Question: How Long Should A Sales Newbie Be Given To Ramp Up?

Answer: A new salesperson should be given a reasonable amount of time to find their feet and ramp-up to full speed. 

But what is the norm for what is considered “reasonable”?

To calculate a fair ramp-up period, the employer should allow for the following:

1. A 20-day product knowledge/learning curve – longer if your products or services are more complex or technical
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2. The length of the average sales cycle for your products or services
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3. Whether or not the newbie is given existing accounts to work with (which may shorten the sales cycle) or if theyneed to develop new accounts from scratch with no assistance from marketing whatsoever.

To be frank, many sales managers I speak to do not know the average length of their selling cycle and often thumbsuck an answer. Instead of guessing at it, one should do some proper research and analyse the last 10, 20 or 50 sales to get an average time of how long it takes a rep – from finding and qualifying a lead, right through to receiving a signed order with a definite delivery date. 

This is as important as knowing things like how long it takes to turn a non-performing team around. Imagine if you as a sales manager took a new position where the CEO was expecting a sales turnaround in 6 months when it was realistically a minimum of 12 months.  (Again, taking the sales cycle into account, among other factors). You’d be pretty upset to be held to account unrealistically.  The same applies to your reps. Just give them a fair shake is what we’re suggesting.

Here’s a scenario:
A rep joins a company in January. The average sales cycle for the product range is about 7 weeks from cradle to grave. He is given no accounts or existing leads to work with. It’s a complex product. 

The sales manager is so busy that he can’t spend much time with the newbie on training. However, come the end of January, the rep is expected to hit 100% of his target before his commission scheme kicks in. Under serious pressure to deliver results by the end of February,  the newbie has managed to self-study most of the product range and makes his first sale but only reaches 75% of his target. The company has a policy of carrying forward the deficit on the monthly target.

Although he reaches target in Month 3, the rep is penalised because of the deficit brought forward from January and February and receives no commission. This seriously affects his enthusiasm about his new job, he’s completely stressed out and wonders if he’s made a mistake. The manager is already thinking “performance management”.

What do you think? Is this a fair shake? Personally I think it’s a raw deal. Having said that, he should have clarified the company’s expectations of him and the exact sales targets and ramp-up period BEFORE he accepted the job offer. He should have asked how long the sales cycle was and the sales manager should have had that information at hand and ready to discuss it with him properly long before he accepted the offer.

Both parties are at fault and there are serious negative consequences that could have easily been avoided by being very clear upfront.  I’m in the process of educating as many sales reps as I can to ask the right questions of potential employers way ahead of time – in fact if they are working with a recruiter, they should find out all of these details when they take the job spec. Recruiters should be able to share that with the applicants.

In a nutshell:  Calculate and allow a newbie the appropriate amount of time to ramp-up. Be clear about this in your interview. Stagger the targets if necessary. Give thorough and proper sales and product training. Measure performance on sales productivity during the ramp up phase not just gross sales achieved.

The bottom line is:  Look after your newbies and you’ll drastically improve your sales growth, staff retention rate AND reduce your stress and sales costs.

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