You have just completed your recruitment process; adverts, CVs, responses, on-line interviews, role-plays, panels, short listing, final decisions and now you have your new salesperson.
By rights they should be highly motivated and looking forward to starting with your company. But 6 months later you are saying goodbye. So, where and how does it go wrong?
Where does sales onboarding go wrong?
- Induction: One answer lies right from the start. Your new salesperson starts full of excitement, motivation and enthusiasm and then comes the company induction programme. Some of you know what happens here. First off, a meeting with the manager, a walk around the office meeting people whose names they don’t remember, videos of the company and its history, features and facts training on multiple products/services, joint visits with another sales rep before being handed their territory or accounts plus their target and wished good luck! …Ok maybe that was over exaggerated but given the weight of numbers of salespeople who have told me of their awful experiences in their first few months of joining their company perhaps not so far off the mark. (Studies have shown only 12% of employees say their company does a good job of onboarding – Source Gallup)
- Training: The annual training days – 1 or 2 days of the same, repetitive sales training repeated at irregular intervals during their time in your company. Many salespeople tell me that the last sales training they had was 3 or 4 or more years ago and even then, it was the same as before. Imagine if your pilot flying you to your holiday told you, during their pre-flight briefing, that the last training they received was over 5 years ago. How would you feel? Or your dentist? Or your surgeon?
- Coaching: None (or very little coaching) undertaken to improve skills, knowledge and to maintain energy and engagement. Little feedback except when performance drops too low – even then it is not really feedback but rather instructions on what to do or else!
Understanding the challenges new sales reps face
What are the issues that need to be recognised? It goes without saying that for all sales managers their key requirement for new sales starts is to bring them up to speed as quickly as possible. Whilst there is no denying the financial benefit of achieving this it fails to take into consideration the specific training needs of the individual which should be ascertained during a robust recruitment process.
If we empathise with the new salesperson for a moment it doesn’t take much imagination to see that, from their perspective, there is a lot to assimilate including:
- Skills to do the specific selling role: these can be quite different depending on the role that they were hired for: e.g., field sales, tele-sales (in-bound or out- bound), account management, sales support, technical sales etc.
- Knowledge they require: the products/services they are selling, technical or specific knowledge, competitors, markets, company sales processes, company CRM, expenses policy, commission or bonus system and reporting process including pipeline and forecast reports.
These points alone illustrate that there is a lot for a new salesperson to take in, then they must develop the skills and knowledge and, over the next months, develop the high levels of competence and abilities to become a consistent success. Couple this with studies that show the average time it takes to get sales new hires to the same performance level as experienced salespeople is usually over a year and it becomes clear why so many new salespeople sink long before they swim.
How can sales management improve the success rate and retention of their new sales starts?
Have an individually tailored development plan for each new sales start
There is no doubt that the route to success lies in creating a development plan way beyond most companies’ typical induction programme of 3 – 4 weeks and see it as a planned 12-month process. If you compare sales with many other work roles where new starts are trained and developed over a period of years before they are ‘qualified’ from plumbers, electricians, engineers, accountants, lawyers, army/navy/air force, chefs, production, logistics etc then we can see that sales team members (who let’s not forget are responsible for the top line of their company) do not get nearly enough development and help during their first 12 months. Failure becomes almost predictable.
So, determine the skills development required, the knowledge to be learnt, the policies and processes in your company to be understood and develop the plan, the people, and the time to deliver these critical items in a planned sequential manner to give the best chance of retention.
Working with experienced sales trainers can help you develop the correct skills training, the sequencing and best methodologies to deliver what you need.
Ensure each new sales start has an experienced salesperson as a mentor
The mentor is someone in the team who wants to help (this is critical as some of your star performers will not necessarily be the best mentors) and is there to answer questions, offer advice and knowledge and, especially in the first few months, guide them around the company, their accounts and territory.
It is a truism that training in sales is essential. But what training and by who? Many years ago, the government ran a series of adverts to attract people to the teaching profession and the strap line was “everyone remembers a good teacher.”
The same is true for soft skills development. Over the years many salespeople have told me that they remember their first training with fondness (they learnt from it) or with disdain (it didn’t help them). When questioned as to the reasons why many cite how the training was delivered including the content and the trainer being important.
As with all training, sales training must be relevant to the role and deliver a robust framework for new salespeople to relate their job to. It should help them with skills (investigation, persuasion, objection handling etc.) and with a logical framework of the sales stages to roadmap how sales work.
The programme(s) should be motivational, instructive, and participative to allow them to try these newly accessed skills. Ensure the sales training is delivering what your new salespeople need in terms of their Development Plan and the trainer is knowledgeable and skilled to ensure it is a good learning experience.
Further sales training around case studies/role plays individually carried out with an experienced trainer/coach to practice, practice, practice the essential skills and to experiment with different approaches to customer interactions without risking sales is extremely important to continue their development. These case studies/role plays should be testing and tough to build both confidence and resilience in the salesperson so when confronted by real life behaviour they are equipped to handle it. This cannot happen when we do this once a year with inadequate exercises.
How many hours of practice go into making somebody skilled at almost anything; from golf to fishing to skating to cooking to getting fit to coaching to selling? It is certainly more than a couple of hours once a quarter or less.
Research conducted tells us that retention rates with this type of training far exceed that of the classic ‘death by powerpoint’ style of training. Selling skills need time to embed and become part of the salesperson’s natural skill set. Reinforce your training with plenty of practical true to life individual ‘real-plays’ with these new team members.
New salespeople need strong coaches to find long term success. If your sales mangers are “too busy” to help then no-one wins. Continuous feedback alongside individual Development Plans to develop skills help to ensure the new salesperson develops into the professional salesperson delivering above average results. No matter how good the training has been without a continuous planned and impromptu coaching regime the bulk of the training will be lost very quickly.
Managers should see training and coaching as two parts of the development plan. Without sales training new salespeople do not know what they don’t know. Sales training gives them the skills, insight, process and (some) knowledge around their chosen career in Sales. But without coaching to embed all that regularly and consistently the new start will quickly forget or not complete the role with enough skill to bring success over the longer term.
Many managers understand that coaching is important but never find enough time to do it. Perhaps the solution is to plan to coach regularly and do the other tasks in the remaining time. No manager hit their target just because their emails were up to date.
Ensure that your sales leaders know how to coach and have practiced their skills with an experienced trainer/coach. Sales Managers must have the confidence to coach naturally as circumstances arrive. In addition, they should be scheduling regular coaching around the key sales steps in their selling process. All this builds confidence and motivation in their team members and none more than their new sales team members
Retaining your new sales reps
No matter how you see the future there is no doubt that companies will need professional salespeople to grow their businesses in our ever-changing circumstances. Selling skills, communication and relationship management skills are still required whether we are on Zoom or face-to-face. New salespeople will join your company and stay if they are developed and given the best chance to succeed by committed managers or, if not, they will leave. You can ensure they do not by developing your people in this exciting profession and maintaining their development throughout their (long) career with you.
Simon Cooper, Senior Training Consultant, Tack TMI UK
Tack TMI are on hand to support you in developing and improving the effectiveness of your sales team. Get in touch today for further information.
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