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focus_Time to Competency: Best Practices

Time to Competency: Best Practices

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 technical knowledge.

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 clinical knowledge.

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

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