Hiring great sales talent is hard. You invest a lot of time/resources into screening and interviewing dozens of candidates for every single hire you bring on. It may feel like most of the work is done once that employee agreement is signed, but that’s far from the truth.
Much like proper client on-boarding and account management is necessary for low customer turnover, the same is true with ramping up and retaining exceptional talent.
So, what should you be doing with your sales rep for her first 4-6 weeks (aka ramp up period)?
The most common mistake you can make is leaving your new hire to their own devices. You might think:
“He’s an experienced sales professional…he’ll figure it out”
“She closed Fortune 500 clients at her last gig…pretty sure she’ll find a way to sell to mom and pop shops”
“He’s a self starter – if he has any questions, I’m sure he’ll come straight to me”
“Her last job was all cold calls, but here we’re feeding her only warm leads – just get her on the phones and the deals will come”
It’s incredibly important not to underestimate the value of a sound foundation in any new role. The best way to lay that foundation is to offer a comprehensive training process encompassing all areas of the business and how they relate to the sales role. Here’s a simple framework for what your training material should cover (please keep in mind that this is by no means an exhaustive list…suggestions welcome in comments!).
The Three P’s (Product, Product, Product)
How many of you have gone through “product training” that consists of being told to read PDF’s for a whole week?
We don’t expect our kids to get an education by simply reading textbooks, so why would we expect our soon to be high performing sales reps to learn the product they’re expected to sell by reviewing a bunch of documentation written by someone that already fully understands the product?
Unless you work for a big organization that can afford a dedicated training staff, product training should almost always be done by the individual Sales Manager (if you have Sales Directors with multiple Sales Managers as direct reports, they can run training as well as long as they already work closely with the reps).
A comprehensive product training program can be broken down into 6 main areas (or 6+ separate meetings with your new hires).
1) Your Best Product Pitch
Before beginning product training it’s good practice for your sales managers to ask their new direct reports to walk them through the product.
Here you’re checking for two things – their unbiased understanding of the product from self research and the interview process, and how their background contributes to their overall knowledge of the sector they’re now working in.
At the beginning of your training session have the highest performing sales rep run a full product demo for the new hires. This will give them a good benchmark for where their understanding of the product needs to be.
Throughout the ramp-up period it’s helpful to have your new hires constantly listening in on other rep’s calls/meetings. This will let them hear different styles of selling as they work to perfect their own pitch.
2) Competitive Landscape
In many ways today’s sales professionals are also business consultants. Prospects expect market insights and domain expertise from the very people that sell to them. And they should – after all, you’re constantly speaking with others in their market.
That domain expertise can not be complete without a full understanding of everyone else in the market that is solving the same problems as you are. Knowledge of the competition will act as a perfect segue into one of the most crucial parts of your product training:
3) Product Differentiation
It’s important to spell out to your reps exactly what features or aspects of your product make it a better choice for customers and how that directly translates to ROI for the client.
Be as specific as possible. Reference competitors that prospects might namedrop during the meeting so your reps can display an intimate knowledge of the other products in your market, giving them more authority when discussing your own product.
To give your reps a better understanding of your product’s competitive advantage you should also be able to clearly articulate why your solution creates barriers to entry (be it network effects, IP, switching costs, etc.) for future market entrants.
4) Objection Handling
Every company needs to have a constantly updated list of client objections from the day you hire your first sales person. Yes, it’s the sales person’s job to navigate complicated inquiries and skeptical prospects but why reinvent the wheel when most of your sales people are answering the same exact questions on a daily basis?
Have a team of salespeople but no existing objection doc? Do this at your next sales team meeting.
Go around the room asking everyone to contribute at least one objection they heard that week and exactly how they replied to the objection (make sure you have a dedicated scribe – yourself!). Next, pick on two of your newest hires to role play a randomly selected objection scenario with one playing the customer and one playing the rep.
Now that you have some documentation on this, you can run the same training exercise for the first 10 minutes of every meeting (thus growing the list further). I assure you that your new hires, in fear of being put on the spot next time, will know that doc forward and backward in no time.
5) Product Pricing
This may be the most obvious point on this list…but I bet that half of you have never seen pricing spelled out in any formal training documentation.
As a sales person I should know exactly how pricing is determined for each product offering, required customer metrics/details that define this pricing, and with flexible pricing – any limits and bounds that I should be aware of. This is especially important if you tend to charge customers seemingly nebulous setup fees that can be waived without a manager’s approval.
If you’re more expensive or cheaper than the competition your reps should also know exactly how you can justify a higher ticket price (better customer service, a more secure/reliable product, etc.) or what gives you the ability to undercut the competition (economies of scale, more efficient tech infrastructure, etc.)
Before sending your freshly minted sales team into the wild you owe them one more piece of material. As a quota carrying member of the team, regardless of how complicated it may be, your reps must have no question as to how they themselves make money.
The Commission Plan
Commission plans can be tricky. They’re certainly constantly evolving (much like pricing) and can be based on a huge set of factors (geography, contract values vs. bookings, product tiers, upsells – the list is endless). So why is so little time spent on them during training?
Is it the sales person’s job to figure out his own comp plan?
Just like a co-driver in a rally race that maps out the direction of the course for the driver, a properly structured compensation plan can increase growth in areas of the business where it’s most needed.
Your team is guided by financial incentive. By allocating time to this topic you’re accomplishing a few things: Developing trust with your new hires by showing them exactly what they need to do to succeed and communicating the primary objectives of the business to insure that everyone is working towards the same common goal.
Ultimately this comes down to one simple observation – the better they understand their incentive structure, the more deals they’ll close. Period.
The goal for any new hire is to get them fully integrated and operating efficiently as quickly as possible. Even in sales most of what we do is learned on the job.
It’s prudent never to assume that a “top dog” coming from another company will become a top producer for your firm if you just let them figure things out on their own. Before you know it you’ll be hearing their pitch and wondering how they could possibly miss the most elementary of details.
If you’re telling yourself that you simply don’t have the time and resources to establish a comprehensive training program I urge you to take one simple step towards accomplishing that goal. Use the guide above to schedule 1 weekly meeting for the next 6 weeks covering a different topic each day. If you do this, you already have a better training program than 70% of the sales organizations out there.