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Imagining A Year In The Life Of A New Salesperson…..

by David Brock on July 18th, 2022

We’ve a robust hiring market for sales people. Huge salaries, bonuses, other incentives are being offered; all to fill vacant positions. Turnover (voluntary and involuntary) is currently at about 11 months.

I thought it might be interesting to do a thought experiment, imagining a year in the life of a modern sales person.

Day 1, month 1: The sales person is starting a new job. Probably this person has some experience, maybe even working for a competitor. But they have to go through an onboarding program. They embark on several months, sometimes longer, of learning products/solutions, understanding the company, their markets and customers, learning how to use the tools, processes, understanding the programs available to help them sell.

Month1-3: While the bulk of their time is spent on onboarding, getting up to speed; they may, also, follow sales people around, supporting them on their deals. They may even have a few deals they attempt to manage themselves–but since they are new to the company, they are likely to struggle, their win rates are likely to be very low, the performance/contribution is expected to be very low.

Months 3-6: As they emerge from the onboarding programs, they have to start building a pipeline. Maybe they have inherited some form of a pipeline from their predecessor, perhaps they are getting some leads from a SDR. But building a strong pipeline, making sure they have enough opportunities to achieve their goals is critical.

The natural inclination is to go after the “low hanging fruit.” Again, they may have inherited a few opportunities from their predecessor. They have to get up to speed and dive in. The customer hasn’t been patiently waiting for them to complete their onboarding, but has continued their process with competitors. So this new sales person is struggling to get up to speed as quickly as possible.

And we know their sales cycles, win rates, and average deal sizes are both long and low. But that’s part of the process of getting up to speed and productive. No one emerges from onboarding going 100 mph. They are still building their capability and pipelines.

As a result, much of the work will focus on relatively mature opportunities, finding new opportunities and working through the process will take more time. But as the sales person builds experience, in months 5 and 6 we hope to see some improvement in the pipeline. We have to recognize the reality, it takes time to build pipelines.

And then there’s the customer. They have buying cycles. For complex B2B, these may be several months, extending very often to 9, 12 or even more once the opportunity is qualified. For simplicity sake, let’s assume 3 months.

We hired the new sales person to build and maintain a strong pipeline. So in months 3-6, in addition to managing opportunities they might have inherited. they are building their own. It takes time to find and qualify new opportunities–which is primarily what the sales person was hired. Then once the sales person finds and qualifies them, they still need at least 3 months of guiding them through their buying process and closing a deal.

During this time, hopefully their experience builds as does their pipeline. Hopefully, they are starting to hit the expected win rates, sales cycles, average deal value. It takes time, but, at least theoretically, they they are building their experience and capability.

Months 6-9: The sales person is building their experience and capabilities. Since much of their prior time may have been focused on trying to closing the deals they inherited, they are still building their own pipelines. They will start closing deals they found and qualified in the prior 3 months, gaining confidence in their abilities (and hopefully building our confidence in their ability to perform.)

But we know this is idealized. This assumes the very best, they are finding enough good deals, the customer is moving through their buying process in three months, and they are winning their fair share of deals. In the real world, there are a lot of things that adversely impact their ability to achieve goals.

Managers may start worrying, getting impatient, increasing the pressure to hit the numbers. Somewhere in this period, some may be put on performance plans.

But at about the 9 month point, things should start getting into a normal rhythm, they should start building their capabilities, seeing the results of their work in the prior three months.

However, something happens. The job may not be what they expected, they may be struggling more than they had expected. Or they start getting recruited for another opportunity. They see the potential of increasing their earnings, a company that is more fun, an ability to move forward in their career, or simply a chance to escape a bad situation.

Their attention starts getting diverted, they focus a little less on their current roles, looking for something new. And around month 11, they are gone….

And the cycle begins again—well not yet, managers still have to go through a recruiting cycle, that may last a couple of months, so a lot of the opportunity the sales person found, may disappear to competition or simply disappear. After all, customers don’t call a time out on their buying, waiting for managers to recruit new sales people.

This “year” in the life of a sales person probably represents an idealized model. Onboarding, particularly for complex solutions, may take much longer. Finding and qualifying prospects is becoming tougher and tougher. And complex buying cycles are usually much longer than 3 months.

Then run this cycle through several lifetimes……

The number of opportunities, the quality of the opportunities inherited from predecessors decline. The ability to build and maintain strong pipelines is much more difficult.

Over several life cycles of “sales people,” we start to see a performance death spiral. And the data supports this, fewer people achieving quota (on a percentage basis), customers frustrated with the whole experience–going some place else, and the majority of buying decisions (in our qualified pipelines) being abandoned.

Something is broken!

This model is not sustainable for anything other than the most transactionalized sales (and these are probably more effectively executed digitally).

I remain unconvinced this is the “new normal.” I remain unconvinced that this is the way “gen Z’s work.” There is too much data from high performing organizations that point to much longer average tenures, that have higher levels of sustained performance.

Until we start understanding and addressing tenure, we can never create a top performing organization. We cannot attract and retain the talent needed to sustain growth objectives. While some people will leave for more money, more people are driven away by bad management and culture.

We have to focus on building organizations where people want to work, where they feel heard, valued, and where they can grow and develop. We don’t do this with mantras of “people first, people matter,” but by actually creating organizations where people are first and matter.

This is a leadership issue, nothing else we do in maximizing sales performance will work until we address the tenure issue.

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