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Why your new salesperson isn’t selling anything

Alice Heiman

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? The fact is, their sales performance is awful, way below your expectations. How long should it take a new salesperson to ramp up to full speed? Shouldn’t they already know how to sell? Did I hire the wrong person?

Assuming you have an adequate sales process and good lead generation, there are three 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

The biggest mistake we make is setting unrealistic expectations, by putting the salesperson out in the field (or on the phone) too soon, without adequate support. This is a very costly mistake. We want them to produce sales immediately, and it costs money if they don’t. But it costs more money if we don’t train them properly and it takes them longer to ramp up and they may get discouraged and leave, we fire them, or worse yet, we keep them even though they are performing poorly. To get the desired results, put training into your budget and on your schedule and don’t expect anything of the new salesperson the first three weeks other than that they follow the training schedule and ask good questions.

If prospecting is a requirement of the job, don’t assume that your new hires are good at it or even know how to do it. We hire people and expect them to know all aspects of sales responsibilities, 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 at prospecting and generated lots of leads but didn’t close enough of them. 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 followed through sufficiently.

Hiring right is imperative but it never makes up for lack of training or insufficient training. You need to design a new-hire training program for all your new salespeople. You owe it to them and your organization. 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.

You need to invest three to four weeks in initial training. There are no shortcuts. I recommend the following five components.

* Learning about the company

* Learning the departments, people and roles

* Learning the product/service

* Learning the job

* Learning needed sales skills

The first few days on the job, the salesperson should be scheduled to spend time learning about the company, the history, the company vision for the future as well as alliances and partnerships, policies and procedures and any other important facts, attitudes and values. They should also become intimately familiar with the Web site and all of the recent press releases and the investor relations section.

As part of 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 key 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 an approved list of information that they go through with the new salespeople to tell them about their department, their role and how they interact with sales.

Examine the product/service training you provide. Does it cover everything? It is in-depth enough or is it too detailed? 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.

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 three. Make sure you choose successful, experienced salespeople with positive attitudes.

Unfortunately, some very successful sales people have negative attitudes. You know who they are. Don’t choose them! Train your experienced, successful salespeople so they know what to do and say to be helpful to the new salespeople while they are shadowing. Make sure the new person gets to see a variety of activity and has time to ask questions.

Demonstration followed by discussion is the way in which most adults learn best. Next they need to do the demonstrated task with an observer followed by feedback and discussion with that observer. The last piece is doing the task on their own with no observer 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.

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 online 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 to sell your product or service.

A caution: Good salespeople will tend to become impatient. They’ll want to jump right in and start selling. That’s a good thing but you will need to continuously reassure them that this training process will make them more successful in the long run.

Once the three to four weeks of initial sales training are completed, are you finished with training? No, the salesperson should be coached frequently for the first six months, and all salespeople need ongoing coaching and training to stay at the top of their game.

Alice R. Heiman is president of Alice Heiman, LLC, a Reno-based sales training company.