January 13th, 2015

Mike Kunkle Sales Onboarding

So you just hired a new salesperson? For many businesses, the ramp-up time for new sales reps is typically six months or more. With turnover being slightly less than two years for most reps, companies need to have a solid onboarding plan in order to realize a return on their investment. An outdated or overly labor-intensive sales onboarding program, leads to increased turnover and wasted company resources.

sales onboarding ramp up times

Source: via Mike Kunkle, Sales Onboarding: Twice as Good, Half the Time

Sales onboarding isn’t just about going through pitch videos or having new reps shadow tenured sales reps. Not only should your sales onboarding have a clearly defined objective and end goal, your sales reps also need to know the milestones that they need to achieve to be successful. Your new salesperson has potential, but that potential is only unlocked with a structured onboarding program. For advice on what excellence in sales onboarding looks like, we turn to Mike Kunkle, a recognized leader in sales training and organizational effectiveness. Mike shares actionable steps you can take to help accelerate ramp-up times and reduce turnover.

What are the pressures and trends that sales managers must contend with today?

Mike Kunkle: The pressure is still all about the number… making your sales quota. It’s the environment that’s changed. Due to information available online, with a few clicks, today’s buyers are doing their own research before reaching out to suppliers. Buyers are more informed than ever – although not always more accurately informed.
Along with these changes in buyer behavior, there are more RFPs than ever before and more decision makers involved. For instance, the average number of buyers involved in a complex sale is 5.4 (according to CEB). If that’s the average, there are some that have even more buyers involved.

Tweet This: “The pressure is still all about the number… making your sales quota.”

Then there are factors like corporate cost reductions that result in shrinking training departments and budgets, making it more difficult to serve our sales forces.  To further complicate things, even in this day and age of big data, many still roll the dice when we hire and select sales reps on gut feel.

Bottom line is that the expectations placed on sales managers are enormous, and often organizations pull them in far too many directions, rather than removing obstacles to allow them to focus on hiring, training, coaching, and managing their teams as effectively as possible.

You said: “It takes many companies from 7 to 12 months to ramp-up their new sales reps.” Why is sales reps ramp time moving in the wrong direction?

Mike Kunkle: If you look as far back as 2003, which I did recently for an article I was writing, ramp-up times were shorter. “Ramp up times have generally gotten longer over the years. There’s variance, but if you trend-line the data, we seem to be headed in the wrong direction. There could be quite a few reasons for that, though, including a more complex, competitive business environment, a shift toward the buyer’s market, and/or an increase in complexity of problems, opportunities, and solutions to address them, or even some year-to-year difference in research protocol or other speculative reasons.”

Selling was a lot less complex than it is today, and to a large degree, it’s because there wasn’t a proliferation of information on the Internet. It was before buyers were doing so much research on their own.

Combine that with a drain on training department budgets and sizes, in comparison to the early 2000’s, and how much new reps need to learn to be productive, and it’s not hard to imagine why onboarding remains a sales challenge.

Question: What can be done to accelerate sales rep ramp time?

Mike Kunkle: I’d start by defining outcomes. When you say accelerate, is that just a faster time, or is it higher productivity in the same time, or both shorter ramp-up time with higher productivity? The first thing is to get clarity around what you want and benchmark where you are, so you have a measuring stick to gauge your progress. Put a stake in the ground saying, “This is where we are today.” Then ask yourself: “where are we aiming and what are we trying to do?”
When companies actually try to shorten their ramp up time, many of them are actually deterring productivity as opposed to enhancing it. There’s an awful lot of five days of death by PowerPoint in orientation and onboarding.

Tweet This: “The sales job has become increasingly complex.”

We need to step back and apply some sound instructional design thinking, stuff that has been around since the dawn of time. Analyze top producer practices and really try to understand what are the differentiating factors between top and mid producers. Then document the best practices in your organization.

The best practices give you a real focus on what are the things that are making a difference. When you’re developing content or teaching content to new people, you know what you’re teaching gets results. This is where hard core prioritization and decisions need to be made. What are the absolute need-to-know and need-to-do things to achieve sales rep productivity?
For example, three common goals I’ve used in some businesses include:

  1. making their first sale,
  2. achieving their first monthly quota,
  3. and then making quota 3 months in a row.

These goals won’t work for every business. They have to match reality, and when achieved, they signify that the employee is truly ramped-up and a fully-productive sales rep. The concept sounds simple but it is far from easy… People struggle most with the NEED to know vs. NICE to know piece.

You also want to have ways to reinforce what is taught such as job aids, places to get answers, buddies or mentors, and plenty of follow-up and coaching from either specialized onboarding coaches or sales managers.

Check back for part 2 of our interview on sales onboarding with Mike Kunkle. We’ll cover common mistakes training managers make in sales onboarding as well as actionable advice and best practices.

You can see more of Mike’s thoughts about sales onboarding at http://bit.ly/SalesOnboardingLI

Mike KunkleMike is a training and organizational effectiveness leader with special expertise in sales force transformation.
After his initial years on the frontline in sales and sales management, he spent the next 21 years as a corporate manager or consultant, leading departments and projects with one purpose – improve sales results.

Today, in his role as commercial training & development leader for a Fortune 10 corporation, Mike uses his in expertise in best-in-class learning strategies, methods, processes, and change leadership to develop the capabilities of sales representatives and sales managers to drive business results.

Mike freely shares his own sales transformation methodology, speaking at conferences and writing online (see http://slidesha.re/PerfLevers082011  and http://bit.ly/EffectiveSalesLearningSystems as examples) and can be reached at <mike at mikekunkledotcom>, through his blog at http://www.mikekunkle.com, or on various social media sites.