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Removing the Barriers to New Hire Sales Productivity

February 5, 2014 by
Posted in Performance Readiness Solutions, Sales Enablement

Sales Productivity

We are often asked to look at what content, skills training, and tools new hire salespeople receive as part of their onboarding process in an attempt to “make the new hire experience better.” This request is usually in response to sales and business unit leaders asking learning and development teams to create more globally consistent new hire training programs that drive costs out of a fragmented process with multiple stakeholders, no real clear-cut owner, and lack of accountability.

When taking a step back and looking at new hire training and the overall onboarding process, we often find a lot of work going into creating new hire training content or building more distributed methods to reach and teach remote salespeople. For example, there has been some good work in building ramp-up toolkits and even creating communities that new hire salespeople can use to get the help they need. But, have you ever stopped to ask your team, “What is the business benefit of all the new hire training-related work we do?” or better yet, “How do we know our sales new hire training program is effective?”

If you think about it, newly hired salespeople face a very real challenge: “How do I (as a new salesperson) meet with buyers who will buy from us and then sell them something so I can hit my quota?”

Unfortunately, more often than not, the new hire training process doesn’t get close to helping salespeople answer this fundamental question. Instead, we often find an altogether different reality in existing new hire sales training programs. What we usually find looks something more like this:

  • 500 different content assets including courses, modules, and reinforcement guides
  • 370 hours of available training to participate in at the time of their choosing
  • 4 different portals/internal websites to sort through
  • 2 different internal social networking websites to engage in

In more real terms, we find that only 15% of this content is really about the buyers/customer that salespeople need to actually talk to in order to “sell them something.” Yep, that’s right, 15%.

And, to make matters worse, this lack of focus on customers in the new hire training process increases the burden on internal subject matter experts. Oftentimes we find that salespeople have to navigate to 10 different subject matter expert functions or people to in order to figure out how they can add collective value to clients (yet these internal groups are largely ignored in the new hire training process).

So, let’s recap: New hire training isn’t about customers and it’s not designed to help newly hired salespeople reach the internal subject matter experts who can help communicate value. No wonder the executive team is often wondering what the return on investment is for their new hire sales training program.

Having worked in this space for a while, it’s easy to see how new hire programs can evolve over time to diffuse customer focus. Increased executive expectations and pressure by product/business unit leaders to ensure product knowledge is pumped into the heads of new hires can create a confusing web of complexity that salespeople simply need to “understand” in order to get up to speed more quickly. Suffice it to say, we often find that new hires face a steep learning curve—especially within the first 90 days. 

The good news is that some learning and sales leaders are looking at the sales new hire and onboarding process as an area of targeted improvement. They are beginning to work cross-functionally to upgrade, optimize, or even transform the new hire sales training experience. 

I thought it would be helpful to share some of the challenge I am seeing as they begin this work. If addressing the new hire training challenge is on your radar screen, let me offer you a brief categorization of the several barriers that get in the way of new hire productivity. No matter your path forward, these barriers need to be addressed, especially, if you’re looking to apply more than just a temporary Band-Aid to the sales new hire training challenge.

  • Barrier 1: Failing to confront the new hire salesperson’s reality. While the future growth strategy is tied to reaching C-level executives, is it realistic to turn your new hire salespeople loose on the C-level inside your best clients the first day on the job? When we look at new hire sales training, we often hear that mandate: You just need to go sell to the C-Level! The challenge is that it might be a good idea to actually practice those conversations in the new hire experience instead of letting them practice on your customers. For many sales and learning leaders, just trying to figure out what to train and what to teach people to say is daunting—but it models the reality that your new hire salespeople face (and they just started working in the company).
  • Barrier 2: Failing to define new hire sales training clearly. Many organizations define onboarding as the “stuff that HR does,” while defining new hire training as the “stuff HR doesn’t do.” This leads to a lot of gray areas in the overall new hire experience. Can you define where new hire training ends and where it begins? What about the HR onboarding process? How much of the new hire training experience is about success in role? And how long does it last? Without a clear definition of where new hire training begins and ends, you end up with multiple perspectives (like product, marketing, and sales perspectives) all asking for more time in the poorly defined process, and they seem to be all “good ideas” but together may not actually be meaningful to the new hire. While adding value to the new hire process is important, it’s doubtful that internal content providers can create valuable content if they can’t define what the new hire process is. Defining the new hire process clearly is an often very real barrier that needs to be overcome to get the right help you need internally.
  • Barrier 3: Failing to align content, skills, and tools to the specific sales conversations that new hires need to have. If salespeople need to get in front of C-level, how much time is actually dedicated to helping reps engage at the level (not just mandate action) in the new hire experience? Or more specifically, which training content and materials are specifically aligned to helping reps get access to a specific C-level role? New hire training content needs to help salespeople achieve tangible results in their sales process. Unfortunately, overgeneralizing what it takes to be successful with all buyers doesn’t help the cause. Aligning the content that new hires need to be successful with the real-world conversations they need have with those buyers is a barrier that needs to be overcome to increase new hire productivity.

Removing these barriers can dramatically affect the speed to which new hire salespeople get up and running in their role. By addressing these barriers, you are well on your way to decreasing new hire ramp-up time and giving new hires a leg up by decreasing the slope of their learning curve. Additionally, by working cross-functionally to remove these barriers, you can build a new solid foundation for new hire sales training and start focusing on decreasing the time it takes to achieve quota by:

  • Increasing buyer empathy. Focus on helping different kinds of salespeople develop understanding and empathy with the buyers they’ll be working with and communicate in the way those buyers need. This will eventually trump run-of-the-mill product training, which has been the emphasis of onboarding and training for more than a century and had a dramatic role in getting reps sent to procurement instead to the C-suite.
  • Driving sales objectives. Develop reps based on specific and measureable sales objectives that map to their sales process and are in relationship to the types of buyers they work with on a daily basis.
  • Tailoring the experience. Fine-tune the experience to enable different types of reps with different messaging, stopping the one-size-fits-all new hire training experience.
  • Building a value-added program. Engineer an ongoing new hire development process that sales leaders find more valuable (as opposed to creating a one-off time bound fragmented series of activities).

Watch Brian Lambert’s latest thought leadership video on Sales Productivity.

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About the Author: Brian is a leader in the sales enablement field with international experience working with sales, training, marketers and technology professionals. As the leader of the GP Strategies Sales Enablement practice, Brian provides consulting and services expertise to clients as well thought leadership to the industry. Prior to joining GP Strategies, Brian served as a Senior Analyst for Forrester Research, a world-renowned research organization where he was a sales enablement human capital thought leader to fortune 500 executives. For the preceding 4 years, Brian spearheaded the sales learning and development practice at the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD), the leading international organization of learning development professionals, where he developed content, tools, and training programs for sales learning professionals and trainers. Brian has written 4 books on selling, and has a PhD in organization and management with a concentration in sales.

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