There’s no catch-all formula to guarantee success of a new sales hire. But in successful companies I’ve helped, you do spot patterns. The ones that get traction are willing to undergo the pain of change. They set outcome-based targets when they start hiring sales people, so both the company and the new hire know what is expected. But there’s another critical component: actively managing the process when you’re onboarding sales professionals.
This may seem a bit counter-intuitive for companies that are hiring experienced, senior salespeople who are expected to hit the ground running. You’re bringing on board a person who already has a track record of success, with the paper trail to prove it. This person has managed and led sales campaigns in other industries. If anything, they should be telling your company how they’re going to take on their mission. Why do they need oversight?
Because if you don’t manage the new salesperson, it’s going to be a big failure – and it’s totally avoidable. From what I’ve seen, it’s a challenge for both startups and large enterprises.
A cautionary tale of a sales onboarding process gone wrong
I’ve seen this kind of thing before, but it was particularly heartbreaking with a recent client engagement. The company asked me to help with the hiring process because they had trouble in the past in finding and defining a role for their new sales person.
We checked off all the boxes on this process: clearly describing the role, doing competency and outcomes-based interviewing, a behavioral assessment, thorough reference checks and proof of performance. Going a bit further than most, we literally asked for the prospective hires’ last sales commission reports from the previous year-end.
Out of that rigorous process, the company hired a highly-qualified and experienced sales person. A contract was signed. The cork came off the champagne as the company announced the launch of a new campaign to other key employees.
My role in the hiring process was done. The company was very excited about moving forward and the new hire was equally enthusiastic. With fond farewells, I moved on to other projects.
On the new salesperson’s first day, things started going off the rails.
The company neglected to assign a manager to integrate this person into the company. Instead, administrative staff simply set the person up with a desk, a phone, a company email and a key to the building. Then, they essentially left them alone.
Three months later, their hard-charging sales stallion with a proven pedigree was still stuck in the stable.
There were no major new sales milestones reached – in fact, very few sales of any kind were happening. Three months, with nothing to show for it.
Even the best sales hires need management
My liaison at the company called me in a state that was not far off from desperation. I got to their office that week. I talked to the leadership team and had a conversation with the sales person. It was clear within half an hour of my arrival what had gone wrong when they were onboarding sales capacity.
Hiring is only the first step in the process of bringing on a sales professional (or a sales team). No manager had taken the initiative to integrate the new sales person, who had essentially been left in a bubble, to do whatever they saw fit.
The onboarding process was woefully inadequate. There had been only the most cursory briefings and training to get the person informed about the company’s history, mission and how different departments worked together.
The new hire had indeed worked out a plan with goals and metrics for success, but had no one to share that with, much less receive feedback from. After a few weeks of trying to figure out who they needed to report to, they gave up. In the meantime, the product developers, marketing department and other key company stakeholders essentially had little idea what the new salesperson did all day (though they certainly seemed busy).
In other words, the hiring had gone fine; the onboarding hadn’t even really happened.
The company had lost three months of potential. Even worse, they now had an isolated, demoralized and unproductive salesperson on their hands, who would need at least six weeks of real coordination and training to get back up to speed.
Today, the company is already on its way to turning things around. Still, it didn’t need to be this way.
Onboarding sales professionals the right way
Every company is different, but for sales positions, there are certain critical elements to the onboarding process. Often, an account person will help the new professional to understand the industry and key decision-makers. The new hire should very quickly have a high-level understanding of their territory and an ability to drill down shortly thereafter, once they’ve had some access to the company’s CRM system (whether that’s SalesForce or a simple spreadsheet).
If the company already had some sales people prior to the new hire, they have more options to speed up the process: job-shadowing on specific assignments, on sales calls and with sales emails for specific parts of the sales funnel. A tactical session might involve handling objections. If the sales person is more senior, then a manager might spend some time going over the sales number expectations and refining goals in future sessions.
Again, a high-level sales person is expected to be able to work independently without a ton of supervision. But at the same time, they are part of a team and even the most independent, highly motivated salesperson needs some help to understand what resources and processes are available.
It can take at six weeks to six months for an employee to really be fully-integrated with a company that way. Depending on the length of the sales cycle, it could be even longer. Still, if companies do this intelligently, the new hire can start showing results as early as their first week.
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