Removing Barriers to Sales Productivity

ISE Season 3 - Enablement History with Erich Starrett

Sales enablement professionals and consultants are often asked to evaluate the “new hire experience.” How can the process be improved? Typically this includes reviewing the content, skills training, and tools provided to salespeople as part of the on-boarding process of a new hire.

This request is usually in response to specific nuances occurring within the organization. Sales and business unit leaders are asking learning and development teams to create more globally consistent new hire training programs. They require programs that drive costs out of a fragmented process that has multiple stakeholders, no clear-cut owner, and a lack of accountability.

Taking a step back, sales trainers can look at new hire training and the overall on-boarding process. They will often find that there is too much work going into creating new hire training content. Or, they may build more distributed methods to reach and teach remote salespeople. For example, there may have been some recent work to build “ramp-up tool-kits” and create communities that newly hired salespeople can use to get the help they need.
However, the question is, “what is the business benefit of this new hire sales training work?” Better yet, “how will we measure the new hire sales training program to ensure it is effective?”

There is a genuine challenge that newly hired salespeople face, and it looks something like this:“How do I (as a new salesperson) meet with buyers who will buy from us and then sell them something so that I can hit my quota?” Unfortunately, more often than not, the new hire training process doesn’t get close to helping salespeople answer this fundamental question. Instead, we often find an altogether different reality in existing new hire sales training programs. Many sales VPs are faced with something that usually looks more like this:

  • 500 different content assets including courses, modules, and reinforcement guides
  • 370 hours of available training to participate in at the time of their choosing
  • 4 different portals/internal websites to sort through
  • 2 separate internal social networking websites to engage in

According to Forrester Research, only 15% of this content is about what salespeople actually need to talk to the buyers/ customer to “sell them something.” Yep, that’s right, 15%.
And, to make matters worse, this lack of focus on customers in the new hire training process increases the burden on internal subject matter experts and sales managers. Often sales leaders find that salespeople have to navigate to 10 different subject matter expert functions or people. This is just so that they can figure out how they can add collective value to clients. Yet these internal groups are largely ignored in the new hire training process?
So, let’s recap…
New hire training isn’t about customers. They do not design the training to help newly hired salespeople to reach the internal subject matter experts who can help communicate value.
No wonder the executive team is often wondering what the return on investment is for their new hire sales training program. Having worked in this space for a while, it’s easy to see how new hire programs can evolve to diffuse customer focus. Increased executive expectations and pressure by product/business unit leaders creates a web of complexity. The executive team needs to make sure product knowledge is pumped into the heads of new hires. In turn, an environment is created that assumes salespeople need to simply “understand” to get up to speed more quickly.
Suffice it to say, sales trainers often find that new hires face a steep learning curve – especially within the first 90 days. The good news is, some learning and sales leaders are looking at the sales new hire and on-boarding process as an area of targeted improvement. They are beginning to work cross-functionally to upgrade, optimize, or even transform the unique hire sales training experience.
If addressing the new hire training challenge is on your radar screen, here are some of the barriers that get in the way of new hire productivity. No matter the path forward, these barriers need to be addressed. This situation is especially true when you look to apply more than just a temporary Band-Aid to the sales new hire training challenge.

  • Barrier 1: Failing to confront the new hire salesperson’s reality. Reaching C-level executives is often tied to future growth strategies. However, is it realistic to turn your new hire salespeople loose on the C-Level that is inside your best clients the first day on the job? When we look at new hire sales training, we often hear the mandate, “you just need to go sell to the C-Level!”. The challenge is, it might be a good idea to exercise those conversations in the new hire experience instead of letting them practice on your customers. For many sales and learning leaders, just trying to figure out what to train and what to teach people to say is daunting. However, it models the reality that many newly hired salespeople face, and they just started working in the company.
  • Barrier 2: Failing to define new hire sales training clearly. Many organizations define on-boarding as the “stuff that HR does” while defining new hire training as the “stuff HR doesn’t do.” These opposing messages lead to a lot of gray areas in the overall new hire experience. Can you define where new hire training ends and where it begins? What about the HR on-boarding process? How much of the new hire training experience is about success in the role? And how long does it last? Without a clear definition of where new hire training begins and ends, you end up with multiple perspectives (like the product, marketing, and sales perspectives). These perspectives are all asking for more time in the poorly defined process, and they seem to be all “good ideas,” but together may not be meaningful to the new hire. Adding value to the new hire process is essential, but it’s doubtful that internal content providers can create valuable content if they can’t define what the new hire process is. Clearly outlining the new hire process is often a genuine barrier that needs to be overcome to get the right help you need internally.
  • Barrier 3: Failing to align content, skills, and tools to the specific sales conversations that new hires need to have. How much time in the new hire experience is dedicated toward helping reps engage at the C-level versus just mandate action? Or more accurately, which training content and materials are aligned explicitly to assisting reps in getting access to a specific C-Level role? New hire training content needs to help salespeople achieve tangible results in their sales process. Unfortunately, over-generalizing what it takes to be successful with all buyers doesn’t help the cause. A barrier that needs to be overcome to increase new hire productivity includes aligning the content. The content needs to include real-world conversations with buyers that new hires can use to be successful.

Removing these barriers can dramatically affect the speed to which new hire salespeople get up and running in their role.
By addressing these barriers, you are well on your way to decreasing new hire ramp-up time and giving new hires a leg up by reducing the slope of their learning curve. By working cross-functionally to remove these barriers, you can also build a solid new foundation for new hire sales training. As a result, you start focusing on decreasing the time it takes to achieve quota.
To do that:

  • Increase buyer empathy. Focusing on helping different kinds of salespeople develop understanding and empathy with the buyers they’ll be working with and communicate in the way those buyers need. This will eventually trump run-of-the-mill product training. These pieces of training have been the emphasis of on-boarding and training for more than a century. It had a dramatic role in getting reps sent to procurement, instead of to the C-Suite.
  • Drive sales objectives. Developing reps based on specific and measurable sales objectives that map to their sales process and are in relationship to the types of buyers they work with on a daily basis
  • Tailor customer experience. Tuning the experience to enable different types of reps with different messaging – to stop the one size fits all new hire training experience.
  • Build or buy a value-added program. Engineering an ongoing new hire development process that sales leaders find more valuable (as opposed to creating a one-off time-bound fragmented series of activities).
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