DHL Delivers Award-Winning College Recruitment Training Program

At global express delivery company DHL, its three-year-old college recruitment sales training program is paying off.

First, it nabbed a “Stevie Award” in the 2007 American Business Awards, presented yearly in recognition of an outstanding achievement in business. The honor was in the “Best Human Resources Team” category, and DHL was the only company recognized for its achievements in sales training. DHL was in competition with more than 2,000 entries from companies of all sizes and in virtually every industry.

In fact, this sales training program — known internally at DHL as the “College Recruitment Express Training” — hires recent college graduates and trains them to become sales professionals on a fast-track program focused on product knowledge, selling skills, customer management, and experiential learning.

Second, the company reports that this successful college sales training is not only showing 100% retention rates among college recruits, but the graduates are bringing in significantly more package revenue than participants in previous programs.

Like with many companies, DHL openly admits it struggled with retention issues. Despite its motto of choice that “customer service is back in shipping,” it was not always easy to find the right blend of workers to promote a flexible, enjoyable experience in the shipping industry for all customers.

“Three years ago, our turnover rate was a little higher than we wanted. So we took a look at the types of people we were hiring,” says Paul Read, director of sales training for DHL USA.

“You would think you just teach them the products and services and they hit the ground running. But that wasn’t always the case, so we decided to take a look at the makeup of what the candidates should have to be successful at DHL,” says Read.

The company does have an internship program, but Read explains that it’s not for sales and mostly for admin functions.

So it launched the College Recruitment Express Training program to cover DHL’s business, industry, and market. Training program graduates learn soft skills such as listening, rapport-building, as well as identifying and understanding customer needs. The company says the interactive program blends conventional learning methods with experiential activities that expose the participant to real-world customer situations.

The Sticky Similarities

Responsible for sales training for the United States, which includes almost 1,500 sales reps and managers located around the country, Read likens college recruitment to molding a colorful piece of Play-Doh. He notes the similarities in being able to make an impressionable sales team look and act a certain way.

“The college graduates don’t have prior sales — or even prior work — experience. You don’t have a benchmark to measure DHL against; you don’t really know what sales is about yet. We could mold that person,” he says.

Read recently chatted with ERE to share more insider tips on how he helped design the program and how things are faring in the program’s third year:

Where do you typically find these college recruits?

“We went out and looked at colleges throughout the United States, but generally we looked in the Midwest arena. The first year we had 13 recruits come from Purdue, [University of] Wisconsin, and [University of] Indiana. We’re looking for drive and dedication of someone wanting to go out at 7:30 a.m. and sell. In the Midwest, we see those types of individuals with those skill sets. They came from all majors, some marketing, business, sales; it really varied.”

How did you design the training program?

“They really don’t know much about corporate America. We put together a 10-week training program that involved a lot of different things. From ‘how do you spell DHL?’ to ‘do you like yellow and red?’ Then we take them all the way through the skill sets. My objective for the entire sales organization is to turn every single one into a sales consultant. We’re tying that program to a large global initiative called First Choice. If you need a job, look at DHL first. We have a world-class sales training environment.”

What were some of the more intense elements of the training?

“We held lot of simulations, which allows us as a team to role-play various situations. We’ll play the role of sales consultants trying to tackle an account, knowing full well it won’t go the way you plan. It takes you down a path to see the ripple effect of a good or a bad decision. It teaches them there is a consequence to every choice. They’re in teams using state-of-the-art simulation technology. We use BTS, based in Sweden, one of the leaders in simulations.

Another thing, we partner with a local college here in Florida, Nova Southeastern University. We work with their professor, who has a sales background, who plays a make-believe customer. Throughout the program, recruits are monitored to see whether they are using the skill-sets with this call or individual. If they are not, he takes them down a path that’s never-ending.

For example, if you’re not using the questioning techniques, he doesn’t give you the information you’re looking for. They really have to follow the process we’re trying to teach. They eventually find out that because they didn’t do this or didn’t do that, it led them into this dead-end system. They don’t know he’s a real person until the end of the 10th week. We evaluate the group’s ability to win his business.”

So the training program has resulted in a 100% retention rate?

“Yes, 100% retention rate the first and second years. We had 13 recruits the first year. In the second year, we had nine recruits and had basically the same program but tweaked it here and there. This year, the program is currently in the sixth week with 19 recruits.”

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How do you measure the graduates’ performance?

“We measure certain metrics on a monthly basis, such as how many shipments per day they are selling, how many are international, and so forth. We have about 20 to 25 different metrics, so we took the top 12 metrics and compared performance of the ‘regular’ sales consultants to those who participated in the College Recruitment Express Training program.

Compared to a regular rep, who typically had prior sales experience, the college recruits were more successful and sold more business and ramped up faster out of training in eight out of the 12 metrics. What does this show us? It’s really made us aware of what we might do different when we bring in regular folks.”

How many recruiters do you have assigned to the College Recruitment Express Training program?

“We have a team of people associated; it’s not just recruiters. Of three recruiters, we have one who is dedicated to heading up the overall recruiting effort. More important, once she identifies college fairs, she makes sure DHL is represented there several times. We take the recruiter, sales manager, and HR generalist to represent DHL. We set up interviews with those interested in working with DHL. And that gives us different views of that individual.”

What are the benefits for these new college graduates?

“They start full-time in the program, on a full salary, with full benefits, 401(k), and are covered right from day one. It’s a salary plus commission. Obviously, the more you sell, the more commission you get. At the end of the day, that’s what drives them. It’s very attractive to them.”

What are the typical costs for companies that want to set up a similar program?

“Companies do not need to shell out a lot of expense if you do it right. Ask what expertise you have in-house already.

First and foremost, sell it on the front-end. Tap into executive sponsorship so those folks are supportive of the program. Make sure they understand the value and can sell it to other sales managers who will be managing these college recruits.

Second, negotiate services. Take advantage of local colleges and universities, or negotiate partnerships. Maybe you can work out agreements where you exchange programs or tap into their class programs. In return, ask if they would be willing to play the role of customer, like we do with the Nova Southeastern professor.”

What about relocation costs?

“We have 19 in this year’s program, and yes, if you’re going to start relocating, that could be expensive and a geographic challenge. Almost 75% of the people we hired moved to a different city than their college location. I think this year we have four college recruits in New York City, four in L.A., one in Indianapolis, one in Orlando, and others located elsewhere.

We give them a check to cover pretty much what we feel is reasonable to move from their college campus to the office. It’s the right thing to do if you’re trying to create that first-choice impression. The last thing you want to do is bring someone on board with doubts and questions of uncertainty. They have to be confident.

However, after they came on-board, we asked the college recruits how much of an influence it was that DHL paid for their moves. Oddly enough, they said it wasn’t. They would have paid for themselves to move because of everything else they saw ahead of them. The relocation piece wasn’t as important. Nevertheless, if you have someone worrying about travel costs, companies need to step in and help out.”

Elaine Rigoli has nearly 15 years of experience managing content and community for various B2B and consumer websites. Elaine has written thousands of business and technology articles and has been quoted in The Wall Street Journal and eWeek, among other publications.


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