Updated: Feb 23
Last month during one of our webinar series on onboarding B2B sales teams, we had a heated and lively discussion when one of the panelists mentioned that it takes up to 9 months for her sales team to be required to show commercial returns on sales activities. During the 9 months, their performance is measured on how they are adapting to company culture and the sales targets are added progressively as the months go by. The sales cycle for the company in question is 9 - 12 months and so the 9 month period makes sense.
At Yusudi, we calculate ramp-up time as, average product sales cycle + three months, and then one can add or reduce time depending on the complexity of the product or service and the experience of the salesperson. As you can imagine, there were mixed reactions from the room and whilst I totally related to the value of giving sales teams ample ramp-up time, I could not imagine convincing any of our clients to give our sales academy graduates anything more than 3 months to ramp up. I can also understand the audience's reactions because as an SME, you do not have 9 months, you barely have 3 months! But the truth is, it does take us upto 9 months to make a definite decision on exiting a non-performing sales talent, we just spend the last 6 months in a toxic relationship with the person.
Allow me to paint the picture, you hire this sharp potential grandmaster, after 3 months of zero sales, you start threatening them with a PIP and all manner of scare tactics. If they do not turn around in 6 months, you put them on a PIP and that is when your salesperson starts hitting LinkedIn looking for their next opportunity. 9 months later, after no significant improvement and because of sunk cost fallacy, you extend the PIP and then fire them or they leave within this period This varies from company to company but the narrative is the same: short stint on probation -performance warning - PIP -an extension of PIP and then let go or resign and the cycle starts. So the tenure stays the same, it's just that the journey is wrought with scare tactics, negativity, and a revolving door of salespeople.
There is no silver bullet to sales ramp-up time, just because you cleaned out your coffers to get the best salesperson from the competition does not mean the person will perform magic on day one. The kind of magic you are looking for comes from the person's ability to understand your business and align that to his/her sales expertise and connections in the market - that takes a lot of time, trial and error.
Your business has a particular way of running, you’ve developed a culture for client relations, a protocol for warming up leads, a communication strategy for prospects, and a “vibe” or personality for your business overall. Even the most intuitive of us would require more than 3 months of knowing someone before we can refer to them as potential boyfriends to those close to us. You are as asking your team to act as your greatest referee and they need time, if not, then here are some of the potential pitfalls to a quick ramp-up time:
Unchecked speed leads to a weak sales culture
This has become more pronounced over the last couple of years as company after company have experienced major organizational challenges (including fines and lawsuits) ultimately resulting from a misaligned or even toxic sales culture. Several companies put pressure on sales teams to meet unreasonable sales goals motivating teams to take unethical actions. Over the years, there have been several cases where companies acknowledged that employees had opened fake bank accounts in order to meet sales. Some local banks have also suffered from sales representatives selling insurance and other financial products to customers who didn’t need them.
Misaligned sales culture
I hear a lot of organizations lamenting that sales teams (especially the rainmakers) are misaligned with the company culture. Rainmakers have been known to hold a firm hostage due to their Midas touch; they continue to be rewarded for just the numbers they bring in. Employees tend to adopt behaviors that are successful, modeled, and rewarded. Therefore, if they see that rainmaking without other key behaviors is what is rewarded, then that is what they will aspire to be, everything else be damned.
You are not allowing for the innovative capacity of the individual.
The kind of excellence you are looking for takes time, risk-taking and requires you to cut them some slack. When you ease the pressure, you give your team a chance to understand, critique, and offer solutions and deploy those solutions at the right time.
PIP leads to sales erosion.
Sales erosion begins when a salesperson starts thinking about leaving his current position (usually right after signing the PIP) and mentally checks out by doing just the minimum concerning performance to stay out of the sales manager's radar. Upon departure the vacant territory/product suffers, existing customers get neglected, issues and calls get ignored creating further erosion. It’s a dark vicious cycle.
Desperate sales cheapens your brand.
Most people resist the most obvious sales overtures - that’s why we resist insurance sales agents. As Peter Theil states in Zero to One, most of us react negatively to awkward salesmanship - you tend to ask yourself as a buyer, "What are they manipulating me for and how will it impact me?". You are looking to build sales grandmasters and not lucky-break salesmen and women. More than anything, prospective buyers want someone who’s knowledgeable about their business and can provide a great experience with the product or service in question, which comes with a bit of experience gained through trial and error.
Written by Doris Chelagat Muigei