Increasing sales productivity is the number one challenge facing sales leaders.  In this six-part series, we’ll take a closer look at the challenge of increasing sale reps’ productivity and effectiveness and how mobile and social learning can help.

Sales productivity refers to the ability of a sales force to get results.

But often, results don’t come easily. According to research by the Bridge Group, sales productivity is the #1 daily challenge for 65% of B2B organizations.

At SkillFitness, we understand the challenges of sales productivity.  SkillFitness was founded by a team with deep knowledge of adult education and extensive experience in sales force management.  We built SkillFitness to “scratch our own itch” and utilize technology and adult learning techniques to help meet the challenges we’d faced managing national sales forces across a variety of industries.

In many ways the quest to improve sales productivity is a race against time. And as sales managers, time is not on our side.

The average turnover for sales reps – especially Millennial sales reps – is less than two years, according to the Sales Readiness Group.  The typical B2B organization invests 6-10 months in ramping a new sales hire up to speed.  That leaves the average sales rep with only 14-18 months to be fully productive. Otherwise, the result is too small a ROI on sales or even a negative return on a hire. Anything the sales organization can do to bring its reps up to speed faster – even by a few weeks – shifts the equation and ROI in the company’s favor.

So taken together, we’ve found there are three levers to pull to maximize sales productivity:

  • Improve the speed of ramping up new sales people

  • Increase the effectiveness of experienced sales people

  • Manage turnover to focus on retaining key contributors

In this series of blog posts, we’ll take a look at each of these levers in detail. Let’s start with how to improve the speed of ramping up new sales people.

Increasing Ramp Up Speed

We’ve seen the value equation of ramp-up time vs time of full performance is a major factor in sales force productivity. Anything an organization can do to bring its sales reps up to speed faster will change the value equation in the company’s favor.

Ramp up speed varies by individual, by company and by industry, but a good rule of thumb is:

Ramp Up Period = Length of Sales Cycle + 90 days

The bad news is that even in organizations with relatively short sales cycles, the typical ramp up time can be six months or more. It gets worse. A study by the Miller Heiman Group found that 65.2% of the participants reported that it took more than seven months to get a new hire fully productive while 28.8% of participants stated that it required a year or more.

There’s more bad news: You can’t just hire your way out of the problem.  When the Miller Heiman Group looked at the source for new sales personnel, they evaluated the performance of hiring sales people with experience in the same industry, experience in a different industry, or college graduates with no sales experience. They found that the average ramp-up time among these three groups was not significantly different.

A comprehensive onboarding program can cut ramp up time, insure long-term sales success and reduce turnover.  Research by the Sales Management Association has shown that a highly structured onboarding program results in a 10% greater sales growth rate and a 14% better sales and profit achievement.  Structured onboarding programs can cut 3.4 months from the average time-to-productivity for new-hire sales people and improve the average new salesperson’s ramp-up time to 5.7 from 9.1 months.

Here is the first of three tips for structuring your sales onboarding program for success.

Meeting Millennial learning needs

The Millennials (loosely defined as those born between 1980 and 1995) are the new majority in the American workplace. By 2020, Millennials are expected to comprise more than half of the global workforce.

If you are planning to hire new sales people over the next few years, chances are they will be a Millennial. As sales leaders, we will have to adjust our managerial styles if we are going to attract, train and retain this new Millennial sales force.

Millennials bring very different expectations to the workplace – especially in regards to training and workplace learning.  Traditional forms of onboarding – classroom orientation sessions, thick binders of new-hire information, and click-and-forget e-mail programs, won’t cut it with your Millennial new hires. In fact, according to a study by PriceWaterhouseCoopers, only 6% of Millennials value classroom learning while only 5% value e-learning. They place working with strong coaches and mentors on top of the list of training and development opportunities they would most value from potential employers.

Millennials grew up using technology – video, mobile and social – and they expect employers to use these tools to communicate, share information and train.  They’ve grown used to instant connection and immediate responses to their social media posts and they want the same in the workplace. They value continuous feedback and coaching; a MTV survey showed that 80% of Millennials said they want regular feedback from managers and 75% want a mentor.

Given all of this, it’s easy to see why Millennials want to learn through:

  • Teamwork and collaboration

  • Continuous feedback including awards, badges, points and praise

  • Clear communication of milestones and measurements

  • Social networking

  • Manager and peer-to-peer coaching and mentoring

  • Information presented on the mobile devices in small, bite-sized videos

Structure your onboarding program around these elements and you’ll go a long way towards ramping up your Millennial employees faster, making them more successful sooner, and retaining them longer.

For a detailed look at creating onboarding programs for Millennials, download the free SkillFitness e-book “Onboarding Millennials: The 3 ‘Must Have’ Strategies for Recruiting, Training and Retaining Great Millennial New Hires” at

In our next post, we’ll look at how you can use mobile and social learning technology to speed ramp up, fit onboarding into already busy schedules, and make your onboarding process more relevant, engaging and effective. 

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