Seven ways to keep young sales reps from crashing

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Millennials enter the nation’s sales teams as the most parented generation in history. Yet, they do not have the goals or plans to achieve compelling ambitions. Today, 20 million young men delay maturing until their late 20s and are without solid commitments and responsibilities guiding their lives. This leads to “helicopter parented” boys and girls often crash-landing when they try to take on the demanding responsibilities of monthly sales production.

Many young and seasoned sales managers have not been prepared for this new generation of sales reps. As a result, they often see the following three scenarios:

Fast Start Fades: A sales manager hires an engaging young man who seems full of fire and enthusiasm. His early success causes the sales manager to feel good about the hire. And, then it happens: he watches the new recruit’s enthusiasm and production fade.

Roller Coaster Rep: A new hire works hard to sell enough to meet assigned budget numbers, and then falls short the next month. Back and forth; up and down. The rep sells just enough to get close to budget and then misses for two months only to rise again, hit budget, and survive being fired.

Character Losses: Despite their helicopter parents, many young men and women today enter a sales team without the basic values and character traits necessary to make a positive social impact on new customers. If they do sell at quota, they may do so with poor customer satisfaction and unfulfilled co-worker needs.

New reps with these performance issues foster a poor sales culture with low referral rates and repeat business. This brings inconsistency to monthly sales production, creates high turnover, and may impact the company’s brand or reputation or marketplace.

Building a productive sales team from New Millennial candidates requires paying attention to two important areas: Recruiting, and Coaching. Here are seven ways to keep young sales reps from crashing and burning.

1. Use structured questions and validated profiles designed to identify the character traits, personality traits and sales competencies which would be possessed by a successful sales hire. These traits would include: honest and ethical, hard work ethic, personal responsibility, deadline motivated, a need for independence, asking questions and listening, and presenting solutions. For example, some sample questions could be, “Tell me about some previous successes at school, work, sports, a sales position, or with your hobbies. What was important about ______ to you? What was it about you that led to success?” “What is the minimum amount of money you must earn with us to feel successful?”

When asking questions, make sure you hire someone who has a motivational center, meaning they have a specific reason to excel. Also, hire someone who has to make enough money equal to or above the income earned at your minimum sales standard.

2. Install a 90-day ramp-up process designed to cause the candidate to exclaim, “Wow, this is a better company and sales job than I expected when I was hired!” Ask for feedback from reps on the sales team and create a checklist that includes training, introductions, and celebrating progress points.

3. During the first 90 days, have the sales rep complete a Survival/Lifestyle goal setting sheet which details the amount of money they need to survive and the additional monthly amounts to sell beyond survival and to fulfill a better lifestyle (building saving accounts, paying off debt, saving for new homes, etc.) You will discover some of their motivating influences when you do this; both you and your rep will know what income is important and why.

4. Get to know the rep and customize your coaching approach. Develop a scavenger list of 12 personal and important things to know about each rep. Interestingly, even helicopter-parented reps do not often feel they’ve been listened to by authority figures or that anyone has really tried to get to know them. What you learn will help you tailor your coaching for each rep. What they learn about you when you listen will increase their trust in your coaching.

5. Learn to ask coaching and mentoring questions. Then, begin asking these questions during a foundation interview for the new rep. This foundation interview will contain anchor questions like, “What do you want?” follow by layered questions like, “Why is ____ important to you?” “What difference will not being able to pay for ____ make in your life?” “How are you impacted by goals for which you have a low commitment?”

6. Help each rep develop a sales plan and show them the activity levels necessary to reach their lifestyle goals (see 3 above). Focus your reps on the activity levels (prospects found, first appointments held, presentations done) and the character and personality traits that will maintain these levels: hard work, perseverance, discipline, adapting to personalities, asking questions and listening. As a mentor, teach them how to handle setbacks and challenges. Many Millennial employees have been taught to believe that trophies and results are earned by merely showing up. Therefore, recognize and reward effort, courage, persistence and self-discipline. For example, reward behaviors like meeting prospecting and appointment goals or handling tough customer problems with great service. Do not harangue them for results in the absence of a process.

7. Operate your sales team with standards. Example of areas in which to set standards are as follows: honest and ethical behavior, activity levels, dress, customer follow-up and minimum sales results. When introducing young reps to these standards, always explain why they exist and how they help people. If standards are not met, make sure you enforce them at once; do not wait to make it clear what is acceptable and what is not. Then, once defined and enforced, make sure the reps know that you believe they have what it takes and they can get better; they can achieve the results for which they strive.

You can develop high-performance cultures with today’s young people. When you do the actions outlined above, you can recruit better reps and then coach them to high performance. You will teach people to sell beyond quota, above survival and at activity levels necessary for the incomes they want. You, and they, can do this.

Lance Cooper is a keynote speaker and author of "Selling BEYOND Survival: The Essential System for High-Activity Sales Professionals." Cooper is president of SalesManage Solutions, a company that teaches sales leaders how to recruit sales superstars and coach teams to greatness. For more information, visit sellingbeyondsurvival.com or e-mail him at lcooper@salesmanage.com.


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