I was attending my first trade show with a company many years ago. I had just committed to move to a new city and was very nervous. Everyone was friendly, but I felt alone, and was unsure if I had made the right decision.
A fellow sales rep then approached me unexpectedly late in the first day, and took me under his wing for the rest of the event. He made me feel welcomed, and instantly put me at ease! For the next four days I had somebody that I was comfortable around, and could ask them any questions, no matter how silly they seemed at the time.
That event inspired this list, and I have always remember my colleague fondly for helping me out!
#1 Ride-A-Longs With Top Performing Sales Reps – I was just there to observe, nothing more. I once flew across the country and spent one day each with the top two performers in an organization.
#2 Working With A Mentor – It was great to have somebody to go to when I needed them, and not feel like I was being a bother. Helping me when necessary was part of the “mentor-newbie deal”.
#3 Joints Calls With A Sales Manager or Senior Sales Rep – I may have taken the lead on a call, but it was comforting to have them there if I needed any “back-up”. In the event a call was more complex, they would take the lead, and I would be there for support
#4 Guaranteed Salary and/or Commission As A New Rep – This was a game changer for me! It took all the pressure off at the start of a new role, and I could focus on learning the complete job for the foreseeable future. I had a guaranteed salary in one role for the first year and my results far exceeded budget!
#5 I have several other thoughts, but wanted to leave this one up to you. In your experience in sales, or what you have witnessed being involved in business, what else has assisted new sales reps to get acclimatized in their role?
My son played his first season of baseball this past spring. For many other kids on the team, it was their first season playing as well. It was a much different experience for everyone as compared to the kid’s first go-around with other team sports like soccer or hockey.
With those other sports, the concepts were pretty simple in theory as the kids could get out and chase the puck or ball and just spend time familiarizing themselves with the games and being part of a team.
Baseball was a totally different story. Batting was mostly straight forward for them, but fielding was an adventure! All of the parents and coaches were doing their best to help out, but the poor kids were always very confused from the moment the ball was hit. Although quite funny on the surface, you had to feel for them when they all froze in place. Their “memories seemed to erase” and never knew what to do when the ball came their way. At one point or another, most of the parents wished they could get out on the field and make plays themselves!
As I reflected back after the season, our expectations for the kid’s performance on the field was way too high, especially early on. We were asking them to complete very difficult tasks with many people trying to give them directions in pressure packed situations. I did not even start playing competitive baseball until I was 9 or 10 years old.
The first coach was unable to handle the anxiety of helping the kids get up to speed. The second coach was awesome! They stepped right up and said that the kids needed “one voice” to listen to. From that moment on, things ran much smoother for the rest of the year, and the team won a bronze medal at the year-end tournament.
That story inspired this post, as I related it to being new to a sales role or the profession in general. Most of the parents were guilty of expecting more from the kids then they were able to give early in the baseball season. Many sales managers and executives are guilty of doing the same with new reps.
I am a firm believer that the pressure to perform should be minimal for new reps as long as possible. Three months should be the bare minimum that a rep focuses on learning everything about their new role, and not have a manager looking over their shoulder and expecting immediate results.
The “learning/training phase” should be even longer for new reps to the profession. Sales can be generalized as an easy job where you can make a lot of money, but new recruits need to understand that a lot goes on behind the scenes to be able to do “fun stuff” like take customers out golfing, or have long lunch meetings!
Product knowledge is typically the focus for new reps, but there are many more aspects of being a territory manager that need to be analyzed before being “thrown into the wild” and expected to come back with orders. It is not realistic, not fair, and is one of the biggest reasons that new reps quit in such a short time.
Most companies are continually under pressure to put up numbers, and that unfortunately comes at the cost of giving new reps the training and support that they need from the day they start the role.
I would rather sacrifice sales results in the field while new reps gets their feet wet, and properly equip them and held grow their confidence so when they hit the road, they are ready.
The most common words coming out of a sales manager’s mouth should not be,
“How can I help you close that order?”
That makes them a one-dimensional leader.
If a manager wants a rep to prosper and succeed long-term, they will help them dig deep in to all aspects of the role, understand their territory, customers, support staff and company. Then, AND ONLY THEN can they start talking about getting in to the field and securing business.
- What training have you received for a new role (other than product knowledge)?
- Have you ever quit a sales role and realized later that you did not give it enough of a chance?
- When should new reps start focusing on actually closing business?