I once worked with a company president who hired a salesperson in a new territory on the Friday before Memorial Day weekend and fired him before the Fourth of July weekend. Befuddled, I asked him why.
He told me, “Look, the guy had not brought in a single order.” I asked if he had brought in any quotes, and he said, “Sure, he brought in all kinds of quotes but we didn’t win any of them. So what did you expect me to do?”
Guess what, folks? Four or five weeks is not enough time to try out a new salesperson. In fact, six months is nowhere near enough time to try out a new salesperson. It takes much longer than that for the salesperson to just get around his territory and introduce himself to your existing customers, and your company to all of his customers and contacts.
As sales expert David Brock says in his excellent book The Sales Manager Survival Guide,
- Recently I heard a great speaker say that from their first day on the job to the time they leave, the average salesperson’s tenure is less than 2 years.
- The average tenure of a sales manager is 19 months.
- 47% of companies say it takes 10 or more months for new salespeople to become fully productive.
- 67% say 7 or more months.
58% of all sales reps make quota.
Taken together, these figures present a frightening view of selling and of the cost of sales. Basically, we have to make our money from a salesperson in a little more than a year. That is, to get a good return on our investment in hiring and on boarding someone who takes 7-10 months to become fully productive, but who will leave within the next 14 months: we have to have them produce at least two years’ worth of business in those 14 months.
Obviously this is a serious problem that causes severe challenges, not only for our companies but also for our customers who have to train new salespeople to know what they need in a very short time. In fact, there is seldom enough time for the salesperson to earn the customers’ trust!
It gets even worse when we consider our industry, where we are selling a technical high-end customized product, since the above-quoted stats were for people selling ready-made products.
Then we have a situation where the salesperson has to come to his customers every two years with the next greatest solution, leaving those customers wondering what happened to last year’s greatest solution.
So the answer lies in patience. You must have patience to take the time to find and hire the right salesperson. Then, you must have the right amount of time to train that salesperson properly, making certain that he has the proper understanding of your products, your customers and your market, and how they all fit together.
It boils down to this: The first year is for learning and acclimating, and the second year is for really getting going. I advise most of my clients that a good salesperson should hit his desired annual run rate in sales by the end of the 24th month. And that’s the run rate, meaning that by the 24th month the salesperson will have reached the monthly sales numbers that when multiplied by 12 will equal what he should be booking annually. And then from there, his numbers should start growing at an industry-based logical rate. Then and only then will you get a good return on your investment.
Sure, there will be exceptions to these rules. You’ll find some hotshot who can deliver that huge account you have been trying to land, or the lucky guy who is in the right place at the right time. Yes, that can happen, but I warn you it rarely happens. Be very wary of the salesperson who brags that he will put you into some key accounts right away because those buyers love him and will follow him wherever he goes.
Really? Companies seldom, if ever, follow one salesperson. They do not jump from one vendor to another because a salesperson they like has jumped from one company to another. At best, this salesperson will get you some meetings, some introductions and even some quoting opportunities, but you will have to win the business on your own.
With most customers, especially the Tier One companies, you are still going to have to go through the entire gamut of surveys, qualification orders and customer visits, and that will still take a long time. Let’s face it: There are very few shortcuts in sales anymore.
So spend the time, find the right salesperson, hire him, train him, work with him and then have the patience to give the right amount of time to nurture his customer base and grow his territory. It’s only common sense.