New Salespeople Need A Culture of Development to Win


By Will Milano

The NFL Draft is always fascinating for many reasons. The real-time drama unfolds as teams select what they consider to be the best 256 college football prospects. It triggers immediate debate, judgment, hope and frustration from fans and draft analysts looking to see who “won” the draft and is best set up to win in the fall.

The reality is, the vast majority of NFL Draft picks will make minimal or even no impact on their new teams in their first year. They bring talent and a track record of success from their college programs and in most cases are highly motivated. But they lack experience and are far from finished products. Does that mean they were bad selections? Hardly. It’s what teams do with new team members in the months and years after they get them into their building that matters most.

This is very often the same case when organizations hire new salespeople. They’re eager, have often come from other places where they’ve had great success, and have all the “measurables.” But those things alone aren’t going to make them successful salespeople in your organization. They need time to develop, and they need attention, patience and encouragement from their leadership.

In the NFL, the best teams are those that consistently draft well and then focus on some specific action steps to make sure those picks become “hits” beyond the hype during the weekend they’re selected. The same is true for organizations that hire and develop their salespeople well.

Here are a few of those steps winning teams and sales organizations take:

They select players that they view as “coachable.” Whether it’s a sales candidate or a draft prospect, teams need to get to know the person and understand how they receive coaching, their willingness to accept it, and their acumen for applying what they’re learning. Are they accountable to themselves and their team members?

They want players that fit their scheme and culture. NFL teams can become enamored with how fast a player can run a 40-yard dash or how many times they can bench press 225 lbs. But does the player fit what they do as an offense or defense? The best drafting teams don’t just assume a new player with talent will arrive and succeed purely on talent. It has to be the type of talent that syncs well with what they do and value as an organization. Talent is talent, but square pegs usually don’t fit into round holes.

This applies in sales as well. Are you hiring someone with “farming” and account management success but hoping they’ll magically become “hunters” for you? It’s not very likely to happen. Also consider, will they be a welcome addition to your culture? Or do they bring a me-first, always-right attitude that can torpedo it?

They have a specific plan in place for new members of the team. From the training staff to position coaches and other support staff, successful NFL teams have a specific plan in place for how they’ll develop the rookies. They feed them bits of information at first, like specific areas to focus on in their workouts, create a foundation of knowledge and confidence, and slowly build from there. They stress process early on over results.

Too many salespeople are brought in and either left to sink or swim or to drown in a fire hose of information. High-performing sales teams, on the other hand, have well-thought-out plans, processes and developmental coaching strategies in place that address product knowledge as well as the beliefs and attitudes that will ultimately affect their results.

They play their new players to their strengths. Willing teams don’t pass up drafting good players because they don’t do some things well. They take players that can fill specific roles, succeed there, and over time grow into more. Winning sales organizations focus on maximizing strengths vs. trying to make everyone good at everything.

They provide peer mentors. A rookie NFL player will only have so much one-on-one time with their new position coach, coordinator and head coach once the season begins. Successful teams create peer mentorships where veteran players at the same position can serve as an advisor, providing encouragement, pointing out pitfalls to avoid, spending extra practice time together and offering encouragement off and on the field.

In effective sales organizations, this can take a variety of forms: talking over prospecting calls and reconnecting afterwards to go over what worked and what didn’t; joining in or shadowing veteran sales reps on early-stage prospect calls; role-playing with peers; and check-ins over lunch or coffee to talk about operational processes or how to use marketing tools. Peers can be a great resource for showing new salespeople the ropes and building their confidence.

They let players make mistakes. NFL preseason games are usually less than thrilling because younger players are getting a chance to try new things, take chances, and apply some of what they’ve been getting taught so far in classrooms and on the practice field. The results aren’t always great. But the experiences and encouragement they receive is very valuable. It’s a good reminder for sales leaders when they start to feel impatient that talented new salespeople haven’t quite yet hit their stride. Results don’t happen overnight, but that learning period has real value.

No matter how much raw talent they have, great players don’t just arrive fully and completely formed. Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning threw 28 interceptions and won just three games his rookie year. Hall of Fame defensive players like John Randle, Kevin Greene and Michael Strahan all struggled greatly as rookies, only to see their performances and success accelerate quickly in year two and beyond.

Similarly, your newest salespeople will probably see their most improvement after their initial on-boarding period ends. But if you have done your due diligence to add the right types of players to your team, brought them into a supportive culture where learning and coaching is valued, set them up for success with a detailed and ongoing development plan, and provided them ongoing coaching and mentoring, then they will be well-positioned to deliver the big wins for your organization.


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