Speed Sales Rep Ramp-up Time

by Ray Makela, Managing Director at the Sales Readiness Group

speed up sales ramp up time
Ray Makela has over 20 years of management, consulting, and sales experience. Ray is an industry thought-leader who writes frequently on best practices for coaching and developing sales teams. Ray currently oversees all client engagements for Sales Readiness Group (SRG) as well as serves as a senior facilitator on sales management, coaching, negotiation and sales training workshops. Prior to Sales Readiness Group, Ray served as Chief Customer Officer (CCO) at Codesic Consulting where he was responsible for business development, managing customer relationships, and the development and implementation of Codesic's sales training initiatives. Ray has also held management positions at Accenture and Claremont Technology Group were he was a management consultant and trainer in the Change Management practice. He earned his B.A in Speech Communications from the University of Washington and an M.P.A. in Public Administration and Information Systems Management from the University of Southern California.

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Presenter: Ready. Here comes our next speaker. Ray Makela is a managing director at Sales Readiness Group. He oversees all client engagement for SRG, as well as serves as senior facilitator on sales management, coaching, negotiation, and sales training workshops. Ray has over 20 years of management, consulting, and sales experience and writes frequently on best practices for coaching and developing sales teams. He's recognized as a thought leader in the sales training industry and has his white papers and blog posts frequently featured in leading sales enablement productions.

Please join me in welcoming Ray to the Sales Acceleration Summit.

Ray: Hi. This is Ray Makela from Sales Readiness Group. I'm going to be speaking to you today about accelerating the ramp-up time of new sales reps.

Let's talk a little bit about the business case for accelerating the ramp-up of new hires before we get into the different sections of our content today.

So in terms of that return on investment, we like to think about adding sales reps as really adding to your production capability within your sales team. And so if you think about that sales rep as a revenue stream, there are a couple of questions you may be asking: specifically, how much are they going to be contributing, and how soon are they going to get up to speed and really be at quota? And to the extent that we can reduce that cycle time, there's a significant return on that investment.

One of the ways to think about this, is looking at the ramp-up period as a formula. And one of the ways to do that, is really to look at the average sales cycle within your organization and add about three months onto that. Now, obviously, that's going to depend on the complexity of your sales cycle, as well as the experience of the new hires you're bringing in. But we find that's a typical rule of thumb that works quite well to predict how soon will they actually be up to speed and at quota, and is there anything that we can do to shorten that cycle time and make them more productive?

So the five key areas we're going to be talking about today, regarding accelerating the ramp-up time, include: is your organization sales ready and what does that look like, are we hiring the right people and do we have the processes in place to get the right people onto the team to begin with, are we training effectively, are we able to coach them after we've trained them on those key skills, and then do we have a framework in place for managing their performance?

So let's take the first aspect here around sales readiness, and this really makes it easier for a new hire to ramp up. In addition to the sales training, what we really want to understand is what are they going to be doing in that organization? So do we have a clear sales strategy that's been documented and communicated? Do we have a sales process and methodology that they can follow? These don't need to be elaborate, but we need to be able to communicate with the new hires what they're going to be doing and what direction they're headed.

Also, where their leads are going to be coming from, what's the strategy for capturing those, and having those initial acquisition meetings. Do they have the sales tools in place, and how will they be trained to use those tools and where are those tools located? And finally, what sales enablement technologies are in place, and how will those be integrated into the onboarding process?

So that's really a package that says, "We're ready, we're prepared, and we now have that information available for the new hires when they come onboard."

The next area I'd like to talk about is getting the right people onboard. And you know, Jim Collins talked about, in his book, "Good to Great: Getting the Right People on the Bus," and he said, "Really, it's more important to get the 'who' right before you worry about the 'what' and the 'where.'"

So I think it's very important to consider what is the profile of the candidate you're bringing in. And specifically, if we look at the cost of potentially hiring the wrong candidate, it can be quite significant.

If we look at the recruiting costs that we've invested, the training and ramp-up costs, the salary that you're paying that person when they're not yet productive, the cost of missing the quota, or the opportunity cost of having that territory unfilled or underfilled during that time period, the lost time that it takes to potentially bring somebody else in and ramp them up, and also the customer risk. You know, what's the risk to putting somebody who's not trained or a good fit out into the field in front of your best customers? So I think you can understand the significance of that investment and the cost that that can entail if you hire the wrong person.

So we like to look at a profile for hiring the right type of candidate. And each one of these should be built individual to the organization and really looks at these five key areas: education, work experience, job performance, skills and knowledge, and the qualities and behaviors that are required.

Again, this really should look at what does success look like in your organization, what does "good" really mean, and how can we look for that in terms of candidates that we're bringing in?

As we dig down to the next level, we'll look at those specific competencies and behaviors. So in other words, these may have different importance, depending on the type of sales cycle, the customers, and the complexity of sales that you're looking for. But we're looking at things like how competitive they are, do they have confidence and integrity, judgment and motivation, planning and organization, pride, resiliency, responsibility, and work ethic.

And I think these can be, again, important to varying degrees, but how do we know? How do we really assess? And I think it would be great if we could get all of these, but we need to prioritize and really understand within your organization, what's going to make the best fit. And if we've looked at those who have been successful, who have been those star reps, which of these do they really capture and exhibit in the field?

So as we look at the way of getting to those behaviors, we think about the behavior-based interviewing model. And this idea is to look at those competencies and think about what are those specific things that are important, what are the behaviors that would demonstrate that they have those competencies, and ultimately, what interview questions could we ask that would really drive those key behaviors?

So an example. If we thought that work ethic was very important in our organization, we might think about, well, what behaviors would really demonstrate that they have that competency? Things like going the extra mile, working extra efforts, solving customer problems, you know, above and beyond. So we can now start to develop interview questions that really drive to those behaviors and competencies. And in fact, we often develop a behavior-based interviewing question library for our clients that really has categories of those key questions focused on those behaviors and competencies.

The way those questions work is we use a STAR questioning process and really ask, "What is that situation where you've accomplished something and used that behavior?" And then it really digs in further, so instead of just speaking in hypotheticals or making up the answer, the sales candidate is asked to really describe a task that demonstrated that behavior, what were the actions that they were actually taking? And ultimately, what came out of that? What was the result?

We find this behavioral-based interviewing approach really helps to get to the next level of detail and identify great candidates for your organization.

So we've talked about sales readiness, and we've talked about getting the right people on board. I'd like to talk a little bit about training. And in terms of the core focus for lots of onboarding programs, is the training component.

And really, there are four questions that we might want to ask regarding this program, which is, what do you want the sales rep to know? Where is that information located? How does the rep perform the processes to do their job? And ultimately, who should the rep contact to get things done?

So it's not enough to just train them once, but in other words, how are they actually going to perform those actions, and where are they going to go for more information, if necessary?

So most onboarding programs capture some combination of skills and knowledge in their training programs. We focus on the mastery of those core selling skills. In other words, do they know how to sell? Do they know how to engage the customer? And do they know how to complete those activities that are going to be required of them?

But also, do they have the product knowledge and industry knowledge? And we find that many programs really focus on the product knowledge, but haven't done perhaps enough on the core selling skills, and also the use of those sales enablement tools. In other words, how are they going to be performing their job once they're out the field, and what tools are available to support them?

The problem is, when we look at all of these requirements and package them together, it is a bit like the proverbial "drinking from a fire hose." They have a lot of information that's typically transmitted over a very short period of time, and they're expected to retain that and then go out in the field and apply it.

We like to actually apply a spaced learning approach to onboarding programs. And what that means is, we're looking at instructor-led training. So that may be in-person workshops a day or two at a time or over a period of weeks, but also supported by virtual instructor-led training. So using web technology in a manner of having very engaging instructor-led sessions, but over the web, that can be reinforced after the initial program and also can cover other topics without having to bring the team together for a full day or two days of training.

And we really find that a blended program works best, some combination of those two, and then also followed by on-demand, or incorporating on-demand into the program. In other words, self-study, where they can be using e-learning modules to really highlight and reinforce those key skills.

And finally, the area around reinforcement, I think is critical. And this is once they have adopted those skills, what tools and job aids are available? How is that training going to be reinforced in an ongoing basis? What types of assessments and certifications will be conducted to show that they've actually mastered the material?

And actually, we're very excited about a number of the tools and technologies out there to provide scenario-based assessments and other ways of assessing, over a period of time, and keeping those topics live and in front of the new hire as they continue their training process. And then ultimately, they're being coached by their managers in some sort of meaningful way, to continue to reinforce those skills.

So let me transition, again, now that we've covered sales readiness, hiring the right people, training them, and speak just a bit about sales coaching.

So when we talk about sales coaching, we're really talking about focusing on the knowledge, skills, and strategies that are going to improve the sales results. And in fact, there's quite a compelling business case for sales coaching. In fact, when CSO Insights released their study, updated this year, of sales organizations, they found that those organizations where the coaching exceeded expectations, they actually have a higher percentage of reps attaining their revenue plan. So in other words, they have a higher rate of achieving revenue for those where the coaching is at an exceptional level or is exceeding expectations. And in fact, it's quite compelling that if we improve our coaching, we can improve our attainment of quota.

So that business case is actually included in the "Business Case for Sales Training" white paper that we published with CSO Insights. And that's available to download at bit.ly/srgreport, available to you if you'd like more information on that report.

So some of the key considerations that we'd like to think about when we're coaching is really who are we going to coach? When are we going to coach? How to coach, and what are we going to coach them on? These are key aspects that need to be considered in any coaching program, and are incorporated into a coaching process that the manager should be trained. Really, the idea is that coaching creates leverage and that salespeople should learn how to solve their own problem, improve their results, and the manager can spend less time putting out fires.

The final area I'd like to talk about is managing performance. So again, now that they've been coached by their managers, what framework is in place to manage their performance? And, typically, in high-performing organizations, this looks like a situation where we've defined our expectations, we've emphasized a supportive dialog with the people in the organization, we've held them accountable for behaviors and results, and we've created an environment where everybody can seek feedback.

So we like to look at results and behaviors. In other words, results being those measurable outcomes, but behaviors being those things that are observable to achieve those results. So we like to think that positive and consistent behaviors are those things that are going to lead to the results. In other words, those are going to be the leading indicators that are going to predict success.

Much like in a diet example, if I step on the scale, that's a measurement of the result. But those behaviors such as eating more healthy and less calories and burning off more calories through exercise, those are behaviors I can look at day in and day out to see if I'm actually potentially going to influence those activities.

So the performance management system looks like communicating those success factors and key behaviors. If there is a gap in performance, analyzing why that is, and what the underlying cause is, and ultimately, taking appropriate actions in real time to correct those behaviors before it becomes a more significant problem.

So some of the key takeaways from today include: defining the sales process and the sales readiness, hiring stars based on behavioral-based interviewing and getting the right people on the bus, focusing training on mastering those core selling skills, ensuring frontline managers know how to coach their team, and manage performance through an emphasis on behaviors that drive results.

As a thank you for attending today, we'd like to offer you this complementary white paper that covers many of the topics we discussed today. It's available at the link on the screen, and you can also download the slides at bit.ly/raysummit05 if you would like to review the slides in more detail.

Thank you again for attending.