We've provided sales training for hundreds of IT staffing firms and thousands of IT staffing sales professionals. We've delivered our sales training programs via sales kickoffs, management retreats, workshops, and webinars. We also provided online sales training in which we leverage blended learning, micolearning, video training and coaching, social learning and gamification and mobile learning. We're sales training experts for the IT staffing industry. Now we're going to share with you a whole host ideas, insights, best practices, lessons learned and sales training strategies and tactics that you can test out for yourself to improve the performance of your sales team.
According to an HBR article, U.S. companies spend over $70 billion annually on sales training, and an average of $1,459 per salesperson — almost 20 percent more than they spend on training workers in all other functions. Yet, when it comes to equipping sales teams with the relevant skills and knowledge, the ROI of sales training is disappointing. Studies indicate that participants in traditional sales training forget more than 80 percent of the information they were taught within 90 days. As discouraging as those numbers are, they shouldn’t come as a surprise when you consider staffing organizations typically provide nothing more than a haphazard shadow training session or an instructor-led sales training workshop in which reps are expected to absorb large amounts of information in a short amount of time.
As a staffing leader, getting new sales reps up to speed quickly is one of your most important jobs. The sooner they’re able to make quota, the better. Yet the reality is, most sales reps struggle to achieve proficiency in their new position and many never make it. The impact of this churn is costly. Brad Smart, author of Topgrading for Sales, states that the average cost of a failed sales ramp-up is six times the base salary for a salesperson. Despite those staggering numbers, staffing companies traditionally have taken the “water through the fire hose” approach to sales onboarding. Conventional thinking is, the faster we can push everyone through training, the faster we can get them out in the field selling and recruiting. The problem however is there is a lot a salesperson must learn before they can be considered fully ramped up and “sales ready.” There is customer knowledge, sales process knowledge, CRM/ATS training, company history and service offering knowledge, and pricing and capabilities. That right there is a lot of information to retain and we haven’t even touched on sales skills training, the actual skills, behaviors and techniques a salesperson needs to develop in order to be successful. There is just too much information to absorb all at once. When employers try to cram too much information in too short of a time period into their sales onboarding they actually make it harder and slower for new hires to become competent and productive. Unlike many corporate training programs, the goal to effectively onboarding a new sales rep or recruiter isn’t just to make sure employees complete their training, but to ensure that they’ve mastered it. Helping sales reps retain information quickly and validating that they can execute those skills in the field is the ideal scenario for staffing and training leaders. But it requires planning.
Since our founding in 2008, Menemsha Group has successfully helped hundreds of IT staffing companies accelerate time to productivity for their sales new hires including shorten their sales cycle, increase deal size, improve sales win rates and increase overall profitability per employee. Many of our clients have gone on to become leaders in their respective markets. Below are our lessons learned and best practices for IT staffing sales training and sales onboarding.
Instructor Led Training vs. Online Sales Training vs. Blended Learning
Instructor-led training (ILT) is the type of training you’re most familiar with. It’s training that occurs in a classroom. There’s a teacher presenting the material. Instructor-led training is perceived to be the most effective method in delivering sales training due to the interactive environment, and the fact that there is an expert sales trainer facilitating the workshop sharing ideas and insights and actively modeling the desired skills and behaviors. Online sales training is web-based and can be taken at anytime from any web-connected device. Then there’s blended learning. If you’re seeking the best sales training program, a world-class sales training program then you are seeking a blended learning program. Blended learning combines instructor-led training with online training.
Effectively onboarding new hires is a challenging task that requires strategic thinking, proper planning and complete buy-in and commitment from executive leadership and front line managers. To understand the true value of the sales training it’s important to first understand the challenges and pitfalls commonly associated with sales training and in particular, IT staffing sales training programs.
Water Through Fire Hose Training
It doesn’t work to try to cram as much information into the brains of your new hires and employees in the shortest possible time. This fire-hose strategy overwhelms new hires, delays knowledge and skill acquisition and ultimately leads to failure. According to a study conducted by Xerox, salespeople forget 87% of what they learned within 30 days. Giving your sales reps a short orientation and then turning them loose and expecting them to “figure things out” is a recipe for failure. Sales training is NOT about time to completion. Sales training including sales onboarding should be designed for skills mastery and helping your IT staffing firms achieve sustainable, scalable, repeatable growth. Don’t make the mistake of underestimating your new hire’s learning curve. As you will soon learn, you will want a sales onboarding program that is modular, milestone based training which incorporates strategic sequencing to optimize skill and knowledge retention.
Shadow Training is the Most Common Sales Training & Sales Onboarding Pitfall Staffing Companies
Most staffing companies rely heavily on shadow training because they believe “if my new hire shadows my top performer he or she can clone their behavior.” Despite the good intentions, most new hires lack the context or experience to know what to look for or what questions to ask. Top performers also have weaknesses that in all likelihood will not be showcased when being shadowed by a new hire which means your new employee only gets a limited view into your sales process. Your salespeople should receive sales training that accounts for every customer touch point across the sales process.
Sales Training Improperly Sequenced
We’ve learned over the years that most staffing companies make their CRM and ATS systems the focal point of their sales training and sales onboarding. While new hires do in fact need to be trained on these systems, they shouldn't be the focal point of the sales training or sales onboarding program. The reason is simple, learning how to use a CRM or ATS will not accelerate a salesperson's ramp up time and time to sales quota attainment. Teaching a new sales rep or recruiter the “in’s and out’s” of your CRM/ATS system is not going to help them accelerate their time to an initial sales meeting, first job order or first placement. In fact, it actually delays those desired results because it only gives the new hire additional and unnecessary information to think about. We also know that teaching a new hire the company “elevator pitch” including service offerings and company accolades is also a poor approach because this encourages the new hire to go into “pitch mode” when engaging a prospect or candidate. It takes a seasoned and experienced team of Learning and Development professionals who understand the buying behaviors of IT hiring managers and IT candidates to understand what training content is needed, when it is needed, and what order it should be sequenced and consumed in to optimize learner ramp.
Creating and deploying engaging sales training content and facilitating engaging instructor led sales training workshops that captures the mind’s and attention of salespeople is a common challenge all IT staffing companies face. Most firms rely on lecture, PowerPoint presentations, webinars and other static content in which sales reps are tasked with reading through piles of outdated documents focused on dry topics describing the company history, service offerings, policies and procedures. World class sales training programs combine online sales training including animated video, online quizzes, gamification, mobile, and microlearning with engaging, instructor training. The combination of the two is referred to as blended learning. What makes it world class is the fact that the two learning methods combine dramatically accelerate learner retention and comprehension.
Lack of a Consistent New Hire Onboarding Structure and Experience
Fact: when sales training content and/or delivery of the sales training content is inconsistent, the results too are inconsistent. Most staffing companies lack consistency in how they onboard their new hires. It is difficult to ensure new hires receive the same consistent and intended message when training is led by different instructors, is exclusively classroom based and/or facilitated by different leaders, or when you rely on shadow training. Inconsistent training delivery mechanisms equals inconsistent results and without a consistent vehicle for training delivery, it becomes impossible to track and measure the effectiveness of your sales training program. As a result managers can’t identify leading indicators that predict success or failure and the effectiveness of their sales training. This is why we see many staffing firms who hold onto under performers far too long before managing them out of the organization; inconsistent training produces inconsistent results and high wash-out rates.
Lack of Manager Involvement
Many staffing companies invest in training their salespeople but fail to hold their front line managers accountable to participating in the training with their employees including their new hires. Owners and senior leaders say to themselves “my manager has been doing this for years, they don’t need the sales training, besides they’re too busy with other work.” The reality is front-line managers are the most significant leverage points for sustaining behavioral change. When front line managers fail to participate in sales training including their new hire onboarding they miss out on the opportunity of observing to what degree the new hire is engaged with the training material and how effectively they can execute. Skipping out on this opportunity means front line sales managers are failing to plan out a personalized development, reinforcement and coaching plan that details how they will support, coach and evaluate their sales new hires on what they were taught during sales onboarding.
Sales Training and Sales Onboarding Best Practices
Design Modular, Milestone Based Sales Training Modules Sequenced & Aligned With Your Sales Process
You sales training program should be modular in design and milestone driven to help more of your new hires succeed in the shortest possible time frame. This not only helps new hires quickly ramp up so you can meet your aggressive growth plans it but it also minimizes the revolving door syndrome that plagues most IT staffing firms. For example, to provide new hires with a road map that is most relevant to their needs, design your sales training in modules and sequence your sales onboarding program by aligning it with, and mimicking the stages of your sales process. Suppose your sales cycle is 90 days from initial cold call to placement. With a three-month sales cycle, focus on getting sales reps fully ramped in three phases, with each phase lasting 30 days and consisting of only the relevant sales training modules unique to each phase. Unlike your competitors who try to cram as much training content as possible into a full day or multi-day workshop, focus on teaching learners only the skills and knowledge they need at that moment in time, not the skills and knowledge they will need 60 or 90 days down the road.
IT Staffing Firms Can Reduce Costs and Quickly Scale Their Business
With online sales training, IT staffing firms are able to train as many employees concurrently as they need, regardless of employee location. Because all employees consume the exact same training experience IT staffing firms are assured that the skills, knowledge and desired behaviors are consistent from office to office and rep to rep. And because they no longer have to pull employees out of the field to fly to corporate for training they eliminate their travel expenses and opportunity costs.
Sustaining & Reinforcing Training To Deliver Long Term Growth, ROI
Rather than focusing on the total number of learners to be trained and “pushing” them through your sales onboarding program, focus on designing your sales training program for sustainable, long term growth. We encourage our clients to think of onboarding each new hire as the launch of the “sustain” phase. “Sustain” encompasses everything that a direct supervisor will need to do in order to support his or her new hire and ensure they quickly ramp to quota attainment. Sustain starts with mapping out what the new hire can expect from their manager, including how they will be supported, coached, and evaluated on what they learned during new hire onboarding. Whether it’s how to deliver a message, sell to an executive, craft an email or voice-mail message or how to have a strategic, consultative conversation, there are several sustain essentials managers must deploy. Before launching any new training engagement we work with our clients to help them focus on and prioritize the behaviors that will be changing (as a result from the training) and create a user adoption and sustain plan that highlights the specific tasks and events that occur during and after the training to reinforce and drive the new desired behaviors. The plan details the content, the cadence or frequency and the event leader and a variety of reinforcement activities.
Give Your Sales New Hires a Road Map
New recruiters & salespeople need to know specifically what they have to learn and in what sequence. Even experienced recruiters and salespeople need this – especially if they’re working in a new market or branch office or where they lack familiarity with your specific customers and the customer or candidate’s decision making process. To provide your new hires with a road map that is relevant, we recommend that your onboarding timeline and sequence mimic your sales process (recruiting process for your recruiters). For example, suppose your sales cycle is 90 days from initial cold call to placement. With a three-month sales cycle, you should want your reps to be fully onboarded in three phases, with each phase lasting one month. The first phase of your sales onboarding would incorporate all of the knowledge, skills and tools a new salesperson needs in order to successfully execute the first 1/3 of your
sales or recruiting process.
We recommend you organize your training content into the following buckets.
Once you’ve identified all the knowledge, messaging and process competencies required for success you will want to determine what your recruiters and salespeople “need to know” today versus what can be learned later. This sorting process enables you to create a timeline for learning. More importantly it will highlight what a new recruiter or salesperson needs to learn today vs. down the road. For example, it may be really important for your new hires to start meeting with prospects as soon as they possibly can but how will that training help them get candidates and prospects to return their voicemail and email messages? As mentioned previously, you want to teach your new hires the the messaging, process and
knowledge in the sequence they will need it. Don’t put the cart before the horse, it will only overwhelm your new hire and slow the learning process. Map out what your new salespeople will need to learn during their first day of work, what they will need to know in week 1, week 2, 30 Days, 60 Days and 90 Days and repeat the process for a recruiter. Take it from me that this is an iterative process. Once you start using this onboarding plan, you’ll quickly discover ways to make it even better.
Sequence Your Sales Training Into Phases
Now that you have your training content in buckets, you can chart a sequence of training modules for each one. Remember: the goal is to deliver your training so that your new hires can be productive throughout the onboarding process, rather than having to get through the entire program first before they begin selling or recruiting. So instead of training
on each topic in its entirety you can assign specific training modules from each bucket to the appropriate phase. For example, let’s assume we have a technology and tools bucket and in
that bucket is CRM/ATS training. Most CRM and ATS systems are complex, and each area within the CRM requires training. But a new recruiter or sales rep doesn’t need to know everything about the CRM/ATS in order to begin selling or recruiting. So what do they need to learn right away? For instance, a new sales rep needs to know how to enter leads or contacts into the CRM/ATS but they don’t need to know how to put a job order in the system or extend an assignment or manage time cards and invoicing.
Deploy Your Training Content on a Web Based Training Platform
A recent report by Harvard Business Review found that only 37% of new salespeople will become consistent performers. And according to a study conducted by Training Industry.com, even after you find a good sales rep or recruiter, it is still going to take you on average 381 days to get that new hire executing at the same performance level as your tenured employees. Those statistics make it sound like we have a better chance of winning the lottery than successfully onboarding a new recruiter or sales rep. So how can we mitigate our risk and turn the odds in our favor to making our new hires productive? We can and should follow the early adopters and leaders from within the academia and education industry. As you’re probably aware, more and more educational institutions (and businesses) are adopting online learning. This is largely due to the increase in affordable and easy to use technology and rapidly growing demand for an engaging learning experience (think Millennials). However, if your IT staffing firm has been utilizing traditional training methods (I.E. read the corporate handbook, shadow training and classroom training) than it may be daunting to even consider adopting an online training model. Below are just three advantages you will get from an online, web based training solution.
Your employees, especially your millennials, are mobile which means they do just about everything on their phone from email, social and shopping, to banking, watching videos and posting photos. With online learning, your employees can access training material, coursework, exercises, videos and quizzes through their smartphones, tablets, and computers whenever they want from wherever they want.
Microlearning Accelerates Skill & Knowledge Mastery
Studies show that retention spans continue to recede which means long training sessions only compound the problem of keeping your new hires focused and adopting your training material. The best approach to accelerate skills and knowledge adoption including time to productivity is to keep your training modules short and consistent. That is where adopting microlearning comes into play. Microlearning is a way of offering training in the form of manageable bite-sized content. Instead of asking a learner to sit in a 60 minute lecture or watch a 60 minute video or shadow a top performer for a period of time, you break the training content down into small bite-size pieces in which each learning module or lesson only lasts approximately 6-10 minutes in duration or shorter. A web based training platform is the perfect solution for enabling microlearning.
Consistency in Coaching, Results
One of the challenges with classroom, instructor led training is ensuring the same consistent material and message is delivered and received in its intended way. Deploying your training through an online learning platform ensures the material and messaging is consistent market to market and learner to learner. Delivering your training in the same consistent format including certification exams that follow will ensure you teach your new hires to follow the exact same process and adopt the same sales and recruiting behaviors, all of which allows
you to iterate. Iterating is very difficult with instructor led classroom training or shadow training. A consistent approach will also save your manager’s time by enabling them to quickly and easily identify skill and performance gaps and provide the appropriate coaching.
Track & Measure Learner Adoption, Comprehension
You’ll also need a mechanism to assess whether or not your new recruiters and sales reps achieved the competencies necessary to be successful. Remember, onboarding is not about time to completion but knowledge and skills mastery. To do that you will need to create certification exams that incorporate a multitude of questions for testing your new hires engagement with your training material and their level of comprehension. But you can’t stop there because using quiz questions stop short of telling you whether or not your new hire can execute. To test whether or not your new hire can execute a critical customer or candidate conversation you will need to create role play scenarios for your employees to practice rehearsing their conversations. Let’s assume that in order to “graduate” from Phase 1 of your sales new hire onboarding your new hire needs to physically demonstrate they can lead an insightful, consultative customer conversation. To do this, the sales manager will need to create the role play scenarios and define the specific evaluation criteria that will define and determine whether or not the rep successfully executed an insightful, consultative customer conversation. Then the rep will have to demonstrate that they can execute the task by executing a role
play.. With a web based training solution however, sales reps (and recruiters) could audio and video record themselves into their computer webcam executing such a conversation in which the recording can be made available for the manager to evaluate and review, thus automating the process. Finally, managers need to provide both quantitative and qualitative feedback on their new hires performance. To do that you can also audio and video record all role plays for the entire team to watch and learn from. You can use the video recordings much like you would when going on a diet by taking “before and after” videos to track improvement.
New Hire Onboarding & Training ROI
At this point you’re probably thinking, “wow, this is a lot of work, what sort of ROI can and should I expect from my new hire onboarding and training program?” Here are a few of the key factors that you should consider when determining the ROI of your sales onboarding and sales training program: