New sales hires take an average of 10 months to become fully productive, according to CSO Insights. Because they’re just starting the learning curve, that tends to be where they get the most attention from learning organization – they must be brought up to speed, after all.
But the learning trend for sales is a bit troubling after that. In many cases, once a sales rep is deemed ready and trained, they’re cut loose from training and sent out on their own. The image of the baby bird being force to fly by being pushed from the nest might come to mind.
But sales people aren’t baby birds, and humans have a much greater capacity for learning than your average starling or swallow. And when it comes to sales, learning has only begun once a sales rep is calling on customers and securing deals.
In fact, salespeople really become profitable in their third year on the job. But, unfortunately, that’s often the exact time they start looking for new opportunities. So how do you prevent an exodus of your best performers?
Of course, the culture of your sales department, how well you compensate sales, and the perceived sales opportunity presented by your products play a huge role. But so does one other thing – something you used to provide the rep: training.
The training content is different for experienced reps than it is for new hires, of course, and training will always battle for a spot on sales reps’ calendars. But continuing professional development of sales reps does a couple of things. First, it gives reps additional abilities to sell, meaning that they close more deals for higher amounts, meaning bigger commissions for them and better revenues for the company. It also sends an important churn-fighting message: the company cares about continuing improvement for its sales reps – they are not mere cogs in a selling machine.
Tenure by itself doesn’t translate into performance – studies have shown mixed evidence of an increase in sales performance based on time on the job alone. But time on the job certainly builds expertise in selling – and coupled with training, that expertise comes into play in a positive way.
Training is especially important in an era when customers are changing rapidly. In the Sales 2.0 world where buyers complete 66 to 90 percent of the buying journey before talking to a sales person, a trained sales rep is critical to sustaining that journey. If a discussion with a rep reveals he or she knows less than the buyer, how is that buyer going to react? First off, his or her time has just been wasted. Second, the company he’s talking to is not thoughtful enough to staff sales with knowledgeable reps who can help guide him the last steps of his buying journey. The sales rep is actually a hindrance to sales in this scenario. If it gets to the point where it’s more efficient and less aggravating to buy on-line through a self-service method without ever talking to a sales rep, the rep will become irrelevant – and the selling company loses its opportunity for upselling and relationship building.
That’s why training is worth reps’ time and attention, especially in the crucial year two and year three or their tenure: it prevents them from becoming irrelevant as the customer changes. It better enables them to fulfill the role of trusted advisor to help get customers the last few steps to the goal line. And it makes sure they increase in value to your business over time.
Want to learn more about the idea of setting your sales reps for success over their entire tenure at your company? Check out our white paper, 5 Steps to Better Sales Performance Management.