How long does it take for a new hire (salesperson) to “ramp-up” in your business until they effectively producing results and paying for their seats?
This is a question that I ask regularly throughout sessions to business leaders and sales managers throughout North America. Overall, the answers vary dependent upon a lot of factors such as type of hire (veteran or new-to-sales), type of product/service, length of sales cycle, dollar amount of the product/service, retail or wholesale, incoming or outgoing calls, salesperson’s role (account manager vs. new biz development), and current training program. The range tends to fall anywhere between 90 days and 2 years with variations occasionally on either end of the range.
My follow-up question tends to be tougher to hear—even tougher to answer: “How long does it take you to get a feeling as to whether or not someone “gets it” and will make it on your team?” The answer to this question reflects a timeframe much shorter than the original answer. In fact, most CEOs/Sales Managers answer that they can get a “pretty good read” within 60-90 days! Most, however, don’t DO anything about it when that read is not positive! Instead, they ignore that nagging feeling and HOPE for a good turnout! And 3 years later, the gut feeling is still proving to be correct—Barnacle Bill is still “stuck to the hull” of the company! WHY??
We find that most companies are not really clear on what it is that they expect from the people who represent them in the field. Too often, the lack of sales results is the only indicator of a salesperson’s worth (or lack thereof) —and by then, they have been in the marketplace calling on those precious prospects and customers for far too long!
We suggest that you build plan (a series of testing) to check on their progress EARLY in the game. Think about this idea for a moment; for the first 20+ years of your life, you regularly were tested throughout your school years to check in on your retention of the curriculum being taught. Those who fell behind either got extra attention (tutoring) or got held back. The goal, of course was to ensure that before an individual was able to progress to the next level, that they understood and were able to “stand up to testing” on the material they just learned so that actual application of the material may one day be the result!
In business, we need to follow suit! As stated above, most company leaders/sales managers agree that they can tell (usually a “gut” call) within 90 days if someone gets it. So why not make that time period into your Level ONE training period (with quizzes and testing) for your salespeople? We believe in creating a simple series of tests (augmented with regular quizzes) that “check-in” on the training at 30, 60, and 90 days. One of the main problems is that this testing must follow the training program content and timeframe—and too often there is no SET training program scheduled. If you have any plan on hiring new salespeople for your organization now or in the future, here is a simple (not necessarily easy) step by step thought process to help you get started on setting them up for success early:
The First 30 Day Period
Begin to think about what it is that you need for new hires to know within the first 30 days on your team. The first 30 days can be absolutely crucial to a new hire’s success! Every new hire, within the first 30 days, wonders if they have made a mistake joining your company. Your focus and attention on their immediate integration into your training plans will definitely help put peace of mind to those concerns for them and will also help you better understand what you just hired. So here are a few thoughts (QUESTIONS) about areas of introductory training within the first 30 days:
-What do they need to know about your company’s structure?
-What do they need to know about basic HR processes?
-What do they need to know about your phone systems? Voicemail?
-What do they need to know about your web/email philosophy?
-What do they need to know about your technology (databases, etc.)?
-What do they need to know about their fellow salespeople?
-What do they need to know about management?
-What do they need to know about sales team structure (territories, accounts, etc.)?
-What do they need to know about internal systems/processes?
-What do they need to know about what you sell (product knowledge)?
-What do they need to know about your proposals/bids (creation, content, delivery)?
-What do they need to know about your competitors?
-What do they need to know about your “go-to market” strategy?
-What do they need to know about your sales/customer service philosophy/policies?
-What do they need to know about your pricing and your competitor’s pricing?
-What do they need to know about your overall marketing strategy?
-What do they need to know about your lead generation process?
-What do they need to know about your web strategy?
-What do they need to know about your prospects, customers, and clients?
-What do they need to know about minimum performance standards and expectations?
As you can see, there should never be a shortage of conversation and curriculum (or training manual content) for new salespeople on your team. There are very likely many things specific to your company that are NOT on the above list that your new hires need exposure to in the first 30 days. We are literally just getting started!
Now, the trick is to prioritize, schedule, and introduce the necessary things listed above (in the right doses) over the first 30 days. You can see that a fair degree of thought and preparation needs to go into this. (That’s why so few companies actually do it!) I suggest that you come up with a quiz consisting of 30 Questions (30 days—30 questions—easy to remember) that is based upon the training content that has been covered. Your goal is to see if your new hire is retaining the training! Soon, they will be on the phone with or in front of your cherished prospects and customers. You need to see if they are getting it!
Poor scores on the 30 day test will force you to take a hard look at both the training and the individual being tested. Assuming that the training has been well-thought out and delivered thoroughly and effectively (this is a BIG assumption—inspect this regularly) then turn your attention to the new hire? Are they able to grasp this training? At the very least, it should determine a much closer look (and possibly some additional attention-tutoring) in the next 30 day period. Remember, this is only the first MONTH that they are with you. They should be on their BEST behavior and still in the “gotta prove myself” mode! It rarely gets better!
The 2nd 30 Day Period (60 Days IN)
It is my assumption that you now should have a fairly decent working knowledge of your new hire’s strengths and ability to learn. You have most likely, by this point, covered a substantial amount of the foundational knowledge that is necessary to “get on the playing field” and begin to “run a few drills” with the team. You have exposed the new sales superstar to your company background, internal workings, competitive environment, team environment, performance expectations, and more! They are ready for some real coaching now! Here are a few thoughts (QUESTIONS) for the next 30 days with your company?
-How will you continue their product knowledge training on a consistent basis and how can this occur on their time as well (home study—backed by quizzes)?
-How can you best communicate and help them understand, from your customer’s point of view, the true benefit/value that your product or service delivers?
-What Success Stories/Case Studies will you share (in writing) with your newer hires to help them understand what we deliver for our valued customers? How can these stories become part of their “toolbox” to be shared in the marketplace?
-How will you share with them the questions that need to be commonly asked in the marketplace to build rapport (connect) with customers and understand their motivations to buy? What questions do they need to learn to ask to better position them (and your company) as partners, advisors, and experts rather than vendors?
-What is it that you can share with them about the customer’s mindset and business situations that will allow them to LISTEN and WATCH for key buying messages from the customer?
-What resources (scripts) will you create and teach them (practice) to use to get through voicemail? What will be the purpose of each of their outbound calls and what should they offer/say at each level?
-How will you teach them to set appropriate qualified appointments and to understand what qualified means?
-What will their Business Acquisition Plan (BAP) look like? What will the profile of a prospect look like and do you/they have it in writing? What does a key prospect look like and how is it that you will show them how, and provide resources to get visible to those key prospects?
-In what way will you illustrate and teach the specific stages of your typical sales cycle? How will you communicate the need for and particular examples of clear “Purpose of the Call” and “Calls to Action” for each one of these stages?
-What sort of pre-call preparation initiatives will the salesperson be expected to go through for each and every sales call? Where do you want them to start and what do you NEED them to understand before they make that call?
-What are the main benefits of the ownership of your product or service and how will you ensure that your newer hires understand to center their presentations on these things rather than features?
-How will you teach the Presentation to your new hires? How will they deliver it to your prospective new customers? What depth of training/understanding does a proper demonstration of value of your product/service take? How much importance in your training program will this (the Presentation/Demo) play. Hint: Don’t make the presentation be the entire focus of the training.
Again, you can see that there is no shortage whatsoever of thoughts that need to go into the creation of your training program and the curriculum to which your new sales hires need to be exposed. This vital period within the second 30 days is when your people will most likely start to have contact with your prospects and customers. The questions above should help you put some framework around what they need exposure to. Does your training program begin to go into this type of detail? Is there an unwritten expectation/assumption that your new hires will know all of this “stuff” intuitively? Do you want to build your organization based upon expectations and assumptions or do you want to define the approach and design the approach?
I suggest that a variety of homework, quizzes, role practices (no PLAY here-PRACTICE) take place during this time-frame. Confidence on the part of the salesperson comes from rehearsal! Don’t just practice the presentation—practice the questions. Practice the listening. Practice the voicemails? Work all of the elements of the sale and the salesperson is likely to be stronger in every area. It shouldn’t matter to you that a salesperson can do a good PowerPoint presentation if he/she cannot even get an appointment to do so! On the 60 day anniversary of their hire date, I suggest a 60 Question Test that reviews and checks in on their retention of what has been taught to them over the previous 2 months! I suggest that the test has a variety of questions covering ALL things learned. Perhaps you might have essay questions running through some “what-if” scenarios of product application or customer questions. Maybe you weigh 10% of their grade based upon a half day observation of their telephone prospecting abilities—not just results! You might count a substantial portion of their grade on their pre call preparation format or their business acquisition plan visibility efforts. Whatever you do, make sure that you understand IF they are retaining AND beginning to apply the things that you teach. Inspect what you expect!
If the new hire (not so new anymore) is showing that they are not adapting well to the training at this point, you may need to actually do something about it! Do not “turn the other way” if you see that your training program is NOT making a substantial impact on one of your newer salespeople. You have designed and defined the approach that you need your people to take into the marketplace! If you are to build a truly World Class Sales Organization, you can only put “Grade A” product (salespeople) in front of your prospects, customers, and clients. The fact that someone does not “make the cut” in your training program does NOT mean that you are a failure. Instead, it means that you are serious about the value of a customer and NOT willing to put that value at risk by fielding a lees-than-adequate team! It’s not the people that you fire that hurt you—it’s the people that you DON’T fire that can hurt you!
The 3rd 30 Day Period (90 Days)
During this timeframe, your salespeople should now be in a much more proactive role of approaching and engaging prospects, customers and even possibly clients (if you assign accounts!) What are the things on which they need continued training and deeper knowledge during this timeframe? On what particular areas does their early selling success depend? Here are just a few more questions that you may wish to consider when preparing training content for this period:
-How is it that you can get your newer hires integrated into the marketplace through networking events? How will you lay out a training plan for how to “work a room” at a mixer or “walk the floor” at a tradeshow?
-How will you facilitate regular communication among the sales and service teams to ensure learning through cross training initiatives?
-How can you get the newer sales hires to engage and share their experiences with the team in your training environment? (One of the best ways to learn is to teach?)
-How can you build, with your team, some tools and resources to increase confidence, credibility, and conversion rates? (Question Guides, Objection Guides, Success Story Guides)
-When and how often can you get out on a sales call (or day of sales calls) with your new hires and what will that experience be like? What is it that you want to show them? More importantly, what is it that you need to observe about them and their use of the training?
-If you have to grade them (and you do) on their skill sets on the phone, how is it that you can “ride silent shotgun” while they prospect and work over the phone?
-How is it that you can measure the amount and effectiveness of their organization and pre call prep work?
-How will you expect them to capture vital prospect, customer, and client information in your Contact Management software or CRM program? What reports/tracking MUST be created for you each week and how will you use these to help?
-How will you differentiate your company through the immediate and professional levels of follow-up of the sales team? How do you define and teach these follow up initiatives (written, electronic, telephone, value-add) to your salespeople and measure them?
-What is the level of importance that you and your organization put on generation of referrals? Do you have a specific plan that you have trained (and that your people follow) to ask for, attain, and follow up on these referrals? How will you measure this?
At the end of the first 90 days in a salesperson’s life, a FINAL exam MUST be administered to everyone! For those who are doing well, the final exam is a validation of what they learned and the importance of these things to the organization that provides them the opportunity to earn a living. Make sure that your Training Program “sets people up to WIN” by discussing the things that they will be tested and measured on throughout the first 90 days. Don’t be secretive or aloof with the material and the expectations! Build winners through strong communication and teamwork!
If, however, your gut and the TESTING show you that your new salesperson is having substantial difficulty with the retention and application of the training content, you may need to consider, as I stated above, freeing up their future. It must now be clear to you (and to the trainee as well) that they do not have one with you!
With a clear beginning curriculum and training program broken into a 30-60-90 day time frame, you will not only lay out a clear path for the growth of your new salespeople, you will also set out a clear path for your growth as a coach! Every team learns, practices, and prepares BEFORE game day. Every team runs drills regularly and integrates training and repetition into their day-to-day regimen to ensure better results with the game (the sale/the relationship) on the line. Integrate regular quizzing and testing of your team to help them continually understand that their FOCUS is imperative to their success.
One more thing: Don’t limit the testing to only new hires. Once you have created your 30-60-90 day tests, give them to your seasoned veteran salespeople to take. You might be surprised what you will discover that they do NOT know or that they ASSUME! Be careful though….this will necessitate ongoing coaching from you. Actually, THAT is the entire purpose of this article! Today’s marketplace demands better performance and immediate adaptation to ever-changing customer needs. Are you prepared to run up against that defense or not?