Getting New Sales People Productive

The typical “onboarding” program for many companies can be described as either “Drinking from the Firehose” or “On the job training.”  This consists of a few days at the office for the new sales person getting a barrage of information about all the products/services the company offers, time spent in each department to understand what they do, competitive information, pricing guidelines, instruction on how to use systems like CRM, expense reporting, shadowing current sales people and a review of HR policies.    The new sales person ends their first week feeling overwhelmed and ill-equipped to do the job.  In fact, there is much research that shows that most new hires retain less than 10% of all the things they were supposedly “trained” on.

Other companies have a different philosophy – Hire from within the industry so they know all this stuff and can hit the ground running.   This is only partially true.  They may understand how the industry works and who to call on, but there are plenty of things they don’t know.  For instance, they don’t know:

  • Who is YOUR ideal client – this may be different from the last company they worked for?
  • What are your differentiators and how do you position them – this is most certainly different from previous companies.
  • What is the elevator pitch for the company?
  • What is your sales process – are there certain steps you follow and tools you use?
  • Who can they leverage within the company – who are the “go to” people they need to know and have relationships with?
  • What are the systems they need to use and what is required of them?
  • What do you expect, as a manager, from them in terms of communication, involvement, activity levels, etc.?
  • The list goes on and on

I’ve made the mistake of hiring within the industry and believing they knew these things.  As a result, I set these people up for failure. They still need training as well.

The result of insufficient onboarding is that sales people flame out and the company has invested thousands of dollars into a person who will either quit, will be fired, or will underperform in the field.  The cost of any of these is staggering.

It doesn’t have to be this way.  There are better ways to get new hires up to speed and productive.  Here are some ideas:

  • The Learn/Do/Deliver model – the concept is simple.  This is a structured program with specific activities and goals for new sales people to Learn, things they need to Do and specific items they need to Deliver.   Many companies are pretty good at what they need to Learn.  Some are OK in what they need to Do.   But few are good at the Deliver piece.  Here is a breakdown of what we mean.
    • Learn – Companies spend hours on “Training” sales people on products/services, competition, pricing, etc.    However, this training is typically done verbally or with PowerPoints from someone who knows the material.  The new person sits and listens and nods and tries to absorb as much as they can.  Most studies about adult learning show that this is very ineffective and less than 10% of what is “trained” will be retained.   To make learning more effective, make it interactive – have the new hires write things down, play them back to you, role play, be an active participant, etc.   When you want them to “shadow” someone, give them specific items you want them to learn during that time and let the person their shadowing know what types of items you want them to teach the new person.
  • Do – these are items you want the new person to actually perform as part of their training.  This can often include items they need to do in order to be successful such as develop a sales plan, put together a target list and research target companies.  This typically also includes activities such as; go on a sales call with a current rep, visit a customer and maybe something related to products to help drive understanding (in my earlier days, I had to install boards into computers).  A best practice I like to use is to have the new person use your system to set appointments with other employees for shadowing.   In later parts of onboarding, the Do can involve making x amount of calls per week or getting their first client meeting.
  • Deliver – this is the area that many companies miss.  Too often I hear sales leaders and owners say things like “They should know that – I told them how to do that” or “They should’ve learned it in training.”   That may be the case, but it does not mean that they retained it.  Deliver is where we find out whether the new person can apply the things they learned and involves them demonstrating something back to the trainer.  It can be as simple as “Give me the company elevator pitch” to role-playing a client call with the manager or having the manager observe them in action with a prospect or customer.  The goal here is that there is demonstrable proof that the sales person can execute on their training rather than just hoping that they are doing so.
  • Put a Time Frame on the Learn/Do/Deliver Model – setting expectations during onboarding is key.  Define for the new sales person how long it should take them to:
    • Give the sales pitch
    • Get their first opportunity
    • Land their first deal, d) give an effective presentation, etc.

We recommend that you take all the Learn, Do and Deliver items identified above and put them in a matrix showing where they should be at 30, 60 and 90 days.   This lets a new hire and you know if they are on track or not.

  • Keep score – review progress with them on a regular basis.  Pull out their Learn/Do/Deliver items and talk about where they are at with their progression.   Be honest about where they are doing well and where they still need work.  Tell them when they are meeting or exceeding expectations and where they need to do better.  Without these reviews, new people can either be overconfident even when they are not doing well or feeling like they are failing when they are actually doing better than you expected.  It is important that they know where they stand.
  • Be patient – you will train people on things more than once.  Expect it.  Remember that they are learning a lot of things and retaining it all is difficult.  Sometimes you may need to cover the same ground three, four or five times.  That’s ok.  The important thing is that they get it right so they are effective in the field and don’t need you to help them at every turn.

If you are hiring and need help designing your onboarding plan, let us know.  We would love to help.

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