You did a search, found great sales candidates, put them through a rigorous screening process, and hired the best one.  Now you expect them to get out there and sell, right?  How long should it take a new salesperson to ramp up to full speed?  Shouldn’t this person I hired know how to sell?

Assuming you have an adequate sales process and good lead generation, there are 3 basic things that get in the way of a new salesperson’s success.

  • Your expectations
  • Lack of needed sales skills for the new position
  • Inadequate training period

Your expectations

We expect the new person to be revenue producing quickly and it costs money if they are not.  But if we don’t train them properly it costs us more money, since it takes them longer to ramp up, so they get discouraged and leave, we fire them, or worse yet, we keep them even though they are performing poorly.  Plan appropriate training into your budget and don’t expect anything of the new salesperson the first 3 weeks other than that they follow the training schedule.

Lack of Needed Sales Skills

Again, we have expectations.  We expect them to know how to do the new job.  For example, we hire people and expect them to prospect when in fact they may have been very successful in their old job at account management but not at prospecting.  Or they may have been great a prospecting and generated lots of leads but didn’t close.  Or maybe they didn’t cover the details well enough and made it to closing but didn’t get repeat business because they hadn’t educated the customer or didn’t meet expectations.  Plan to evaluate the whole picture, so you can train properly.

An Adequate Training Period

Hiring right is imperative but it won’t make up for lack of training.  You need to design a New Hire Training program for your new salespeople.  Aside from the typical orientation and HR overview you probably give your new salespeople product training.  This is not enough.  Here is the New Hire Training program I recommend.

Adequate initial training takes about 3 weeks.  There are 5 components.

  • Learning about the company
  • Learning the departments, people and roles
  • Learning the product/service
  • Learning the job
  • Learning needed sales skills

Make a New Hire Training Calendar with those components.

Learning about the Company

The first few days on the job, the salesperson should be scheduled to spend time learning about the company, the history, the future, alliances and partnerships, policies and procedures and any other important things they need to know.  They should also become intimately familiar with the website and all of the recent press releases and the investor relations section.

Learning the Departments, People and Roles

In between this learning they should visit every department in the company in person if possible and on the phone where distance is a problem.  They need to learn who the people are in each department and their role.  A list should be ready for the salesperson with all of the contact info and a “who to call when” section.  The department personnel should have a routine that they go through with the new salespeople to tell them about their department, their role and how they interact with sales.

Learning the Product/Service

Examine the product/service training you provide.  Does it cover everything?  It is in-depth enough or is it too in-depth?  Does it need to be broken up into smaller chunks?  As part of the product training the new salesperson should have the opportunity to use the product or talk to satisfied customers who use the product.  They should also have the opportunity to see first hand the product production or development and shadow the people who do that.  If there is delivery and installation, the salesperson should ride along to learn that aspect as well.

Learning the Job

In my opinion the best way to learn a job is to start by shadowing.  Choose carefully from your most successful salespeople and make a schedule.  Each of your successful salespeople do things differently so make sure the new salesperson gets to shadow at least 3.  It is important to make careful choices in who is shadowed to provide a positive view of the job.  If your best salesperson has a negative attitude, then that is not a good choice for mentoring your new salesperson.  Train your salespeople on what you want them to do while the new person is shadowing.  Make sure the new person gets to see a variety of activity and has time to ask questions.

Most adults learn best with this method:

  • Demonstration followed by discussion
  • Doing with an observer followed by feedback and discussion
  • Doing on their own followed by discussion with their previous observer

Once the salesperson has shadowed several salespeople, it is time for the manager to step in.  You should ride with the person to visit clients and prospects.  Before each visit, discuss with the salesperson what their approach will be, observe them and take a few notes for feedback and discussion after each meeting.  Once you feel secure in the salesperson’s ability, leave them on their own to perform sales calls independently, but be sure to have a follow-up discussion each week about the results of those meetings.

Learning the Needed Sales Skills

After evaluating your new salesperson’s skills, you will need bridge any gaps in their skill set.  If you have a good snapshot of all the skills a successful salesperson at your company needs this will be fairly easy.  Make sure they have good prospecting, discovery, education and closing skills.  If not, send them to a sales course in-person or on-line or have them read a great book on sales that covers the needed skills and then have a discussion about it.  Role playing the needed skills with the salesperson is also helpful.

Don’t expect salespeople to have all the needed skills.  They may not have had any formal training.  If salespeople like a certain aspect of selling, they may be better at it than in others.  For example, they might be great at prospecting, but not know how to ask good questions, and even if they do, they may need to learn the right questions to ask for your product or service.

There is a caution to all of this: Good salespeople will be anxious to just jump in and start selling.  That is a good thing but assure them that this training process will make everyone involved more successful in the long run.

Once the initial training period is over, are you finished with training?  No, the salesperson should be coached frequently for the first 6 months.  All salespeople need ongoing coaching and training to stay at the top of their game.