An effective sales team is essential to business success, regardless of your industry or the size of your company. But maintaining and growing an effective sales team is one of the biggest challenges for many sales leaders. When everyone’s focusing on today’s numbers, it can be hard to invest in efforts that won’t pay off for months or years.
I’ve found that making those longer-term investments has a noticeable impact when it’s time for sales employees to rise through the ranks. Here’s a look at the ways we’ve invested time in training to decrease our sales team ramp time.
Build out a Clear Playbook
If your sales team doesn’t have a playbook that’s well defined and easy to navigate, don’t bother with the rest of this article. Close your browser, gather your sales leaders, and get this taken care of.
Your playbook is the document that defines goals, establishes tactics, clarifies everyone’s roles, and establishes how a sales team will be measured. If you don’t have this, how will you even know when a new team member is up to speed? You won’t. So the playbook is step one.
Define the “How” in “How Do I Get Promoted?”
Making this clear from the outset helps avoid confusion and prevent criticism of sales leadership. At Jellyvision, we assign a list of competencies to every position. Once a sales rep has attained those competencies, they’re ready to move toward that position.
Here’s the crucial part: as soon as someone steps into a new position, they start developing the competencies for the next position. That means, of course, that sales leadership has to have all these competencies clearly defined. They also need a clear progression of positions. That takes some time, but trust me: it’s well worth the investment. When you’ve defined the skills that each position needs, it’s much easier to determine who’s ready to move up and who’s not.
Use the Buddy System
Notice that in the last section, I said a sales rep is ready to move toward the new position – not into it. That’s because we don’t automatically promote someone who has developed the competencies of the next position. Instead, we encourage sales reps to engage with someone who has the job they could be stepping into.
The goal of this engagement is for the sales rep to find out what the role really involves. It’s also crucial that they realize whether they’re actually interested in doing it. This helps ensure that nobody is funneled into a career trajectory blindly, without their input.
Then, once an AE steps into a new role, we assign them a mentor in addition to their manager. This provides extra support as they transition into a new role and helps systematize knowledge sharing throughout the team.
Assume Everyone’s Path Will Be Different
Sure, we have clear qualifications for skills each role requires and a defined progression through the ranks of the team. But one thing I really value about our team is that we make an effort to understand that our AEs have varied professional goals and different interests. Some are interested in cross-functional positions. Some love the work they do and aren’t interested in “moving up the ladder.”
On top of that, everyone has their own learning style and moves at their own speed. Remember: your people are the force that will help you succeed; if you ignore their individual personalities, you’ll eliminate a lot of opportunities for growth.
One reason we insist that AEs engage with a role before taking it on is because we are insanely selective in our hiring process. Once we bring someone onto the team, we want to keep them here for as long as possible. Part of making that happen is helping everyone to contribute to the company in ways that match with their personal growth and development goals.
Treat the Ramp Process as Ongoing
I mentioned that, as soon as an AE enters a new role, we encourage them to start developing the competencies of the next role they might attain. But we don’t expect them to do that on their own! As soon as an AE is ramped up for a role, we start development discussions. This includes introducing them to the next level of management.
This makes a huge difference in how long it takes to ramp to the next role. When AEs establish relationships with management earlier rather than later, there’s excitement and energy once it’s time to step into a new role. Plus, the transition is smoother because it’s all about the new job responsibilities and not about finding your footing in a new relationship.
Break the Training Process into Digestible Chunks
AEs at Jellyvision have to audition for a new role once they’ve mastered all its competencies. But we really want them to succeed in that audition and be successful in their new roles, so we support them as they prepare.
Our training modules (which, yes, take time to develop) give AEs lots of opportunities to practice new skills, fail, and iterate on their techniques. By the time they’re actually auditioning, they know what they’re doing and have the confidence they need to succeed.
Commit to a Long-Term Growth Pipeline
There’s no question about it: internal ramps are faster than company newcomers. But to achieve those speedy ramp times, you have to commit to a long-term growth pipeline. We built out our BDR team two years ago and just saw our first promotions to AE roles last year.
The beginning of this process can feel too slow, but if you can commit to the practice of developing talent in house, you will reap the rewards down the road, again and again.
But Maintain the Right Manager-to-Rep Ratio Today
Even with a killer pipeline, you’ll probably need to hire some higher-level employees externally (we sure do!). Having the right number of managers is essential to ensure that training goes smoothly and you have adequate oversight. The key to doing this right is to commit to finding someone who’s a cultural fit.
At Jellyvision, we’re selling useful software that has a quirky voice. That voice is part of who we are as a company and it’s important that everyone on our sales team embodies or at least channels some of that energy. During the recruitment process, be sure to consider input from the team. Getting buy-in for a new manager from existing employees is essential when you bring someone on at a higher-level role.
Give Reps a Chance to Get More At-Bats
The most important factor in low ramp time is the number of at-bats an AE has. One of the best ways to give AEs an opportunity to practice their skills (in a low-pressure setting) is to build practice accounts. I won’t lie: building these accounts takes time, but the effort is worthwhile.
In the meantime, until you’ve built out those practice accounts, let AEs get up to speed by shadowing colleagues in roles they’re aiming for. Or consider letting them submit pitches to management daily – and providing feedback.
Bottom Line: For Shorter Ramps, Prepare for the Long Haul
While you may see short ramp times for one or two star sales associates no matter what you do, the only way to systematize a speedy ramp is to invest in infrastructure and processes that support every salesperson on your team. When you commit to that preparation on the back end, training becomes much more streamlined and consistent.