Feb 7, 2018
As a sales manager, one of your many challenges is continuously developing different sales reps. The needs of reps who are relatively new to the job are very different to that of seasoned reps, as is their attitude to development. While your newbies may be thirsty for knowledge and ideas, it can be harder to bring a veteran salesperson along on the ride with you. And while an experienced rep may hit the ground running, but they may not be able to sustain improvement in their sales results over time unless they overcome their reluctance to change.
In the past, it may have been alright to leave veterans to their own devices, but now the velocity of change in products, consumer buying behaviors and industry dynamics are just too quick to leave development in reps’ own hands. Your rookies and mavens must both be constantly on the ball. To achieve this they must be open to learning, developing and changing their behavior. There are several things that you can do to help bridge the training gap between your mavens and rookies.
Understand who you’re working with
Before you can determine how to approach your reps, it’s essential to understand where they are on the development curve. While years of experience may be an indicator of expertize, it isn’t necessarily the best one.
The best way to tell a pro salesperson from a novice is through observation. Experienced reps know how to get under the skin of a customer’s problem and present them with solutions that best address their needs. They can create a strategy even for the most complex of sales processes, that will see them through preparing for customer meetings to the demonstration of closing the sale. At each stage in the process, a seasoned rep will know how to adjust their game plan, question the customer in more depth, envisage the result and nurture the opportunity to completion. This takes vision, preparation, and skill.
In comparison, a rookie may be uncertain or less organized in their approach. Their lack of experience may see them missing crucial opportunities to uncover customer pain points or suggest appropriate solutions. While newbies may be good at following a sales process, that doesn’t mean they can see the end point and adjust to new circumstances as they arise. Following a process is simple, preparing and reacting to the unknown takes experience.
As you observe your reps, note areas where they have skill gaps that require development. This will then form part of their development plan.
Tailor development plans to meet the needs of your reps
Once you know who you’re dealing with you can start putting together a development plan for them. The key to helping both mavens and rookies get to where you need them to be is to tailor development to meet their needs.
While your standard onboarding process may go through the basics of selling, this may bore and potentially make your seasoned reps tune out. As soon as someone tunes out of your training program it’s very hard to regain their attention, even if something is relevant to them later down the track. That’s why it’s important to tailor development and training from the get-go, starting with your onboarding program.
Newbies will need to cover everything, from your sales process to who everyone in the sales process is. But your new seasoned reps may already know the basics of selling so focus on showing them your points of difference. Highlight the aspects of your sales process that are unique to your business, provide them with training on how to use the tools in your stack that they’ve never seen before and of course focus in on the nitty-gritty of your product. Even if they’ve worked in the industry before, your product is unique and every new sales rep will need to learn the finer points of your solution to sell effectively.
A good place to start developing an ongoing individual training and coaching plan is the skill gaps you identified when you observed your reps in practice. Regardless of whether your reps are new to sales or have been selling for decades, it’s best to customize training to meet their individual needs. If your newbies need more help articulating your value proposition then focus on role plays to coach them. Whereas your seasoned reps may need more help moving prospects through the sales pipeline, so focus in on techniques like gathering case studies and success stories to help them get prospects closer to closing.
A common technique to support new hires is to provide them with a mentor. While this may be a great idea for a rookie, because they can learn from a more experienced rep, a maven may find it a tad condescending. Rather than giving them a mentor, offer your seasoned reps the opportunity to meet with the A players on your team and hear their thoughts on the business. They can then connect with peers on the same level.
Show benefits and gain buy-in
Any adult who is being trained needs to understand what’s in it for them before they will embrace change. Relatively new sales reps may be a little more open to training because they understand how they will benefit – if they’ve never done something before they know they have a lot to learn. But it’s important to still show them the benefits of what they’re learning.
For seasoned reps, it’s no different, they need to know what the benefits to them will be, and this may be harder to show them. But if you want them to accept your coaching then they need to understand how coaching them on using competitive insights will help them reach their quota.
One way to help someone overcome resistance to training is to understand why they’re reluctant to learn – perhaps they’ve done training sessions before and it didn’t help them. If that’s the case then you may need to understand what their past experiences were and how your proposed development plan is different.
Another way to bring people on board with your training program is to get their buy-in. This can be used for both rookies and mavens. Ask them what areas they would like to develop and how they believe it will benefit them. The training then becomes their idea, not yours, and will help them commit to it.
Make them accountable
There’s no point training anyone if you don’t clear expectations and defined goals. Everyone involved in the training should be held accountable for the outcomes, not just the reps. This creates a team environment – you’re all in it together – and makes it easier to have enforceable consequences if someone starts slipping into old habits. This approach works for everyone, seasoned reps, and newbies because everyone needs to know what they’re shooting for.
Where it may differ between the two groups of reps is in terms of how you monitor and enforce behaviors. Micro-managing isn’t all that effective for anyone, but a new rep may be more open to hand-holding through the training process than a pro rep. If they’ve never sold before then they may find it useful for you to break down their goals further – rather than just showing them their monthly quota show them what that means in terms of the number of calls, meetings, and demos.
It may be a lot more difficult to get your more experienced reps to put their new skills into practice. Even if you’ve shown them the benefits and gained their buy-in they may need more coaxing to truly see the value in the skills. If talking them through it doesn’t work, try showing them the value by giving them hard facts. Measure the difference in their performance before and after they use the skills to demonstrate how it will impact their performance. This will not only demonstrate the value of the learning but may also encourage them to adopt the new skills faster.
If this still doesn’t work, make them accountable by putting in place hard consequences if they don’t put their new skills into practice. This shows them that you’re serious about behavioral change and lets them choose between playing ball or facing the music. It will soon become clear whether they’re committed to their own development or want to stay stuck in the past.
The reality is that no two sales reps are the same, so it makes sense to tailor training programs to meet their needs. Thanks to new sales readiness tools, it’s easier to create customized training paths and help reps, regardless of their experience levels, to learn new tricks.