“Surplus Salesforce Triggers Explosive Growth”

On the surface, it may sound crazy: PSS/World Medical, a leading distributor of medical supplies, hires more salespeople than it needs — 5% to be exact.

Yet having people in reserve who can join the front lines at a moment’s notice has been key to the company’s sales prowess, reports founder Pat Kelly. At $1.5 billion in annual sales and a salesforce of almost 1,000, PSS is now a medical giant. However, Kelly has used this tactic from the start.

PSS releases no rookies. Kelly marches new hires through an internal "boot camp" lasting three or four months with intense, detailed instruction. Besides accompanying full-time sales reps, new recruits may work PSS’s own warehouses to learn the company’s merchandise by sight and feel as well as name.

When a full-time sales position opens up, trainees are ready to hit the ground running. Often, a trainee receives "the call" with an assignment on a Friday, and must move to a new city over the weekend.

Such suspense isn’t for everyone, admits Kelly, who uses the training to test new employees’ capacity for abrupt change — important in a company with a 15-year average growth rate of 46%. New hires are always trained in a different city from where they were hired, immediately separating them from family and friends.

"Surprisingly, only about 12% don’t make it," Kelly reports. But PSS makes it worth their while: PSS salespeople make an average of 30% or more above market rate, and 95% of the company’s senior management is promoted from within.

Writer: John Duggleby