You may find my next statement shocking:There is no such thing as a great salesperson.
You read correctly. Don't believe me? How many salespeople have you hired with great pedigrees that have failed in your company? Five? 10? Dozens? Assuming that the resume was an accurate representation of their skills and accomplishments, if they were truly a great salesperson, how could they fail? Did they hit their head on a drawer and forget how to sell? Is it a flaw in your company?
They didn't forget how to sell, nor is your company the issue. The issue is the word "great." Greatness is an attribute of the relationship synergy between a company and a salesperson. Assuming that you have done a "great" job in identifying the right sales talent for your company, the key to having a long-term, fruitful sales marriage is your process for assimilating the new salesperson into your culture.
Some companies refer to the assimilation process as "new hire training." New hire training typically comes in one of two forms:
• There is the Fire Hose Program, whereby the company throws everything they have at the neophyte salesperson in their first week of employment. Retention is minimal. Frustration is high.
• The other new hire training program is the Osmosis Program. This approach is usually developed with the "If he's really a great salesperson, he'll figure it out on his own" theme.
In both of these cases, companies are often unpleasantly surprised by high turnover, underperformance and a constant mantra of "I need a lower price."
Back to the Golden Days of Training
Once upon a time, major companies had wonderful sales training programs where new team members would undergo months of classroom training before they were ever allowed in front of a prospect. Economic pressures have squeezed many of those programs into non-existence. In most cases, the responsibility of getting new salespeople up to speed falls on the sales leadership team. Assimilating new salespeople is a critical skill that every sales leader now must master.
Let's put aside the term "new hire training program." It's blasé and usually lacks the necessary structure and metrics to be valuable to you. How about developing a Revenue Accelerator Program™ (RAP) for your new hire assimilation?
There is a window of time that begins on the salesperson's first day and ends at some point in the future. This window is their non-revenue producing time period. They aren't generating one penny toward helping you achieve your corporate revenue goal. The basis of RAP™ is that you structure a program that allows you to minimize the size of that window so that salespeople move into a revenue production mode more quickly. Easy to say, it is much more difficult to put into practice. There are three steps to developing your RAP.
1. What do they need to know?
The first step is to identify all of the things that a salesperson needs to know in order to be successful in your company. Don't worry about prioritizing this list. Write everything down—including completing new hire paperwork, learning your CRM, meeting key people, learning how the compensation plan works, discovering your product, etc. The list should also identify people the new salesperson should meet and what they will learn from them.
The list is going to be huge. That's to be expected. It should be a comprehensive list; no detail is too small. Keep thinking…What do they need to know to be successful in this company?
2. When do they need to know it?
Now you have a comprehensive list. Resist the temptation to turn on the fire hose. The next step is to identify the prioritization of the new salesperson learning this information. They don't need to know everything today, nor can you effectively teach that way. With adult learning, it is important to chunk the information in such a way that allows them the opportunity to learn it. Hours of lecture or reading will accomplish little. Each segment should be 60 to 90 minutes at most if you plan for the new hire to retain the information.
There should also be logic to the program flow. Each day and week, the new hire should be building their foundation. Solid foundations lead to long tenures and strong results. Plot each of the identified items in a weekly schedule. From there, you can break it down to a daily program.
(You are probably wondering how long a RAP should be. There is no standard answer for that. It is based on the level of complexity of the sales environment. In some companies, it is a few days. In others, it is a few weeks. And in others, it lasts for months. The bottom-line goal is to help sales people move to revenue-generation mode as quickly as possible.)
3. Do they know it?
This is the area where the traditional new hire program falls down. You invest a ton of time and resources in the new sales reps, but how do you evaluate their assimilation? The key is to develop a testing process. At various intervals of RAP, the salesperson is tested on the teachings of the program. For example, at the end of teaching them about your product, provide a written test to see how well they know the information. Imagine the embarrassment of a salesperson misrepresenting a product because they didn't know how it worked and what it did. (Of course, that never happens.)
If one of their responsibilities as a salesperson is to deliver the corporate presentation, develop a scored testing session where they deliver the presentation to a group. Have the participants and an observer score the session. Why lose a deal because your sales person was ineffective in delivering the corporate message.
Do they have a strong game plan for pursuing prospects? Have them submit a territory plan that includes their approach. It could save you three months of the salesperson going down the wrong path.
Sink or Swim
As mentioned before, the bottom-line goal of RAP is to minimize the time the salesperson is on the bench. One of the added benefits of RAP is the ability to determine sink or swim early in the salesperson's tenure. How many times have you let a salesperson go after an 18-month investment because they could not cut the mustard? Could you have gathered data in their first few months that would have allowed you to coach the person to success or counsel them out of your company? Either of those options is better than a failed 18-month investment. Build your RAP and enjoy the results.
Editor's Note: Sales managers are facing a set of challenges that they've never experienced before. They think their team is focused on generating sales, but they are completely distracted. Read Salz's "The Unprecedented Sales Management Challenge for 2009" at SalesandMarketingManagement.com to discover how to overcome obstacles this year.
Lee B. Salz is a sales management guru who helps companies hire the right sales people, on-board them, and focus their sales activity using his sales architecture® methodology. He is the President of Sales Architects, the C.E.O. of Business Expert Webinars and author of the award-winning book, "Soar Despite Your Dodo Sales Manager." Lee is an online columnist for Sales and Marketing Management Magazineand the host of the Internet radio show, "Secrets of Business Gurus." Look for Lee's new book in February 2009 titled, "The Sales Marriage" where he shares the secrets to hiring the right sales people. He is a passionate, dynamic speaker and a business consultant. Lee can be reached at lsalz@SalesArchitecture.com or 763.416.4321.