It is important to know how much time is required for new salespeople to begin achieving success. Ramp-up time can be calculated by adding the length of your sales cycle (number of days between a prospect showing interest until that customer pays the invoice), plus the length of your learning curve (how long before a new salesperson can have an intelligent conversation with a prospect) plus 30 additional days.
The first step when it comes to onboarding new salespeople is to educate them about your products or services and why people buy them. Here is the information it is your responsibility to provide to your new sales hires:
- What are all of the problems we solve?
- How many applications are there for our products/services?
- Why are we better?
- How are we different?
- What is our brand promise?
- How do we position ourselves in the marketplace?
- Who are our customers?
- What are their titles?
- How do we get to them?
- Why will they see me?
- What does the first call sound like?
- What is our sales process?
- How do I navigate the process?
- What are the questions I should be asking?
- What kind of resistance should I expect?
- How should I handle the resistance?
- What kind of objections will I hear?
- How do I handle those objections?
- What does our competition say about us?
- How do we sell against our competitors?
- What are their strengths and weaknesses?
- How do they sell against us?
- How do you want me presenting our solutions?
- How are our prices compared with the competition?
- How do we justify our prices?
In addition, they need to know the following:
- What are the expectations for me during the first week, month, quarter, year?
- How will I be measured?
- How will I be held accountable?
- What if I don’t measure up?
- What if I over achieve?
- What is our organizational structure?
- Who can I go to for help?
- What kind of help can I expect?
- How do I get the help?
The following process outlines twelve stages for bringing new salespeople on board with your company. The process is an on-the-job learning experience that will run from 12 weeks to 12 months, depending on the complexity of problems your salespeople solve, the solutions your clients undertake, and the capabilities of the salesperson.
Although I didn’t develop it myself (and can’t remember who introduced it to me), I think it is very good. The basics of a good onboarding plan start with a format based on experiential learning. Learning by doing is the most effective form of education. A good program should be hands on, sequential in nature, and incorporate a learning process that adds complexity as the salesperson’s knowledge and confidence grows.
The plan should also include scheduled milestones, at least one for each stage, during which salespeople must demonstrate their proficiency before they can move ahead. (Some companies have new salespeople sign personal development agreements before they are hired acknowledging that failure to meet the milestones is grounds for termination.) An important dimension of these milestones is the feedback the learner receives. Learners need to receive objective, consistent and specific feedback.
You must consider the decision to retain a salesperson as separate and distinct from the decision you made to hire him. The decision to hire was based on the information available at the time of the decision. The decision to retain a new hire is a separate decision that will be based on your observations after the individual begins working with you. You should base your decision to retain a new hire on their observed behavior. This will be apparent to you long before you see actual sales results.
At each stage of the onboarding plan a milestone – measurable and objective proof of their learning – should to be achieved. You do not want to advance the learner, unless and until that milestone is met. It’s no different than the 12 grades of elementary and secondary education. You don’t advance students to the next grade until they have provided evidence of having learning the content of their current grade. Passing them prematurely will not cause learning to happen later.
Here are the 12 stages of a generic onboarding program:
|Step 1||What is your company all about?Sales professionals need to know your company’s history, the key people and positions, its market position, its value proposition, as well as the details of employment, such as the compensation plan, expense policies, and so forth.||Two minute, five minute, 10 minute, and 20 minute presentations to colleagues or managers that demonstrate their ability to organize and present information and to give a clear picture of your company and its capabilities to prospective customers.|
|Step 2||Who are the customers you serve?||An explanation of whom your target prospects are.|
|Step 3||How do you manage opportunities?||An internal presentation of a personal time and territory management plan.|
|Step 4||What is your sales process?||An internal, simulated exercise in which the salesperson prepares and engages in a typical first call.|
|Step 5||What is their personal prospecting plan?||A review of their proposed personal prospecting plan, and, on approval, the commitment to meet those goals.|
|Step 6||What are your solutions?||A presentation, along with an internal role-playing simulation in which the salesperson moves from problem diagnosis to solution design.|
|Step 7||Can they now develop new business?||The ability to “get invited in” by new prospects and initiate a constructive first meeting with a prospect.|
|Step 8||Can they diagnose the customer’s situation?||The ability to diagnose symptoms and causes of problems, as well as establish a mutual understanding of the diagnosis with various individuals within the customer’s cast of characters.|
|Step 9||Can they determine the cost of the problem?||The proven ability to move from the diagnosis stage of the sales process into the investment and decision process stage.|
|Step 10||Do your customers perceive them as a creative problem solver?||The ability to help your customer establish the desired outcomes, create an optimal solution, and align their selection criteria with the solution that will be proposed.|
|Step 11||Can they propose an effective solution?||The demonstrated ability to prepare a comprehensive proposal.|
|Step 12||Can they effectively present a proposal?||A concluded sale.|
The onboarding process should conclude with the new hires’ revision of their individual business plan. This plan should now cover the next two quarters and include business and professional development goals; market, territory, and key customer analyses; targeted prospects; performance metrics; and resources needed to help achieve the goals.
It should be a formal document agreed to by the salesperson and you as their sales manager. This business plan serves as a basis for monitoring their performance and delivering ongoing coaching. These reviews should be conducted on a regular basis, weekly at first. As the quality of their performance improves, these meetings can become biweekly, then monthly, and, eventually, once per quarter. Before each review, your salespeople should write a short (one to two-page) summary of what’s working, what’s not working, and what needs to be changed, if anything, to stay on track toward in reaching their goals.