The Downside of Teaching Sales Employees What It Takes
There are many things that sales management and business coaching books won’t teach you. 1 of them is training an employee, who does well then decides to jump ship to compete with you.
Any business owner or senior manager will tell you that grooming young talent comes with its pitfalls. It requires an investment of time and money, expert guidance and patience.
In business to business sales (B2B), the sales cycles can be as long as 1–2 years. There are lots of skills to master.
From lead generation & prospecting, to product, customer and competitor knowledge. There is also administration of the sale and management of customer relationship management software (CRM) to increase efficiency. Managing a pipeline, relationships, working with support personnel, leveraging finance, negotiation and follow up skills are also required for consistent success. In addition, our top performers also understand and manage priorities, understand how to create value, are good with numbers, hold margins, have good follow up skills, and present well in various situations. In our fitness equipment business, knowledge of exercise science is a valued skill of our top performers.
These skills lead to an experience bank. This experience bank allows you to use the above skills for maximum performance. Most importantly, all of this is wrapped up into a unique selling proposition, an approach that positions our solution better than the others available to the customer.
The learning curve is steep, and often takes 6 months to 1 year or more for a successful representative to hit their stride.
Performance is always the #1 objective. Results. Sales. Generating revenue.
Therefore, supporting the new representative in these skills becomes a priority for the manager, because time is always of the essence.
With this training, performance and overall investment by the organization, 1 of 2 things tend to occur:
1. It is not a good fit for the representative. The activities required are not performed well and results are not there, and the contract needs to end.
2. It is a good fit and the representative builds some momentum, enough to keep going and find a rhythm. From here 2 things can happen.
a. They settle in and have some success and nice long-term relationship gets established. This benefits the representative, the organization and, most importantly the customer. In many cases, these are the next wave of senior representatives and some start move into management.
b. The success becomes so strong that the representative starts to feel that they can get to a better opportunity. The perspective is that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence and will lead to more money and freedom. Perhaps this opportunity is one that they can run with more control and answer to less people. The feedback has been that the new opportunity won’t have as much structure and guidelines. Sometimes, they want an ownership stake or don’t feel the mother ship is supporting them as well, so they decide to leave.
In almost 20 years of sales team management, the most frequent result is #1 above (not a good fit). In my experience, I have found 2 reasons for this.
· The profiling and interviewing process was not deliberate enough. Hire slow and let go quickly applies here and is very true.
· The expectations out of the gate were not realistic for the skill level of the new representative.
Both are on the hiring organization.
The 2nd most frequent result is 2a, they settle in, do well and are long term productive representatives. This is the most rewarding part of the work, as I have been on both sides. Representative and management.
A close 3rd to the above is 2B. This is where the successful representative packs up and leaves for a better offer or start their own shop.
2B is every employer’s worst case scenario.
Investment into the representative, they get up and running and do well, and they leave.
In my experience, there are not many situations departing representative had as much success with the new organization.
Why would this be?
Not a clear understanding of all aspects of the business is the most logical answer. In the industry where I have the most experience, the selling of commercial fitness equipment, the capital requirements and support expertise to prop up a representative are significant. This would be akin to a top performing car salesperson starting their own dealership. But they could start their own brokerage could they not?
Of interest here is that yours truly departed a company in 2010 to start out on my own. That would be option 2B. That’s right, I was one of those people. I learned a lot with my first organization for 15 years and then felt I had reached an impasse and had to leave.
The change, at that time, propelled me into business ownership and took my career to another level. But that other level brought increased investment and exposure financially along with the eventual strong results. (We eventually sold our business in 2015 to the company I work for now.)
The ironic aspect of this, was that I never wanted to leave. I understood all that my first organization had taught me. The competitive advantage it provided me so I could focus on serving customers. That organization, however, stopped doing those things to support me and our customers suffered. Products started taking too long and other aspects required to be supported were stopped. In fact, I tried for 3 years to help the first organization get back on track, without success.
In my case, I had no choice. I had to leave. Either the company and/or the industry.
I knew going into the new venture, what the requirements in running a business run much wider and deeper than simply sales. I also partnered with 2 people who were very good at aspects of the business that I was not.
I don’t think I would change a thing. I think people leaving are part of the process of running a business and/or managing a team. The key is developing a process that increases the chances of a good hiring fit and shortens the learning curve to performance.
I have been on both ends. The employee and employer. The sales representative being managed, and the manager.
Professional sales is a fascinating profession. When it comes to sales management, the downside can be that those you have trained leave to use your teachings against you.
However, the upside of it working well is worth it!
Greg Lawlor is a former schoolteacher and 25 year veteran of sales, management and business ownership. He continues to learn something new every day!