For almost 28 years Gary Jones has been a part of the Saia family. He began his career with Smalley Transportation (then a sister company of Saia) in 1989 as a field sales representative. Gary has since moved his way around the company in multiple capacities and now leads the sales training program.
Since Gary’s tenure began, technologies have advanced the way sales training is delivered. Remote participation has created a wealth of immediate access to as much training material as any sales rep could ever need. But while training webinars can make for a strong learning experience, no training type has proven to be more effective than hands-on experience. Gary and Saia have used this approach to build, what is now considered by those that complete it, an industry-leading sales training program.
Gary has personally trained Saia’s employees at just about every level of the sales chain, from inside sales to national accounts, to sales managers and account executives, of which Saia employs about 250 nationally. He took us through some of the industry changes he has seen during his career and gave us a little insight into what the future might look like.
How has training changed over the years?
The amount Saia has grown over the years has helped shaped a lot of how we train. Today we have 12 regions across the country instead of the four or five we had back then. In the past, our new account executives would get sent a couple of brochures about the company and get to spend a few days with a senior account executive. The focus of training was mostly teaching what it was Saia did and how we do it. They’d get some training on our computer system to get sales reports, but that was really the extent of it.
Currently we have a more formal, structured training program. New hires begin with on-the-job start-up training and then attend an account executive training program, which is a five-day classroom event at our Atlanta corporate office. After completing that training and staying with Saia for at least three months they are then eligible for the next class called Open Lock, which dives deeper into how to make a sales call.
Today we also provide more opportunities to learn directly from subject matter experts to explain specific Saia topics. Back in the day you never heard or spoke to the expert on a subject such as “weight and research,” or you never got speak to our web designer about the benefits of the website. There’s a lot more opportunity these days to meet and speak with these experts that can have a beneficial impact on their career.
What specifically has changed for the better?
You can really learn from all the different ways you’ve tried to accomplish something over a long period of time. Through experience, we’ve been able to find and shape what it is that we want to offer the most. In this case we’re talking about sales skills retention. It used to be that as soon as someone was hired we’d run right out and start formally training them. Over time, however, we found that this is not nearly as effective as if you let them learn on their own, with some informal guidance, for the first month or so. This approach helps our salespeople to develop their own questions about why and how we do things. Then the more formal training focuses on answering their questions, and as history has shown, makes the training a lot more effective by strengthening their information retention.
What do you consider your greatest accomplishments during your tenure?
When I look back over the 16 years I’ve been providing sales training, what I’m most proud of has been my opportunity to interact with every new sales person that has entered the company during my tenure here. I take a lot of pride in the moments when I see account executives that completed our training programs receiving President’s Club recognitions. These are some of the best sales people in the company and I like to think we had, at the very least, some small part in helping them get to that level of success through the training we provided.
What are you still looking to achieve?
I hope that we can continue to improve what we’re delivering in terms of quality training and that we can make our sales people even better prepared. My goal is to have the Saia account executives be recognized in the industry as the best. I want our customers to come out of meetings with our account executives and be able to tell the difference between Saia’s people and Saia’s competition’s.
For more Saia Then and Now stories in the future, be sure to subscribe to our blog, Saia’s View. For those interested in a career in sales with Saia, watch our video, Down the Road with Saia: Gary Jones for more insight on his role with Saia.