales consultant
considered to be exceeding expectations in
their approach to their territory management
and selling approach to the customer, including
The wait time for most companies between
date of hire and time of being competent varies
between 30 to 90 days. In most cases the
training occurs live in person, usually at the
organization’s headquarters. With this
approach, there tends to be a longer waiting
period between training so that enough people
are queued up to make the training effort
efficient. Organizations that are able to achieve
competency in a shorter timeframe (30 days)
do this through in-field certifications that allow
the sales consultant to be in front of customers,
but limited in what they can say.
This approach may get the sales consultant
in front of customers more quickly but needs to
be closely supervised so that the sales
consultant is not putting the company at risk
having not received adequate training.
Organizations that have this approach have infield
certifications but soon follow up with the
in-person, more extensive training.
Time to proficiency is usually validated by
organizations 12 to 18 months after hire. Proficiency
usually comes through the on-the-job
experience of the sales consultant as they are
properly engaging in the skills, behaviors and
tasks that are necessary to do the job in a professional
manner. Some organizations take the
opportunity to have advanced training occur in
this time frame to help the sales consultant become
highly proficient. However, other organizations
view this more as a validation that the
sales consultant is engaged in the rights skills,
behaviors and tasks. With this approach, the
event usually becomes an in-house simulated
assessment of the sales consultants’ proficiency
around territory management, selling skills and
The approach to time to competency often
differs based on the size and turnover of the
field force supported. Large organizations that
have higher turnover are able to plan and sequence
their training within a shorter time-frame.
Smaller organizations with less turnover
tend to have a larger spacing between new hire
training events, and often favor in-field certifications
followed up later by formal training.
Knowing these industry standards helps you
to have informed discussions when you get that
question from the sales leader.
Tom Hood is deputy director, field sales leadership development, pharmaceuticals, for Bayer HealthCare. Email
Tom at firstname.lastname@example.org.