Chris Merchant HeadshotEntering the world of sales can be intimidating. For many people, it’s their first taste of a career after college or their first time in a corporate setting. Chris Merchant, the Director of our B2B Sales Development Program, has made it his mission to develop next generation of leaders at AT&T.

With decades of experience in all areas of sales – as both a leader and seller himself in multiple areas of the business – Merchant understands what skills make not only a great seller, but a great professional throughout the business. As a manager, his teams were often made up of previous program graduates. He would often wonder to himself what it would be like if he got to run the program himself.

That chance came in 2023 when he was named Director. Since then, he has reshaped the structure of the program and the curriculum with an emphasis on the fundamentals.

Focusing on Fundamentals

“This program is pretty special,” Merchant said. “We have hundreds of people that come through in any given year and the impact we can make on their careers is huge. A lot of participants are brand new to the corporate world, the sales world, and literally all of them are brand new to AT&T.”

In developing a curriculum, he asks the big questions. Do you know how to make a pitch? Do you know how to build a funnel? Do you know how to propose solutions that solve our customers’ problems and ultimately sell it?

“It’s all about the fundamentals,” he said. “Ensuring that our people know what they’re doing and developing that talent before they dive into selling.”

One major change to facilitate that philosophy is that program participants don’t have any sales goals in their first two months. Instead of focusing on making sales – a skill most participants won’t have from day one – they are developing foundational skills like communication and engaging with people and prospects.

“Instead of pushing you into the deep end, we’re giving you a 60-day runway and saying, ‘Let’s do it the right way in order to get those new customers to AT&T.’”

Learning to Sell

Participants start with a focus on soft skills from day one. The first couple of weeks are all about getting a sense of speed and setting expectations. That means talking. A lot.

“You can learn how to use every tool we have. You can learn all sorts of cool stuff, but if you can’t carry a conversation or talk about our customers problems, then all that knowledge can’t help you,” he said.

Participants in the early days of the program play games focused on making them comfortable conversing. They go out and talk to strangers around headquarters. They get on the phones without product knowledge. The idea is to “relieve the fear of the prospecting process early and identify what they don’t know early.  This makes time in the classroom exponentially more effective.”

With expectations set, the focus expands to include theory. Classroom sessions on products selling methods are mixed in with practice and application. The second month is about becoming more efficient with the process and building a funnel.

In the third month, a small quota is introduced, and participants begin actually selling and learning how to efficiently work the funnels they’ve built. The potential to get paid more also increases as they begin earning commission. For the fourth month, participants continue to sell as they move towards their post-program roles.

“It’s all about high activity in the beginning,” Merchant said. “Month two, we talk about funnel development and getting participants ready to sell. Month three, we introduce quota and start selling. In the final month, you’re selling more and getting ready for a successful transition to the field.”

Shaping Young Professionals

Team members in blue aprons at volunteer event

Chris and the B2B Sales Development Program Leadership Team volunteering at a local non-profit

In addition to sales training, several forums focused on corporate culture are part of the program. Speakers from around the company share the corporate guidelines, how you should present yourself, and how AT&T operates as a company. Other forums feature past graduates of the program to talk about their experience and offer mentorship.

“There are so many opportunities within AT&T,” Merchant said. “We want to talk about that. It starts with success in sales, but we also want to make sure people feel like they are part of the greater AT&T organization. We are developing well-rounded professionals, and we’ve got a really great team of people who care and are genuinely invested in that.”

Explore Opportunities in Our B2B Sales Development Program