The number one complaint I hear from sales managers, especially in start-up companies, is that it takes new sales reps too long to become fully contributing members of the team. After all, if they are not selling, sales reps are an overhead expense. And, of course, overhead expenses are a financial drain on any company.
But, it doesn’t have to be that way. With planning and preparation, you can make sales reps productive starting on their very first day. Here are 8 steps to make it so.
1) Stop parking them. Typically when new sales reps start, they are parked alongside a senior sales rep to observe him or her at work. The problem with this approach is that new sales reps lack context. When you are dropped in the middle of something, it’s hard to figure out what is going on, let alone learn anything useful. Also, without a clear agenda as to what, specifically, they are supposed to get out of job shadowing, most sales reps apply very little of what they observe.
The second type of parking that occurs is to park new sales reps in some sort of boot camp. The problem with this approach is that people are not computers. You can’t upload a bunch of information to their brains and expect them to retain it. After just a few hours, they start to forget what you just taught them. In fact, after several days of training, it is anyone’s guess what they’ve remember and what they’ve forgotten. How many days is the sales boot camp at your company?
2) Establish specific sales goals for the first 90 days. You should set realistic goals for each phase of the pipeline. How many contacts do you expect new reps to turn into leads? How many leads do you expect them to qualify? How many qualified leads do you expect them to close?
If at all possible, feed new sales reps their contacts. Researching, prospecting, and pitching are advanced skills and should be saved for the next 90-day learning sprint.
Also, you may want to have new sales reps cut their teeth on small business versus enterprise accounts. This way the cost of making a mistake during the sales process isn’t as painful.
3) Establish best practices to meet these sales goals. This is a two-part process. The first part is pure sales math. So, how many attempts does it take to turn a contact into a lead? A lead into a qualified lead? A qualified lead into a closed sale? And, how many sales does the new rep need to close during their first 90 days to meet the goals you set.
The second part is formalizing the best practices required to move through the sales pipeline. This includes establishing a cadence for the various types of attempts. It also means creating templates, developing step-by-step instructions, and writing scripts for voice mail and email messages, and conversations with prospects. What you want to avoid is having new sales reps re-invent the process that successful sales reps have already figured out.
4) Make the sales job visible. Work with seasoned sales reps to identify key responsibilities and the specific job tasks required to carry out those responsibilities. You will use this information in a few ways.
First, check it against the best practices you are developing to make sure that you are capturing everything required to move sales through the pipeline.
Second, identify which specific job tasks it is reasonable to expect new sales reps to perform during their first 90 days. Reconcile these tasks against what they must do to achieve the sales goals you set. You may need to change the goals, your expectations, or both.
Third, show new sales reps the entirety of the job as you’ve captured it. By making the job visible, you have essentially created an on boarding road map that shows new reps where they are going and how they will get there.
Next, brainstorm background knowledge that sales reps will need to be able to do their job successfully. For example, you might include product, industry, regulatory, and competitive knowledge on the list. Avoid the temptation to clump this background knowledge into a series of training classes. Remember, people are not computers. Instead, weave this background information into the best practices you are creating so that new sales reps learn it within the context of their jobs.
5) Create a work plan. Based on the job tasks and best practices you identified as being necessary to achieve the sales goals you set, create a day-by-day plan of what you want new sales reps to do (not learn) their first week. You’ll create a new plan for the next week based on what sales reps have accomplished at the end of each week. Gradually, transition this responsibility over to new sales reps during the on boarding process.
6) Create a just-in-time training plan. The training plan should map directly to the tasks on the work plan. The goal is to teach new sales reps exactly what they need to know (no more and no less) to do the next task on their list. The process should go something like this: learn, do, receive feedback and coaching, and revise.
You’ll use the best practices you captured in step 3 as your training materials. These best practices can take many forms such as step-by-step instructions, audio transcripts of best practice calls, PowerPoint templates, scripts, and checklists. The use of best practice documentation should be supported by a brief explanation to make sure new sales reps are crystal clear on what they are supposed to do from the sales manager, sales trainer, or peer mentor.
7) Assign someone to train new sales reps. I am partial to using peer mentors. This sets up an apprenticeship type of relationship with someone who is in the trenches on a daily basis and knows what works. New sales reps will get the most relevant information from seasoned sales reps. However, this means that you’ll probably need to revisit the compensation plan for these peer mentors to ensure that they are fairly rewarded for serving as a mentor.
8) Assess new sales reps’ progress weekly. Each week you’ll create a work plan for new sales reps based on what they accomplished the prior week. Keep the work plan focused on what you want them to do (not learn) to achieve their goals. However, leave adequate time for learning. Remember the process is to learn, do, receive feedback and coaching, and revise.
Yes, new sales reps will still be spending a lot of their time learning. But, they will be doing it while they make productive progress towards real sales goals. This helps the learning stick by providing context and it makes new sales reps contributing members of the team from the start.
What happens after the first 90 days? Rinse and repeat until new sales reps are fully on boarded.