How can you avoid playing pata potea with your sales force?

Updated: Feb 23


It’s the maize harvest season in Rift Valley and it's not only a boom season for the farmers like myself but it's raining money for the primary school-going children. One of the greatest drivers of excitement, when we were young, was the day after the fields had been cleared. We were usually allowed to go pick any remaining cobs of maize that may have been missed and sell them off to buy Christmas shoes -yes I was born a long time ago when Christmas was a thing of new clothes. But above that, "turonik", as we called this process, was a time when we could earn money to buy stuff during the agricultural showground. So there I was one sunny Friday with my new shoes and my hard-earned 100 shillings getting into the showground. Just as I entered, I saw this crowd of people and the rumour from my cousin was that they could double your money. So I did what any sound investor would do, I dropped my 100/=. My hard-earned 100/= disappeared so fast, they closed shop and I was left in a daze. That is how I did not eat that whole day in the scorching sun. I could not believe I had spent 3 days clearing a bush only for the money to disappear into thin air.

That’s how recruiters’ remorse feels in life, you look at this new human who needs your guidance for the simplest of tasks and you start asking yourself, *What happened? They looked and sounded really brilliant during the interview!* I totally get the *now you see, now you don't* experience and I can see how you got here. So you have just gone through a tough process to draw up a JD ( I don’t know anyone who likes to do this!), advertised for the role, screened tens of CVs (so much for the CV being dead) and sat through hours of interviews and finally the anxiety of making the final offer. If you are being honest, you are probably fatigued at this point and you just want to sprint straight up the slope of onboarding as fast as humanly possible to get to the majestic rising hills of productivity. But not so fast.. you are undermining the serious investment you made in hiring the best with a check-the-box onboarding. Because of this, reps are not well prepared and one minute you have them and the next you don’t. Pata Potea.

Trish Bertuzzi, in his Sales Development Playbook, explained that a team's ability to execute comes down to three things: The speed at which they ramp up, how they speak to business challenges and their effectiveness at reaching and engaging prospects. I am convinced that these three actions start and possibly end with how you onboard your sales team.

Here are 3 ways you can manage the revolving doors of sales teams:

  1. Be strategic about hiring sales teams by building a pipeline. Avoid the mad-dash recruiting approach that forces you to hire when the seat is already empty - typically by then, you are behind by 2 -3 months. Think of sales candidates as “customers” who require time to travel through a buyer’s journey. When you sell a product to a customer, you don’t expect them to purchase the moment they hear about you. Instead, you might expect an average lead time of weeks, months, or even years where you build mutual trust through check-ins and nurture content to educate them about your brand and benefits. The best way to build a pipeline is to build strong relationships with your external recruiters as they are always speaking to candidates and they can passively refer suitable candidates. This way, you are not rushing the recruiting, rushing the onboarding and subsequently rushing the results. We wrote a blog about the perils of pushing your sales team to a corner to deliver results - here.

  2. Onboarding begins with understanding how people learn. Because we are already fatigued from the hiring process and you want to see the results asap, most managers want to provide as much information as humanly possible in the shortest time possible. While this information is crucial, more often than not, it simply overwhelms the new entry. It's like trying to drink from a firehose (cliche but oh so true). An onslaught of new information can lead to a near shutdown of one’s thinking capacity. This effect is known as cognitive overload; even the sharpest minds have limited capacity for new information within a given timeframe. If you also consider the forgetting curve, which holds that around 90 percent of traditional, instructor-led learning content is essentially in one ear, out the other if it’s not repeated, reinforced or utilized within 30 days.

New sales reps come in and have no idea what information to prioritize. They need to rely on your guidance. You need to realize that giving them everything that they need to learn at one particular moment in time is probably overwhelming. Chapter Three of Jill Konrath’s Agile selling goes into detail on this and the essence is as follows;

  • Chunking: Break big subjects into smaller, more digestible chunks. For example, if you want to take them through ICP, a possibility is starting with a profile at a time.

  • Sequencing: Determine what comes first, the brain likes order and so make it easy by helping determine what needs to be learned first. Trish Bertuzzi suggests that onboarding of sales should start with the *why* before *what*. Why does your organisation exist and why should anyone care? This should be followed by helping them understand the buyer's world and then finally the product. This way, they will always lead the conversation with the buyers in mind. This probably means that CRM overload in the first week can wait a while longer.

  • Connecting: Tie it all together by connecting the dots. Once they have learned about the ICP, can you help them connect that information with the why of ICP to ensure they have an initial understanding of how the information ties together?

  • Practice makes perfect is true in numerous professions, but especially so in sales. When a rep needs to learn about a new product, a new line of messaging, or a new approach, the best way is through role-playing. Just like any other skill, learning needs to be practiced in order for it to stick.

3. Lastly, be clear on what inputs are needed and measure those alongside the results. My all-time favourite quote from James Clear in his book, Atomic Habits states that “one does not rise to the level of their goals, they fall to the level of their systems”. Too often we concentrate on measuring results, outputs and outcomes. Why? Because they are easy to measure and they are accurate. To influence the future and determine success in those first few months, you need to be clear on and communicate to the team what good looks like without the sale in the books. Some of the key milestones to be tracked include:

  • First activity at each stage of the sales process.

  • Learning and certifying on the key activities they will complete over the course of the sales process and

  • Lost deals including the reasons why.

In this regard, find ways to reward your sales teams on inputs as well as outputs, as this will force the genetic structure of your organization to veer towards activities for the long term which will eventually lead to sustainable progressive growth. A doctor does not doubt the validity of viagra because the salesperson left Pfizer, so focus on building structures for long-term relationships with your clients so you are not desperate when the territory is unmanned for a while.

A whopping 62% of companies consider themselves ineffective at onboarding their new sales hires and that is because most of us use the tribal method of onboarding where information is passed from person to person by word of mouth and sit-by-Nellie; I don’t know anyone who has learned to drive a car by sitting in the passenger seat.

KES 1.8 million, that’s how much is the average turnover cost per sales rep (earning KES 150,000pm). Sales representative turnover indicates that the time to replace an open position ranges from 5.8 – 7.8 months, averaging 6.2 months. Acquisition costs of a rep is 3x their monthly salary, training costs average 4x their monthly salary and lost sales in territory average another 5x their salary. Does your budget have an extra KES 1.8million? Does your territory have room for a 6-month opening? If the answer is an emphatic no, then take time to onboard your team in a way that sets them up for success.


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