Onboarding a New Salesperson

Onboarding a New Sales Person

I heard a story from a colleague about her first day as an outside sales representative. “I was supposed to meet my new boss at a local coffee shop at 9:00 am. I waited for him to arrive for about 30 minutes and then called him, somewhat in a panic, thinking that I was at the wrong meeting place. No answer, no response. Around 3:00 that afternoon, he called me back to tell me that he was confused about the day, had other stuff going on, and that it would be better if we met a couple of days later.”

Hearing this story almost sent me into a state of shock. What kind of message did the “no-show” deliver? What did it do to her level of enthusiasm and motivation, right out of the gate?

While this story is undoubtedly out of the ordinary, many managers do rush through the onboarding process in hopes of getting the new person up and running—out selling, as quickly as possible. When designed with thought and intention, the onboarding process provides the foundation for future success. Pulled together haphazardly, or not done at all, it has the potential to be a costly mistake.   

Here are my Do’s and Don’t’s when onboarding a new salesperson:

  1. Provide an Overview of the Onboarding Period. You need to have a plan for the training/onboarding, ideally in writing for easy reference. Establish goals.  Articulate what you want the employee to have learned and mastered by the end of the period. Doing so demonstrates that you are serious about success and have given thought to what it will take.

  2. Plan, but be Flexible. As important as it is to have a plan in place, recognize that everyone learns differently, and at a different pace. Also, business needs may cause you to move things around. Communicate this on the first day.

  3. Share Your Mission and Vision. When employees feel connected to a purpose beyond their actual responsibilities, their motivation level increases. The best time to lay this foundation is on day one. Consider the Bricklayer parable:

    Three bricklayers are asked: “What are you doing?” The first says, “I am laying bricks.” The second says, “I am building a church.” And the third says, “I am building the house of God.” The first bricklayer has a job. The second has a career. The third has a calling.

  4. Build Connections and Relationships. As much as you want your employees to feel connected to your company’s purpose, you want them to connect with the team and the other players. As part of the orientation, build in time for genuine relationships to blossom.  Schedule team lunches, job shadowing, etc. Establishing a mentor can be a huge win. The new employee has a second resource. You can delegate some of the training responsibility. The mentor has an opportunity to develop and feels valued.

  5. Celebrate. A small welcome gift or a note expressing your excitement demonstrates that you are a class act and look forward to more celebrations to come.  

Starting on the right footing does not guarantee success, but it serves as a great foundation. Take advantage of this opportunity to take the next step in building a top-performing team and culture.

Leading: Body, Heart, Mind, and Soul

We all want to hire the best people and build a better company. To attract and retain top talent, it is imperative that we cultivate an environment where our people have the tools to do their jobs effectively and the motivation to do so. This will ensure a positive culture, but is no simple task. It is a mission that requires us bring our best selves to the show.

To lead at our highest potential, we must intentionally care for our bodies, our emotional well-being, our minds, and our spirits. 

Body—We gain strength and stamina by taking care of ourselves physically, which expands our capacity to work. Eat right. Exercise. Get enough sleep. 

Heart—To get the best from others, we must communicate effectively. As leaders, we are on a stage. We need to “respond” rather than “react,” and keep our cool, even when we want to blow. We gain interpersonal effectiveness, empathy, and self-regulation from taking care of ourselves emotionally. Disconnect from work. Laugh. Practice gratitude.

Mind—When we take care of our minds, we are more focused and much better at problem-solving. Plan and manage our time. Take mental breaks (even for five minutes). Minimize multi-tasking.

Soul—We are at our best when we feel connected to a purpose greater than self-interest. In so doing, we increase our effectiveness at work and our motivation level is high. Journal. Meditate. Stop and take a breath. Find the practice that works best for you. 

When we manage these four dimensions of our being, we lead with greater intention and have a meaningful impact on those around us. We create a thriving environment, and the results are profound.

Want to learn more? Attend "Leadership and Professional Effectiveness" on May 30 at the CBA.

Client Referrals and Recommendations: Asking is a Good Thing!

I was recently involved in a sales discussion, where one of the folks posed a topic to discuss. “I hate asking customers for recommendations or referrals. It feels, well…pushy. It’s like I’m making it about me instead of about them.”

I get it. The most trusted salespeople focus on the needs of the client and not their personal agendas. It’s all about the client. As a result, asking for an endorsement can feel uncomfortable, as though it is in opposition to customer centricity.

Simply stated, the testimony of a happy customer is one of the best possible marketing tools. Seeking recommendations is not mutually exclusive from taking care of the customer.

A few tips:

  1. Start with your best clients—those with whom you have the best relationships and that you know are achieving their desired results.

  2. Shift your perspective. Remember, people like to help people. Typically, if you have a happy customer, they will want to help you.

  3. Begin the conversation by asking if they are pleased with your product, service, their results, etc. If they are happy, you are in an ideal position to ask “do you know of anyone else who would benefit?” or “Would you be willing to talk with a potential customer about your experience with me?”

Regularly asking questions about the customer’s experience is a smart practice overall. If you receive critical feedback, you’ve gained additional knowledge and an opportunity to make the client happier. When you hear positive comments, your efforts are affirmed. Asking for referrals/recommendations becomes increasingly natural, and everyone wins.

For Your Development

I was recently catching up with a friend, and the topic shifted to work. “How have things been going?” I asked. “I’m getting frustrated. For over a year, they have been piling extra projects on me, telling me it is ‘for my development,’ and that I am getting ready for the next level. It feels to me like they are just giving me extra work because there is no one else to do it. There is no talk of what skills I need to develop, or any communication about when they think I will be ready for that next level.”

I suggested that he ask for a meeting with his boss to understand what skills he needed to build, get feedback on the work he had completed, and start a dialogue about his development strategy.

Providing special assignments, such as leading a cross-functional team or mentoring, is a fantastic talent development strategy. Ambitious employees gain an opportunity to grow and shine while meeting a business need of the organization. Often, the recipient gains increased exposure to leadership, an occasion to expand professionally, and a chance to demonstrate a willingness to go above and beyond.

However, if not managed appropriately, this practice can go south, mainly if it is frequent, and create frustration for the employee. For best results:

  • Set the foundation with a development conversation. Ask the employee to articulate his/her career goals. In return, provide honest feedback about the development that will best serve the employee to reach said goals. Establish additional assignments as a vehicle for growth and discuss how they benefit both the person and the company.

  • At the onset, clarify expectations and illustrate how the employee will benefit.

  • Support the employee through the duration of the project. Provide guidance and feedback. Doing so is especially important if the assignment is a stretch for the employee.

  • Be appreciative.

  • Call a spade a spade. If it’s not a development opportunity, but merely extra work that needs to be done, do not misrepresent.

Taking these steps also ensures that everyone is on the same page, and that open two-way communication ensues, creating a win-win situation.

Single Point of Failure

Several months ago, a friend of mine took a new position as a project manager with a large company. I ran into him last week and asked how things were going. “I like what I am doing,” he replied, “but the manager who hired me is now in a different role, and my new boss…well, he’s a real piece of work.”

I asked him to elaborate.

He went on to tell me about one of his peers, who was battling a severe disease and was needing to take medical leave. “I heard my manager refer to this guy as a ‘single point of failure.’ And if I heard him, others did as well.”

Clearly, this manager did not consider how his words might impact others on the team.

As leaders, we need to remember that it is not just what we say to people; it’s what we say about others. Everything we say and do is observed by others, scrutinously. We build the best teams by using this stage to empower the team through humility and doing the right thing.

Simple Credos from a Life Well-Lived

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

"Tell the truth. Don't blame people. Be strong. Do your best. Forgive. Stay the course." This was the life code of George H.W. Bush, according to Jon Meachum in his December 5 eulogy for the 41st president.

The language is plain. The lessons are simple. And these qualities really matter to people when being led. No matter your politics, a leader who lives by these words creates the intangibles of a great team: trust, purpose, and community.

A few thoughts about each:

“Tell the truth.” Truth and kindness are not mutually exclusive. Sharing the good, bad and the ugly may be uncomfortable in the short run, but it ultimately builds trust. If I know that my boss will always tell me the truth, I can follow him/her, without worry of some hidden agenda.

Don’t blame people.” Own it. Learn from it. Apologize when necessary. Think about what you will do differently the next time.

“Be strong.” Remember that on the other side of any challenge is an outcome and a better result.

“Do your best.” Be all in, or don’t be there.

“Forgive.” We are all united in our humanity. We all make mistakes. We can only control what we do. When we don’t forgive, we carry on the negative emotion.

“Stay the course.” The course and direction may not be linear, but that’s okay. Put one foot in front of the other and move forward.

At the end of the day, we want to feel confident that we have led others in a way that makes a proud. We want to reflect upon “a life well-lived.” Following these simple credos is a big step toward leading and living in a meaningful way.

Holding Time and Space for Your Team

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In the educational publishing world, where I spent the first 20+ years of my career, we would generate almost 70% of the business for the year during the spring. January through April was like running a marathon, necessitating 60 to 65-hour work weeks. It was the nature of our sales cycle.

The first week of March represented the halfway point in this race. It was also the time of our “spring meeting,” where we would convene to review what was/was not working and map out our strategies for the rest of the spring.

Some years, at the same time in my northern geography, the weather would break, and the smell of spring would permeate the air.

Unconsciously, I began rewarding myself in some way each March. The first year, I purchased a Coach station bag, classic black with the aroma of good leather. It was an extravagant purchase for 24-year old me, but carrying it put an extra skip into my step. A friend of mine planned a 3-day ski weekend each year to accomplish the same.

As I grew into a leader, I, even more, appreciated the spring “midpoint” and the accompanying spring meeting. We would spend a precious couple of days, not just strategizing, but slowing down the pace, recognizing our hard work, and celebrating our team. A nice dinner, lots of laughs, and “let’s make sure to wrap up by noon so that you guys are all home to start your weekend early” demonstrated that I valued their well-being and had their backs.

As a result, they, too, had a bit more skip in their step during the second half of the race.

The most talented and dedicated teams, when immersed in a long and arduous project, will be laser-focused on the prize, and will work, work, work, even to the point of exhaustion. Holding time and space for folks to come up for air and experience joy reinvigorates the team so that best results ensue, while morale and loyalty build.

Promoting Your Superstar to Manager

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You are a business owner or leader, and you are looking to hire a sales leader. You might be thinking, “This is a no-brainer. I’ll promote my top performing sales rep. He’ll train everyone to do what he does, and sales will go through the roof!”

Not so fast. More often than not, this is a catastrophe waiting to happen, as the two positions require very different skill sets and motivators.

Over the years, I have known many highly successful salespeople who have jumped into a sales leadership role thinking it to be the “next logical step,” and quickly found it to be the wrong fit.

“All I do is deal with drama…I didn’t sign up to be HR.”

“Why don’t they just listen!”

“I’m tired of being a babysitter.”

“I just want to be responsible for myself.”

I’m not trying malign salespeople. I love the selling environment for many reasons and have surrounded myself with these folks my entire adult life. But let’s face it, many salespeople march to the beat of their own drum, like to create their own rules, and are a bit egocentric. Those qualities, while extremely helpful in sales, do not an effective sales leader make.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself before making this jump and potentially putting the right talent into the wrong seat.

Does s/he find joy in helping others? A strong sales leader loves to teach and relishes in the success of his/her direct reports.

Is s/he a glass-half-full or glass-half-empty person? I’m not looking for Pollyanna, but sales leaders must be optimistic and solution-oriented. No whining and no dwelling on problems.

Does s/he build genuine credibility with others? A foundation of trust is critical. This person tries to do what is best, and not just what is in his/her best interest. S/he is known for “having everyone’s backs.”

Is s/he self-aware and able to self-regulate? People are people and people have personal “stuff.” It’s essential for a leader to understand this notion and take things in stride without displaying frustration.

An effective sales leader learns how to amplify the employees’ strengths and mitigate their shortcomings. S/he wants the best for his/her people and makes them want to give their very best in return. Doing so requires advocacy, optimism, humility, and emotional intelligence. These words may or may not describe your sales superstar. Proceed judiciously.

"Take A Load Off, Inner Roommate..."

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We all “get in our own way.” We all, consciously or unconsciously, engage in behaviors that hinder our effectiveness, our results, our level of satisfaction…you name it. People do this to themselves in a variety of ways.

If we try to give constructive feedback to an employee when we’re angry and irritated, we’re getting in the way of our message.

If we do not return the phone call of an angry customer because it is uncomfortable, we’re getting in the way of resolving the issue.

If we make a batch of brownies when we’re trying to shed pounds, we’re likely getting in the way of our weight loss.

Often, we get in our own way by letting our mental chatter or head trash get the best of us. “That person seems annoyed. You must have done something wrong,” I tell myself. Or “you’re never going to get that proposal out in time!” We talk to ourselves all day long, often with a very critical voice.

I recently came across a mantra. “Take a Load Off, Inner Roommate,” it said. How profound!

The way that we talk to ourselves has a tremendous impact on how we show up, how we perform at work, and how we parent our kids.

If we can quiet, ignore or better yet, laugh at that inner roommate when he/she not serving us, we will find ourselves in a much happier and more productive place.

Interested v. Interesting

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In July, for the first time EVER, I attended my high school reunion. It had been 30 years since I had seen most of these folks, and the contact was limited to Facebook. During my formative high school years, I never really “gelled” with my class, which undoubtedly contributed to my choice to forgo previous reunions. Now, in 2018, thanks to a family vacation in close proximity to the event, as well as plenty of coaxing from my mother and sister, I decided to attend. I was pushing far out of my comfort zone and I.WAS.NERVOUS.

After some thought, I realized that my nervousness could completely derail any enjoyment of the event if I were not careful. I made a conscious and deliberate effort to shift my perspective. Rather than worrying about whether it would be awkward, people would remember me, etc., I decided to set a goal of making every conversation at the event meaningful. I would approach each interaction with a purpose—to learn all about the adult version of the person I knew in 1988 and to make each feel like the most fantastic person in the room….no matter what vibe I received. I would use the same level of engagement, curiosity, kindness and thought that I strive to bring to my coaching and business life.

As we approach opportunities and contacts, we are at our very best if we focus on being interested rather than interesting. Whether it be a sales prospect or a new colleague, we should let our curiosity guide us and seek to understand. In so doing, we facilitate a deeper personal connection, naturally build trust and transfer positive energy to the other party. The higher the stakes, the higher the importance. If we lay the right foundation, we always have the opportunity to follow up and continue the conversation at a later date. If we make the wrong impression? Not so much….

As for my reunion? Not one regret. As it turned out, there was no reason to be nervous.