With no formal sales training and very little real-world experience, today’s salespeople aren’t equipped to succeed. Did you go to school to learn how to sell? I didn’t. I graduated from college with a liberal arts degree (English major, history minor).

I never expected to have a long, successful sales career. I was young, soft-spoken, shy and very, very respectful of my elders. I mistakenly believed all salespeople were pushy, arrogant, in-your-face, loud, obnoxious extroverts. But while some sales reps are all those things (and more), the best salespeople—the rainmakers whose sales pipelines never seem to dry up—are honest, straightforward, respectful, inquisitive and genuinely interested in helping their customers make the best possible decisions for their businesses and families.

The problem is that because these success secrets are generally not taught in school, salespeople must learn them on the job. Most new salespeople have little training, even less coaching and no real-world experience. So they wing it—and come crashing down to earth.

Marketing expert Dan Lyons’ online article “Study: Three of four sales reps have no idea what they’re doing” draws on research from the Objective Management Group: “At first glance it seems shocking that there could be a profession in which three-quarters of practitioners are inept. If the same ratio were applied to medicine, we’d have patients dropping dead all over the place.”

The Objective Management Group’s numbers suggest that “winging it” isn’t working. What they’ve found is that 6 percent of salespeople are elites who are great at selling. Another 20 percent are doing well but could do better. Then there are 74 percent who are failing. Most of the people in the 74 percent bracket could improve if they got training. But the bottom 25 percent are hopeless, because in addition to being ineffective, they aren’t trainable.

So what can sales leaders do with this information? For starters, be more selective during the hiring process. A CEO I once worked for told me the biggest mistake I could make was to hire the wrong person. He advised me to take my time. What then? Train a new hire, yes, but not on how to give product pitches. Instead talk to her about the problems you solve for clients and the critical sales conversations she must have. Introduce her to the resources in your company who are integral to her success: consultants, customer service reps, account managers and executives.

Learn how your new hires do their best work and set guidelines for how and when you will communicate. Coach them weekly on the behaviors that can help predict their success. This is not micro-management, it’s you getting the rocks out the road so your new hires can do what they were hired to do: sell.

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Joanne Black is a professional sales speaker, sales webinar leader, and author of ‘No More Cold Calling: The Breakthrough System That Will Leave Your Competition in the Dust” from Warner Business Books. Visit www.nomorecoldcalling.com. © Copyright 2011 Joanne S. Black. All rights reserved.