The average cost of a failed ramp-up or miss-hire can be six times base salary for a sales person and 15 times base salary for a manager, according to the book “Topgrading,” by Bradford Smart. Also, considering that almost half of all sales people don’t reach their targets, the importance of effective recruitment and ramp-up should be a topic in focus for sales managers.
So what should you do to prevent miss-hires and unnecessarily long ramp-up time
Here’s my top 7 list:
1. Understand your sales complexity
Before you start, make sure that you understand the complexity of your sales environment. The number of people involved in the buying decision and the perceived risk of your solution determines the level of complexity. If your potential candidates have a history of selling for large corporations, with strong brands and market pull, and selling your solution requires missionary work, they may meet resistance difficult for them to overcome. Please read my blog about what makes a good b2b sales person, the differences between transactional and complex selling and traits to look for in a sales person.
2. Select the right people for your type of sale
How do you make sure that you hire the right people for the job? When you understand the complexity of your sale and criteria critical to reach success, you have the foundation to attract the right people. Be specific in your selection process and use the right wording when you write the job description and advertisement. Make sure not to articulate the need for traits such as “fast-paced” and “a great closer” when you need a person with a customer-centric mindset and business acumen. A person who gets bored with longer sales cycles will start pushing for a close without completely understanding the customer and sabotage deals. Also, I’d recommend using sales competency assessment tools to highlight each candidate’s strengths and weaknesses and suitability for the role.
3. Set clear expectations, goals & milestones
Be specific when communicating your quota expectation and commissions – break down goals into milestones and activity metrics and make sure that your candidate and sales manager acknowledges them as achievable. Agree on dates when leading indicators need to be met (time to first qualified opportunity, deal, etc.). Use our realistic goal setting kit to assist you with this. Allow for a reasonable ramp-up, which takes training and previous experience into account. Make sure that you have a clear plan for how to fill a new hire’s pipeline. The authors of “The Psychology of Call Reluctance,” claim that 80% of all sales people who fail within their first year in sales do so because of insufficient prospecting activity
4. Provide proper training & on-boarding
Create a formal training program and set aside the resources needed to get new hires trained. Make sure that their first day on the job is great and that they get the level of attention they deserve! Besides training them on your company, products and services, competition and sales – focus diligently on helping them become experts in understanding the problems and aspirations of your customers. Expect a longer ramp-up time if a new hire has less than five years of sales experience and less than two years of experience helping customers in an industry like yours.
5. Provide the process and sales infrastructure
Having a sales process and methodology for your sales team to follow in the right sales tools is paramount to achieve success. This will help new hires to quickly learn and understand what to do and when to do it. This kind of shared map and sales language will guide everyone on the team to consistently reach their numbers. According to Sales Benchmark Index, companies that deploy a formal sales process, when compared to the mean, win 48% more, have sales cycles 37% shorter and generate 2x the revenue per head.
6. Coach for progress instead of just managing activity levels
Too few sales managers spend enough time coaching their sales people, despite the fact that studies have shown it to be the number one driver to improve sales performance. With a solid sales infrastructure in place, your sales managers can coach for progress instead of just activity. Coaching new hires is especially important because it can encourage behavior that has a positive impact on short and long-term performance. Also configure your sales tools to off-load your sales manager by taking care of day-to-day task reminders and inform each sales person about their progress towards goals.
7. Opportunity management as a learning experience
By integrating learning resources and sales collateral into your opportunity management process you will enable new hires and the entire team to grow with every deal they work.
Definition of ramp-up
How long should it take to ramp up a b2b sales person, in a moderately complex selling environment? To generalize, I’d recommend looking at it as a formula like:
Sales Cycle + Learning Curve + Pipe Creation + Lack of Experience
Pipe Creation: before new hires can close deals, their pipeline needs to be filled. Depending on how you create leads, allow a reasonable time frame for it.
Lack of experience: if the sales person has less than 5 years of sales experience, add 1-3 months depending on sales complexity. Add the same type of time if lacking industry expertise.
So, if you have a 3-month sales cycle, a 90-day learning curve and need 30 days to fill the sales pipeline, you’re looking at a ramp-up time of 7-13 months. After that, new hires should have filled their pipeline and be able to achieve the agreed-upon sales targets. Apart from this, a sales manager that dedicates time to coaching, helpful colleagues and a positive culture are key components to ensure that new hires become successful.
When things aren’t working, STOP
If, after a reasonable period of time and despite doing all of the above properly with solid coaching support, the person is not performing as expected, stop and let the person go quickly. Don’t drag it out and don’t accept mediocre performance, as it will negatively impact the rest of the team and waste valuable internal resources. Help guide the person to a new professional journey.
When things are working, DUPLICATE
When your recruitment and ramp-up process is working, leverage this to maximize your growth potential and congratulate yourself. Recruiting and ramping up new sales people is one of the most difficult tasks within the context of growing a sales team.