John called me in the middle of the day. He’d just started a new role with a software start-up in San Jose, California. He sounded a little irritated, certainly not his usual upbeat self. As a sales recruiter who spends hours each day on the phone, I’m highly sensitive to slight voice inflections. I instantly knew something was wrong.
“I’m not sure this is the place for me,” he said. After a long pause, John went on to explain, “Yesterday two of the guys in my sales training class went to lunch and didn’t come back. The office manager Susan let on this wasn’t a first. Every time I step out of the office, my boss gets this tense look on his face.”
But John’s experience is ordinary. Doubt can grab hold of new hires quickly. In any start-up, introducing new sales people into the mix initially causes optimism to run wild. Without solid systems in place, excitement levels quickly wane. No matter how successful new hires have been in the past, or how well developed their sales skills are; they simply can’t be highly effective in a disorganized environment lacking infrastructure, procedures, and systems. Your company’s ability to onboard new salespeople can make the difference between high performance and high turnover.
When you’ve worked hard to recruit top talent for your sales team, don’t leave new beginnings to chance. Here are six simple tips for increasing the odds of putting your new sales hires on the road to success.
1. Get an Onboarding Plan in Place for Your Sales Reps
“Winging it” never works. Put infrastructure in place by building systems, processes, and structure right from the start. Include formal checklists, written sales goals, objectives, timelines, activity metrics, content, tasks, assignments of responsibility, and follow up schedules.
2. Dump the Welcome Mat and Roll out the Red Carpet
Make onboarding part of everyone’s job. Foster a welcoming culture and help new hires immediately feel like part of the team. Employees across disparate departments and levels should be encouraged to make new hires feel welcome.
3. Make the First Day Memorable
Show your new sales hire you’re ready for his arrival. Have his desk, computer, and other work tools set up. Take pictures, put up a welcome sign, and have things ready to go. Take him to lunch on the first day and introduce him to everyone in the office. It’s the little things that make a big difference.
4. Enroll all New Sales Hires into a New Hire Orientation Program
It’s normal for new hires to be sent off to spend a few hours with human resources, company trainers, and other departments. This is when they learn about the company’s history, culture, and values. Whether it’s a few hours or a few days, almost every company provides some sort of new hire orientation. It’s normally a one-time event, and unfortunately, where the welcoming effort comes to a grinding halt. Although new hire orientation is essential, new employees need more than a few meetings to feel integrated into a new company.
5. Schedule Time for Support and aim for Progress
Harvard professor Teresa Amabile presented a conclusive study in the Harvard Business Review’s January 2010 issue. She determined the number one driver of employee motivation is progress. The employee’s ability to feel they’ve made progress trumped all other attributes including recognition, interpersonal support, clear goals, and incentives. Consistently scheduling time to review questions, measure achievements, and provide support can help new employees overcome problems and take the crucial steps forward needed to fuel progress.
6. Develop and Commit to Mentor Programs
Peer mentors can be a big help to any new sales hire. Whether mentor programs are formal or informal, having teammates available to answer questions and serve as sounding boards, helps strengthen peer networks across the organization. If a formal mentor program is established, it should be well thought out. Offer discussion topic guidelines for mentors so they know when and how to run meetings. A mentorship program needs structure to perform at optimal levels; otherwise, the program is not likely to be successful.
Never Leave New Beginnings to Chance
Like any opening act, new beginnings matter. The middle of a sales person’s tenure with your company never gets to survive a poor beginning. Commit to executing a thoughtful onboarding program: start with planning, implementing systems, and creating opportunities to connect with new hires. You can use a well-implemented onboarding program as your “secret weapon” to help new hires feel optimistic about your organization, accelerate the ramp up process, and quickly build sales momentum. Because few companies make the most of onboarding, executing a well-managed program will separate your company from the rest and put your new sales employees on the fast track to high performance.