In a recent post, Randy Illig detailed the dangers of "the experience trap," which fools us into falsely believing that salespeople with more experience are better at their jobs than those with less. In fact, however, research has shown that’s not the case. Furthermore, we know that new hires can rapidly acquire knowledge and skills that put them on par with more experienced workers in just two years.
But how? We’ve seen that the key to enabling inexperienced salespeople to grow quickly in their roles is a robust program that successfully onboards them to the company and their new job. Yet, astonishingly, some companies have no formal onboarding process at all. That’s a huge mistake.
Most salesforces experience regular turnover—people move on to different roles, switch careers, retire, get promoted and need to be replaced. A salesforce can turnover 100 percent within just a few years to a decade, making ongoing recruitment a necessity for some companies.
Regardless of whether your hiring is designed to maintain the status quo or actively grow your salesforce, you have a need to acclimate new hires to your company’s sales culture and the distinctive customer experience your company creates that causes people to buy your products or services. And yet onboarding is frequently overlooked or not treated with the same importance as other activities involved in the growth of a salesforce.
The evidence is clear when it comes to onboarding: Just do it—and do it well. We’ve seen three common elements of successful onboarding programs:
A new sales employee needs an engaged mentor. Most frequently, we’ve seen that sales employees who fail to integrate into a new culture either have no mentor or a strictly arm’s-length mentor who is unavailable, unsupportive or uncommunicative. An aloof mentor can have a dire effect, leaving new workers to struggle somewhat aimlessly without the proper guidance. Meanwhile, employees with committed mentors enjoy a focused, efficient integration and significantly greater success early on.
I recommend that mentors connect with new sales employees weekly, either in person or on a standing phone call. Mentors should focus on specific goals with review and feedback cycles. Each week, the new employee should discuss what they’ve learned, what they could do better, and how they’ve applied new learning. Mentors should be prepared to provide their mentee with their complete attention.
2. Balancing training with doing
Sales managers often say that they want new workers in front of clients as soon as possible. But what they’re really saying is that they want to see their sales numbers rising. We know, however, that it’s ineffective to rush anyone into handling responsibilities they aren’t prepared to tackle.
When workers start at a new job, they initially should spend about 90 percent of their time training and only about 10 percent “doing.” Training that emphasizes a company’s culture and organization needs to be a first priority. Training related to a company’s industry and its products and services is also essential—but too often it is elevated at the expense of teaching new hires to be ambassadors of a company’s unique sales culture that drives business wins and competitive growth.
As time passes, workers will be ready for more responsibility, including gaining their own clients or focus areas. Sales leaders should provide these assignments with guidance and support. As you can see in the graphic, the ratio gradually shifts as onboarding continues. By the end, the worker’s ratio of time spent should be about 90 percent doing and 10 percent training.
3. Meeting new hires “where they are”
Onboarding programs should be structured to help employees learn based on their existing skills and knowledge, while providing training that is geared to the work that they will be expected to do. For instance, many young workers are technologically savvy, with social media as a basic part of their life. For them, it’s useful to create training that includes a technological component and an effort to build an internal community, such as through peer-to-peer assignments that allow them to collaborate and give each other feedback.
Assignments should employ the tools that new hires will need on a job. Take a look at how sales are made, how connections are forged, and mimic that in training. Adjust your modes of learning to include a variety of styles—online learning, classroom learning and active learning (where the employee produces something)—to avoid falling into any ruts.
If onboarding is done well, you can close the experience gap between a green worker and a seasoned one in a matter of months instead of years. In fact, you can groom a strong new hire to the productivity level of a 20-year veteran within a few quarters.
It's the job of the gatekeeper to protect their leader's time and attention, but with a few techniques and honest communication, we've found that gatekeepers will admit nearly anyone. To learn these techniques, download and share this set of performance cards.