Do you currently have a fully equipped and productive sales team? Is everyone on your team up to speed and performing at the level they should be?

If you’re like the managers I’ve spoken with in the past 30 days, your answers are “no.” With good sales talent in high demand, more companies are hiring ‘green’ sales reps or sales reps from outside their industry AND that means longer ramp-up time.

learningHow long does it take to get a new sales rep up to speed and productive anyway? A week? A month? Six months? As part of our comprehensive salesforce evaluation process, it’s one of the questions we ask.

I’ve yet to hear a response under 12 months. In fact, the Bridge Group’s research found that new sales rep ramp-up time to full productivity rose by nearly 20% in 2014.

How can that be? How can any company afford to wait that long (nearly 14 months!) for a sales rep to be productive?

The more immediate and important question is: How do we shorten ramp-up time? One way, I believe, is to focus on purposeful learning and teaching.

We all know our reps need to learn their job. Yet how do you prepare a sales rep  to perform? I’ve heard sales managers and business owners say, “I have them observe me or shadow another rep.”

They then become frustrated when the seller can’t duplicate the success of that leader or the star rep they have observed.

Why is that? Because observing someone else do what you are supposed to do is only one aspect of learning…and not nearly as effective as when it is matched with purposeful teaching of the whats and hows of the job requirements.

Purposeful “teaching” speeds the learning curve, allows you to reinforce and correct, gain productivity faster, AND shorten your ramp-up time.

Observe the sales rep’s learning curve with these scenarios when teaching is added.

Scenario One:

Kelly is a new rep. She joined Bob’s team with some experience and needs to learn the approach, philosophy, process, specific products, and prospect base for a company, Spring Fasteners.

After her orientation and product training she is scheduled to observe Bob’s sales conversations for two days and then observe a good sales rep, Kevin, for the next week in the field.

Her third week, Kelly is on her own with permission to ask any questions. She doesn’t want to seem ‘stupid’ by asking for more information and details, so she “wings it.” She has several very ineffective weeks before month end, when Bob gives her feedback and tells her she would benefit from more time observing another successful rep.

Kelly will learn what she needs to, but it will take time and they will both experience frustration along the way.

Scenario Two with purposeful teaching added:

Kelly is a new rep. Before her observations of Bob and the Kevin, the top rep, Bob outlines the specific whats and hows that Kelly needs to learn in her first 30 days.

  • The various tools – CRM, quote calculators, etc.
  • The specific products – sell sheets, marketing materials, value drivers, examples of successful customer relationships, etc.
  • The process – key contacts in Spring Fasteners, pricing, order placement, etc.

Bob uses key points in these three areas to discuss how to approach the calls he is making, demonstrates the tools in action, and after several sales appointments, has Kelly begin to use some of the tools.

After the first week, Bob provides feedback, asks Kelly questions to test what she has learned, and responds to all of Kelly’s questions.  Before she works with Kevin, Bob also communicates the whats and hows to both Kevin and Kelly.

Before Kevin starts his sales calls with Kelly, he reviews the specifics that Bob has outlined for Kelly.

At the end of week two, Bob circles back to Kelly and tests her understanding, provides reinforcement and encouragement for Kelly to begin her own sales calls.

There is no need for a 3rd week observing another sales rep.

The difference in Kelly’s effectiveness is huge! She has context, purposefulness, and specifics for what to do and how to do it. The coaching and teaching sped up her learning and made her more effective.

So, what can you do to purposefully speed up your new employee ramp-up time?

  • Identify the specific whats and hows that a new rep needs to know.
  • Communicate the specifics to the person who will be teaching.
  • Test, reinforce, and verify that the learning matches the teaching.

If you are fortunate enough to have a training department, work with them to make the teaching and learning even more comprehensive.

Your added investment in time and effort up front preparing to teach the new rep is well worth it. Purposeful teaching accelerates learning and speeds up time to performance and sales.

Your turn! What have you found to be effective ways to teach new sales reps and speed up the learning curve? Leave a comment and keep the conversation going.