In our continuing Sauga 960 radio interview series, we examine the world of sales and how to get started on the right foot. Sales 101! Part 2
Your Business, presented by David Wojcik, understands business. As the CEO/President of the Mississauga Board of Trade, he focuses on current commercial issues and how they affect entrepreneurs and key executives.
David Wojcik: Well you’ve finally done it. You’ve selected the final candidate and today’s the day they walk through that door and start to bring millions of dollars in sales to your company. What do you do with them when they arrive? Give them a few cards and say, “Go get them tiger”? Probably not. As the saying goes, the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is today. Planning for onboarding your new recruit may not need 20 years of planning, but certainly several weeks before they start. And probably should start the moment you decide to hire someone.
David Wojcik: To help us with the onboarding question is our sales guru, Linda Kern. Linda is the CEO of the Kern Group. Linda specializes in helping companies increase their sales by first identifying the right activities to ensure growth, and then working with the sales professionals and their leaders to show them how to find and close new sources of revenue. Welcome, Linda. Good to see you back again.
Linda Kern: Thank you David. Good to be back.
David Wojcik: No fair watching the TV behind me now.
Linda Kern: Okay. I just… I’m doing that just in case I get bored.
David Wojcik: Okay we’re going to put you on the spot now.
Linda Kern: Okay.
David Wojcik: Onboarding. First of all, why is it important to have an onboarding plan for these new recruits that are coming onboard? I mean they’re sales professional, shouldn’t they know what to do?
Linda Kern: Well I mean, yes, sometimes people hire experienced salespeople and they should know what to do, but they need to know your business, your industry, specifics about your company. And so an onboarding plan will include those things. Here’s what we’re really good at. Here’s what you need to emphasize and focus on. And here’s probably the most important thing in onboarding, is here’s what success looks like.
David Wojcik: When should you start planning? I mean I talked to… Some companies have the onboarding plan already set. They’ve got it for all employees and then it can be tweaked for sales employees. When do you start the planning? Should you start it the moment you start to recruit? Should you start it before then? How much time do you need to put this plan together?
Linda Kern: That’s a great question. I’m always a big believer in planning in advance, so that the earlier the better. You’re thinking of hiring somebody, start thinking about how you would onboard them. And yeah, it’s different from the regular… If there’s policies and procedures they need to know, the phones and all that kind of stuff, but it’s really about planning for what the first week, 30 days, 90 days will look like. So that’s a critical component. And again, I always divert to, tell them what success… Help them understand what success will look like.
David Wojcik: And what does success look like when you go into an organization? What are some of the things that you’ve seen with the many clients that you’ve worked with?
Linda Kern: Yeah, so success in sales is really about activity. So it’s a couple of things. They need to understand their, what I call result goal. So the goal of what the ultimate measure is, the sales they bring in. But they also need to understand the activities that will lead them to achieving that. So it might be that they need to open a certain number of accounts. It might be that they need to grow existing accounts by a certain amount. I even recommend in the early days of a new hire to get very granular about, well once you’re up and running and you start hitting the phones or hitting the pavement next week, that we’ve learned over the years in our business that you’ll need to have two new business meetings a week. That granular.
David Wojcik: And that is very granular and I was going to go there with you, is because I think too many business owners believe that salespeople, they show up and they know exactly what to do in every single business. And it’s not the case. Businesses have different close ratios, they have different sales cycles, they have different gestation periods for sales. And a lot of companies, sales is technical and you need to know about the product and the service that’s being offered before you can actually go out there. I know it’s going to be from business to business, it will be different. But how long should this onboarding process go? And I know it’s probably going to wean off, but the intensive onboarding program, is it one day, two days, a week, two weeks?
Linda Kern: Yeah. So again, it does vary, but I would really suggest that it’s… And I guess it depends on the activity. So in the early days you’re looking at really having them pretty close to you or one of your key salespeople, in terms of like you were mentioning, the product, the way things work around here. They might do a little bit of reading the policies and things like that early days. So they’re pretty much shadowing you or your key salesperson.
Linda Kern: The other thing along with that, I recommend in the first week or two is also just getting out on the road with an experienced salesperson should there be one, or a team there. Because the salespeople are folks that are on the go all the time, they’re used to not sitting at a desk for too, too long. So you don’t want to plunk them down with a 100 page manual and say, “You’ve got a week to read this.” They need to be on the go and they need to mix up their learning.
David Wojcik: So one of the things that we do when we onboard salespeople or retention people at the Board of Trade, is we get them to sit with each individual so that they can see what they do for the day. Now we don’t… They’re not sitting there with them for days, but they will spend at least a half a day with each person in the organization. So a half a day, that could be a week or 10 days of time. And that way it gives them an idea when they finally do make a sale or they get out into the field and they have a question, they at least know who to refer this member to. I know in some organizations that’s probably not practical because there may be hundreds of people in the organization, but in general practice is that a good thing to do?
Linda Kern: It is and I think that the key thing for who they should meet with is who they’ll be interacting with. I mean it doesn’t make sense in a large operation for them to meet the forklift driver in the warehouse, that kind of thing. That’s a little… I’m granular, but not that granular. But they may need to meet the warehouse manager. Because if goods are coming in and out of the warehouse and they need to understand that from their customer’s perspective, then that would make sense. And so yeah, where it makes sense and that really is something that goes in the onboarding plan.
David Wojcik: Where should the onboarding be done? Should it be done onsite? Should it be done offsite? Should we get an outside contractor to do the onboarding? Where does that all fit in?
Linda Kern: Sales manager. Onsite with the sales manager. So they need to be in that environment and as much as possible, the sales manager is with that person overseeing it. But like I say, they do delegate if you’re going to spend a half a day with this rep, you’re going to spend a morning with this rep. So very much they need to be where the work will be taking place.
David Wojcik: Where do you see the biggest errors being made in onboarding for salespeople where you’ve got a great person, they come with a fantastic resume, they’ve been very successful where they are before, and then they join an organization and they completely fall flat on their face? And of course the natural thing to do is to say, “Well they just didn’t perform, they didn’t fit, they didn’t understand the culture, blah, blah, blah.” And some companies forget to look internally to say, “Where did we fail this individual?”
Linda Kern: That in fact is the first place with any business problem I find, is as you’re pointing your finger at somebody else, don’t forget to point it back to yourself to see what your part in that was. But I think the biggest failure is making the assumption that you are sort of outlining in this scenario that the person already knows what they’re doing. They’re experienced, they know what they’re doing, they get out there. And the focus is on the result goal, the sales goal, kind of the ultimate measure of a salesperson’s success and not on the things that lead up to that. Leading indicators. Helping them to understand, again I’ll use the phrase, what does success look like?
Linda Kern: And not so much, and this is an important distinction as well, is it’s not micromanagement. Get out there and make 3.75 calls and 5.9 of this and that. It’s not micromanagement. I always emphasize sales leaders to call it, we’ve learned over the years that success looks roughly like this. Some weeks you’ll hit it, some weeks you won’t.
David Wojcik: It’s all about numbers.
Linda Kern: All about numbers. Yeah. And then where the numbers are there and the person isn’t succeeding, then we turn to the quality of it. We also to manage and help them along with the way to have those calls. The way to get those meetings and the way to put a proposal together.
David Wojcik: Now we know that different salespeople, once they get into their swing of things, they will have different close ratios. They will have different gestation periods for their sales cycle. How long should it be before they kind of get into that? Is it going to appear after… I mean some people might have a close ratio of one in four and then you have another one that just has a different approach or whatever it happens to be, they’re one in two and another one will be one in six. How long does it take before somebody really understands what their close ratio is and gets into the swing of things?
Linda Kern: Yeah, I mean the length of time to understand your close ratio is probably depending on again, you call it gestation, sort of the length of time it takes from somebody who agrees to meet with me til I close business with them. That varies dramatically, whether you’re selling airplane engines or you’re selling water bottles for the office kind of thing. So if it’s a longer sell cycle, it will take you longer to figure out the close ratio. If it’s a shorter sale cycle, you will be able to figure it out much quicker. And to anticipate the next question around, well then how do you know when someone is succeeding? The other part about onboarding somebody is giving them a sales target and activity targets that makes sense for the first three months and six months.
Linda Kern: If it’s a million dollar territory, you don’t assign a million dollar quota to a new salesperson. Even an experienced one, because they have a ramp up time. Now if you’re giving… Another little wrinkle here, if you’re giving them a base of business where already they’ve got, without even trying, they’ve got business coming in, that’s a little different. But if it’s a net new, my job is to go chase new business constantly and I have no base of existing business, that’s going to take time.
David Wojcik: Now we know that the gestation period for sales will affect my next question. However, in order to, they’ve got to build that funnel. So when should you expect to see people starting to bring in some top end final activity?
Linda Kern: Yeah, I mean really fairly quickly, depending on what they’re doing. So let’s use the example of, if I am doing ice cold calling or warm calling, but basically I’m reaching out to companies saying, “Hey, let’s get together.” I don’t do it quite like that, but that will take a little longer than if my company is feeding me with leads, from the website for example. But I mean the minute they start hitting the phones, if we take sort of the average company, I would think within… Conceivably you could say, if I’m going to onboard somebody and they’re not touching the phone for the first week because they’re out with other folks or whatever, and the second week I’m going to hit the phones, I should be able to get a meeting that week. Maybe two. But there are other factors at play. But if it’s sort of a cooler or colder calling, it will take a little bit longer.
David Wojcik: Right. If you start off and you know that I’ve got this number of companies in my territory and you already know who the company is and you’ve got the contact information and who it is, it’s going to be easier to book that appointment than if you’re starting from scratch. You have no idea who the companies are and you have to do all of that legwork. When I started with London Life 150 years ago at the formation of the company, the responsibility for initial sales was my sales manager, my staff manager. And the staff manager’s responsibility was to prepare, before I started to actually have appointments ready to go. So when I arrived I was going out with my sales manager on appointments and he was showing me how to do it. Although I had no idea what the product was, I had no training whatsoever.
David Wojcik: And I think you worked at it for two months or three months and then you went to London, Ontario for STC One. Sales Development One. And I went down there with a million call, which I was third in the country in sales when I went to London for my first sales training. And I had no idea what I was selling. So it was all the sales manager. I had a great sales manager, had been with the company for a number of years. He did all that for me. What do you think about that idea with a sales manager actually making sales with the individual in their territory, pre-booking those appointments so they get some confidence behind them? Because when I went down to London with a million call, I mean I was on top of the world.
Linda Kern: Yeah, I mean I love the idea and the key part of that. So getting them out on the road green is what I would say you did. The key part of that though is the discussion before the sales call and the discussion after the sales call. So as an example, if I’m going to go on a call like that, I’ve been with the company a week, now I’m going to do a bunch of calls with my sales manager. What I recommend that that sales manager do is just talk about the call ahead of time. Here’s my sales call objective, here’s what I’m going to do, here’s how I’m going to handle it, the questions I’m going to ask, here’s what I’m going to do if it goes well at the end. So he kind of tells, outlines for the rookie rep what’s going to happen and then gives instruction to the rep. Now what I’d like you to do is just watch me. Watch me, don’t worry about the sale.
David Wojcik: Don’t say anything.
Linda Kern: Don’t say anything. Nod and smile. But it’s important that they know what their role is in their own development in that. So in other words, watch what I do. Take some notes on what I do. What did you think about… We’ll talk about it afterwards. So the post part of that. What did you think about that? What did you think? What questions do you have? Was there anything I did that you thought was unusual? And we’ll talk about your observations of the sales process and me in that call. That would be the key thing I would add to that.
David Wojcik: And so when you come back, Linda, we’re going to talk about those first few weeks of sales training, of what should go into it. We’ve got a couple of minutes left. You brought a couple of guests with you today. Who do you have with you today?
Linda Kern: I brought my… What I think we decided it was, she’s my first cousin once removed.
David Wojcik: When did you decide that?
Linda Kern: Last night.
David Wojcik: Did you decide that before she got here or after she got here?
Linda Kern: Well we decided last night because she and her friend, so my cousin’s name is Tessa and her friend is Laura. And they’re up from Australia traveling all around the Eastern seaboard of the US and Canada and came up to visit me because Tessa and I had not met before. And we decided it was first cousin once removed because I said so.
David Wojcik: Oh well, listen, you can’t argue with that.
Linda Kern: Yeah.
David Wojcik: So this is really springtime for you in Australia. You’re getting ready for your summer season, which is absolutely fantastic. So, well welcome to Canada. Enjoy your stay. And of course, thanks Linda for being with us. We look forward to having you back on the show.
Linda Kern: My pleasure.
David Wojcik: Thanks to our guests for being with us today.