Building a World Class Sales On-Boarding & Certification Program, Part 10

March 2nd, 2010 Curt Will Posted in Instructional Design, On-Boarding/Certification No Comments »

This week’s article will continue the discussion about instructional design strategies to consider while developing your own world class sales on-boarding or certification program.  Sometimes I’m amazed at the amount of things to consider.  On one hand, I want to think that this really isn’t brain surgery.  And given a reasonably intelligent approach anyone should be able to develop this type of program.  On the other hand, my experience tells me that when these types of things are not fully considered, the outcome can be less than hoped for and sometimes waste an enormous amount of money in the process.  While many of the topics we’ve discussed up to now certainly have an impact on the learner experience, the topics discussed in this and the next few articles have a tremendous impact on that experience.  And what a lot of these decisions boil down to is what’s best for your organization, your sales team.  What works perfectly in one situation doesn’t work at all in another.  The audience, technology, budget, physical proximity, and not to mention the sales leadership in place, all have influence over what the "right" answer is for any of these questions.  Speaking of questions, here are some more for you to ponder…

Self Paced or Structured? – Do you plan to build your program with mostly self paced learning activities or more structured (classroom) activities?  You should consider the number of new hires that will be coming through your program, and how often.  I’ve been in situations where I was able to work with the staffing team, with sales leadership support, to set up a standard schedule of hiring dates.  That way we always knew the start date for any new hires coming in and we could easily schedule out when each group would come to headquarters for on-boarding.  And there was always enough new hires coming through that we very rarely had to cancel a class due to low enrollment.  So it was very easy to build a program around a trip to the "home office" and the learning that has a large instructor-led or classroom component.  And there were other times that the situation was much different.  For instance, if the sales teams are not managed centrally, then it’s hard to get a consistent critical mass to set up a schedule.  That may also be the case if you’re dealing with a smaller sales team that just doesn’t have that much turnover.  In case, setting up a mostly self paced program that doesn’t hinge on that trip the home office is your best bet.  Obviously, the outcome of your decision on this will have a huge impact on how you develop going forward.  I would suggest that before you get too far into the design one way or the other, that you talk to some sales managers and sales people once you have a general idea of how you’d like to approach this.  It may save you a lot of re-work down the road.

Pre-hire Assessment? – Earlier in the series I discussed selecting which competencies you would hire for, and which ones you would include in your program and teach.  There are companies that you can use to test, or assess, your new hires.  I’ve used Chally and Gallup in the past.  Using these assessments can help increase your organization’s confidence level that the candidate would be a good fit for your organization and the type of selling that is done there.  Some of the assessments compare candidates against a standard sales profile based upon their data; others test your most successful incumbent sales people to come up with a success profile specifically designed for your company.  If a pre-hire assessment is used, it will most likely only be a part of the decision making process in addition to the interviews.  I’ve seen companies put much different amounts of trust in these assessments during the hiring practice.  If you don’t know if there’s one in use at your company check with the human resources person assigned to the sales team.  They will most likely know.  And if your company does use them just do your best to understand how it’s being used and if the report shows any data that might be useful in constructing your program.

Build vs. Buy? – Always look around for training resources that your company already pays for when you are designing your sales on-boarding program.  There may be existing contracts with content providers like SkillSoft or AchieveGlobal that you can leverage.  Then there’s the case of sales training.  I will say that generally I do have a preference on this.  In most cases I prefer to develop any basic sales training courses internally.  I do this mostly to control costs.  Here again I’m used many vendors in the past for this stuff including Miller Heiman, Huthwaite, Stephan Schiffman, Critical Path Strategies, and Dimensions of Professional Selling.  They are all fine programs.  You job will be to find the one that best fits your sales culture.  For sales training programs that I would label "advanced" like selling from a financial perspective or negotiations, I’ve tended to use outside vendors such as The Profit Specialist or Situational Sales Negotiations.  If you or your company is leaning towards a vendor provided program you should try and maintain as much oversight of the vendor selection decision as possible.  I’ve seen situations where a sales VP wanted a particular program and then we they left so did the support for the program.  Getting a sales methodology adopted thoroughly adopted is a multiple year task that takes a lot of work.  So if you ensure that the decision is based on the organization’s needs and includes the long term cost of ownership, I’m sure you’ll decide on the best fit for your team.

Well, there you go.  What do you think?  Next Up – More Instructional Design Strategies.

Curt Will

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Building a World Class Sales On-Boarding & Certification Program, Part 9

January 6th, 2010 Curt Will Posted in Instructional Design, On-Boarding/Certification No Comments »

The instructional design strategies section of this series is going to stretch out over several articles.  There are simply too many things to consider to jam into one.  But it is also where the rubber starts to hit the road.  Where the real work gets going.  So let’s get to it and discuss the first couple of things that you want to keep in my during the design phase of this project.

Methodology Alignment – I wrote earlier about understanding how your sales people are measured so that you can align the training with what they’re expected to do in their job.  But we also have to think about how they go about doing it.  Many sales organizations have specific sales methodologies that they use to execute the sales process.  Organizations do this because they believe it’s the most effective way to sell into their market or to their particular customers.  So whether a consultative approach is the most important or a value selling approach, or using a particular questioning strategy, it’s important to use the same type of language in the course.  But it may also have an impact on how you design the course.  Let me provide an example.  Suppose that a consultative approach is the sales methodology that your sales leadership believes is the most successful strategy.  If you design your sales on-boarding program to begin with and focus on your products, you’ll most likely be missing the mark.  But if you began from the customers’ perspective and discuss the typical customer business issues that your company solves and the questions that your sales people can ask to better understand those issues, it would align better with and reinforce the consultative sales approach that your sales leadership believes is important.

Voice of Sales – If your company is like some of the ones I’ve been with, then there are a lot of people working to try and help the sales people; not the least of which are the product development folks.  Generally, the way they talk about the product or solution tends to be more about the functionality or the robustness or speed or something.  The voice of the sales person is aligned more with how the solution impacts the customer rather than internally focused.  Certainly teaching new sales people the features of your product line are important; it just may not be the first or most important thing to teach them.

Standard or Customized Curriculum – At some point you’re going to ask yourself if everything needs to be the same for all new sales employees (in the same role), or if each person should have a customized curriculum.  For instance you may want everything to be same so that every new employee “learns how it’s done here.”  Some sales managers support this type of approach while others don’t want their new sales people spending any more time in training than what they absolutely need.  I think you could argue either way, but the truth is that whichever way fits the way your organization operates is probably the best option.

Well, there you go.  What do you think?  Next Up – More Instructional Design Strategies.

Curt Will

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Building a World Class Sales On-Boarding & Certification Program, Part 8

December 2nd, 2009 Curt Will Posted in Instructional Design, On-Boarding/Certification No Comments »

A mathematics lecture, apparently about linear...

Image via Wikipedia

At this point we’re ready to ask more questions about our audience by completing an audience analysis.  You might be thinking that we’ve already figured out what they need to know, what they do, when they do it, how they’re measured, how they’re rewarded, what tools they use, and even what we’ll hire for and what we’ll train them to do.  What more do we need to know?  Well, believe it or not, there’s more.  Here are a couple more things that you should find out about your audience:

Learning Styles – When I was originally introduced to the concept of learning styles I was told that there were three; visual learners, auditory learners, and kinesthetic learners.  I think that since I went to school they added a forth – reader/writers.  So basically, people learn by seeing it, hearing it, doing it, or reading/writing about it.  And ever since I’ve been in the training business I’ve heard old the saying that goes something like – people that just hear it retain 5%, people that see it retain 30%, and people that do it retain something like 65%.  I don’t know if that came from an actual quote or not, so don’t hold me to the exact percentages.  But those are somewhere in the ballpark and the concept makes sense.  And knowing those percentages always kind of depressed me.  Especially, when I created some type of training course that didn’t or couldn’t have the students actually DO what they were taught.  Realizing that they were going to remember and apply so little of what they were exposed to dampened my excitement for sure.  Having said that, I think we all realize that no one really just learns one way.  Even if they say so.  The truth is of course, that we all learn in multiple ways.  So from a design perspective it’s always best to build in as many learning modalities as possible.  And my point in all of this is that it’s best to do some sort of analysis to understand the predominant learning style of your audience.  While your ultimate design will be influenced by many things, it’s always nice to know what’s best for your audience.  Of course the amount of time and effort you put into getting to that conclusion is up to you.  You can make some assumptions based upon job competencies or other factors.  Or you could conduct a formal analysis using methods such as surveys and observation.  And of course there’s been a lot of discussion about generational learning styles ever since Gen Xers entered the workforce.  The amount of emphasis you put on this, while not a deal breaker, can certainly be a contributing factor to your success.

Demographics – Where people are physically located can certainly have an impact on the learning methods that you employ in your design.  If people don’t or can’t travel in your company but need to demonstrate something as a part of the training, you may have to get creative with simulations, online, or regional meetings to accomplish the learning objectives of the program.  Knowing where all of your learners are located can come in handy sometimes.  You might even be able to use some data from your Human Resources department to map their locations in a mapping software package like Microsoft’s MapPoint.

Technology – I once worked for a company that had branches all over the United States but only had a shared 56k modem line going to each location.  And this was NOT in what I would consider the early days of the internet .  Needless to say, when we rolled out an elearning program to the company, it was not full of sound and video.  We ended up working within the constraints and still created a very interactive program.  But the good news is that we didn’t launch something that wouldn’t work.  Don’t forget to identify the lowest common denominator when it comes to computers too.  Network firewalls, security protocols, and virtual private networks can also give you challenges if you don’t thoroughly investigate the technology landscape of your audience.

Organizational/Cultural Influences – Are there things that are having an impact on your audience that you should consider?  We discussed earlier how a person’s manager can influence behavior, but is there a culture in your company that restricts or impacts when people spend time on learning activities?  You might want to spend some time analyzing not only the influences around the sales behaviors that you’re trying to reinforce, but also the cultural pressures that your new sales people will also have to deal with.  This doesn’t have to be brain surgery, just remember to ask some questions as you conduct your needs analysis.  Previous new hires are a great resource for these types of questions.

Well, there you go.  What do you think?  Next Up – Instructional Design Strategies.

Curt Will

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Building a World Class Sales On-Boarding & Certification Program, Part 7

November 11th, 2009 Curt Will Posted in Instructional Design, On-Boarding/Certification No Comments »

Should we try to boil the ocean?  Just because we know everything that it takes to be successful in each sales role in our organization, does that mean we need to teach it to them all at the same time when they start their new job with us?

I really cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard that when you start a new sales job there’s so much to learn that it’s like drinking from a fire hose.  Hmmm.  What would happen if someone tried to actually drink from a fire hose?  Wouldn’t they choke?  That would NOT be considered a successful outcome would it.  Now would it?

I think that setting up a sales onboarding program so that the learners feel like they’re mentally “drinking from a fire hose” is stupid.  It’s lazy.  And besides that, it’s ineffective and just bad business.  If your learners describe your sales onboarding like that, you should immediately start the re-design process.  You are not setting those people up for success.  Period.

Okay, so what do you do instead?

I prefer to divide what we know about being successful in each sales role into three categories:

Hire it – Certainly there are some skills or competencies that you may want to hire for.  And I know that pay and incentives, location, and industry will all play a role in what you want to hire for and what you are able to hire for.  But let’s say that formal presentations are a key component in your sales process.  You may want to hire for that rather than train for it.  Or maybe you have a specific way of conducting a needs analysis and you want to select people that have the aptitude to be good at that and then train them on the specifics of how its done at your company.  These are all decisions that you’ll need to make.  Once you make some of these decisions you’ll also want to engage the Staffing department and Sales Leadership in order to get their support.  If you design your program without an emphasis on something specific because you planned for that to be accounted for in the selection process, and that doesn’t happen, then you risk the overall effectiveness of the program.

Train it later – I’m sure that during the design process, the instructional designer will lay out everything each sales roles needs to learn in a very linear, logical order.  Then you may think that you need to begin developing training for every subject, from one end to the other.  But as I’ve said, I do not think that is the best strategy.  Even if you take the stuff out that you’re hiring for, it’s still too much.  Instead you should identify a subset of your products or solutions to focus new hires on and teach them to sell that.  The idea here is that you provide them with something to sell that they can sell rather quickly, so that they can begin getting some success in their new role.  Once they’ve sold some of your simpler products, then they can move on to something more complex.  If all of your products are inherently complex, try limiting them to one industry.  Or you may even want to limit them to a particular part of the sales cycle at first.  Of course then you have to design the curriculum to continue so that they do eventually learn everything.  But you’ll probably stretch that over some months.  Again, drinking from a fire hose is stupid and doesn’t set anyone up for success.

Train it now – Okay so if you limited your total content by deciding what you’ll hire for and then again by deciding how you’ll limit what you want your new sales people to start out selling, then you’re left with what you need to train them on now.  We’ll talk about this later, but I would still space things out and let them get some experience under their belt before you pile on too much. I would also space things out so that they can learn something, then get some experience, then learn something new, then get experience with that, and so on.

Well, there you go.  What do you think?  Next Up – Audience Analysis.

Curt Will

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Building a World Class Sales On-Boarding & Certification Program, Part 6

October 28th, 2009 Curt Will Posted in Instructional Design, On-Boarding/Certification No Comments »

Now we’re really making some headway.  So far in the series we’ve gotten a good understanding of the sales process that our sales people use, some of the tools they use, and we know how they’re measured.  And we also know if the sales process is really integrated into the culture, or not.  When you start really analyzing what’s going on in most organizations, you’ll find that there is usually some room for improvement.  So you may have discovered at this point that there are some organizational development issues that need to be addressed.  That’s completely okay and expected.  Because a world class on-boarding and certification program is typically a contributing factor in world class sales organizations.  I would be surprised if there is a world class sales team that doesn’t have a similar program.  So from that perspective, you can feel really great about the part you’re playing in helping to create your company’s world class sales team.  Your program is going to have a big impact.  It’s likely though, that you can’t just stop the development of your program in order to address the process and adoption issues.  So you may need to work parallel paths on these things and get some more help.  You’ll also be working really close with the sales leadership, which will require superior consulting skills on your part.  Because, as we’ve discussed before, without their support and leadership, your work may be perceived as "something else" the sales people or sales managers need to do.  It can certainly be a challenge to get the sales leadership to really focus on this.  Especially if they see their role as super sales people rather than sales management.  But working with them closely is something that you must treat as a priority.  Otherwise, the lack of their support will just erode the impact you’ll have on the business.

Now we’re ready to get into some serious instructional design work.  We’re still in the Analyze phase of the ADDIE (Analyze, Design, Develop, Implement, Evaluate) model.  I know we’ve discussed a lot of detail so far, but let me offer a couple words of caution here.  Do not let this analysis drag on and on.  Your sponsors can not get the feeling that it is taking too long.  The balancing act you’ve got to manage is getting to all of the detail you need without letting it take too long OR seem overly complicated to your sponsors.  There’s no doubt that your skills as a consultant and communicator will be either honed or challenged during this process.

Analyzing the Sales Process
For each step of the sales process you should take a look at the following things.  This will give you an understanding of what’s required to be successful in the given sales role.  If you have multiple sales roles then you’ll need to also identify the differences for each role.  We’ll discuss ways to define "successful" for the purposes of the on-boarding and certification program in the next article.

  • Activities – What activities comprise each step in the sales process?  You will also want to identify which activities that your best sales people treat as a priority for each sales process step.  This is IDEALLY identified by observation, not by asking them, or asking their managers.  And even direct observation has its issues in my opinion.  Hawthorne Effect anyone?  Do your best to get a handle on what your high performers focus on.  It will be helpful.
  • Sub-processes – "Submit Pricing Request" may be one step in the process.  But if there are twelve steps to get that done you may want to review that as well.
  • Knowledge – What knowledge is required to complete the activities in sales process step?  There are a lot of ways to get at this information but getting a focus group together and documenting this seems like a reasonable approach to me.  You will need to refine and validate everything anyway.
  • Skills – What skills are needed to be successful for each step in the sales process?  Communication skills, project management skills, planning, handling objections, and questioning, are a few.  Take another looking at your group of high performing sales people for this one.  And this time you should get the manager’s input.  Documenting these will be especially helpful when it comes to creating the certification program that will go along with your world class sales on-boarding program.

Well, there you go.  What do you think?  Next Up – Should We Boil the Ocean?

Curt Will

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Building a World Class Sales On-Boarding & Certification Program, Part 5

October 20th, 2009 Curt Will Posted in Instructional Design, On-Boarding/Certification No Comments »

So far in this series we’ve outlined some very important aspects of building a world class sales on-boarding and certification program.  In this article we’re going to really get into the analysis phase by taking a look at the sales professional’s job.  What is it that they do?  How are they measured?  How are they compensated?  Figuring out how to connect the dots with respect to those things can be really intuitive and make total sense, or not.  But it’s worth taking the time to do the analysis and understand how those things interact so that the training program is designed to have the desired impact.  For instance, focusing equally on products and company processes might ignore the fact that new hires are specifically expected to make a lot of appointments early on.  We’ll discuss how the results of our analysis impacts program design a little later.  For now we’ll focus on the main things you’ll want to investigate in your analysis, which for now focuses on the sales process.  After all, sales professional are paid to move opportunities through the sales process.

Sales Process

  • Is it defined? I’ve worked with companies where they did not have a defined sales process.  I mean literally, no one sat down to write out how sales people were supposed to sell.  The result was that there was confusion about what should be done in some cases.  But mostly there was confusion about how to get it done.  Managers spent time making up their own processes rather than managing the sales people and their opportunities.  So if there isn’t a sales process defined, your first step may be to meet with enough subject matter experts and sales leaders to define it for them.
  • Has it been adopted? It’s one thing to have the sales process defined and quite another to have it adopted throughout the sales organization.  If you have a relatively small sales team or a strong sales leader, this may not be an issue. But without sales process adoption you may end up teaching people things in the on-boarding program that are not reinforced or even used on the job.  You must understand the adoption rate for key sales processes before designing the program.  You may even need to do some additional work before the launch of your program to get the rest of the sales organization “on the bus”.
  • Is it measured? Are sales managers measuring there sales people on elements of the sales process?  Do they measure cold calls, appointments or presentations?  Do they measure referrals, total pipeline value, pipeline velocity, new versus renewal sales dollars, or only bottom line new revenue?  Are the measurements consistent across all of your sales teams and sales managers?  Yikes, there’s a lot to find out here.
  • How is it supported? What tools, processes, people and information support the sales process?  What is the adoption rate of each one? This is one of those things that can be very straightforward or depressingly complex.  Does sales leadership see value in all of the tools and processes or do they tell their sales people to ignore them?  There may be well meaning people in the organization churning out lots of stuff to help the sales team that really doesn’t help them, or even worse, confuses them.  Going through this entire process to identify, review and analyze all of this has a tendency to uncover a lot of good information and a lot of stuff that really doesn’t add value.  You’ll need to do a lot of validating with your sales teams as you uncover and document what you find.
  • How does the compensation plan link to it? Does all of the information you found out from the above topics align with the compensation plan?  Or does it pay for different behavior?  Again, this may be an area where the person responsible for sales training uncovers a misalignment within the organization.  In some companies the sales compensation plans are readily available and in some they’re kept within HR and the sales management.  It’s important that you know what’s in the plans because you can be sure that the newly hired sales people do.

Well, there you go.  What do you think?  Next Up – Analyzing the Sales Process

Curt Will

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Building a World Class Sales On-Boarding & Certification Program, Part 4

October 12th, 2009 Curt Will Posted in Instructional Design, On-Boarding/Certification No Comments »

In this article we will continue with the analysis phase.  As I have pointed out before, there are many things to analyze when you’re building a sales training and certification program like this.  You may not need to answer these particular questions up front, but in my experience you run across most of these at some point or another.  So far in this series we have discussed getting executive support and answering some fundamental, yet important scope questions.  Now we’ll continue on with the analysis and planning for this project.

Resources
You’ll probably learn a lot about the degree to which you’ll need each of these resources as you go along.  So don’t worry about knowing everything up front or feeling like you must have these resources lined up to proceed.  Just knowing that you should keep them in mind will be helpful as you learn more specifics about your particular project. At the very least, these are some very good things to consider.

As you solidify your needs for each of these resources, you may find that there is complete organizational support for allocating these resources to the project. But you may also find that you need to campaign for these resources or work with people that are already in these roles and apply some principles of change management to get what you need to develop and run the program.  I’ve listed some of the resource areas that you need to think deliberately about.  Whether you get these resources to support your program or not will have an ongoing impact on the success of your program.

  • Design/Development – As I’ve stated before, developing a comprehensive sales onboarding program like this is a complex undertaking.  The best case scenario is that you secure the services of a top notch instructional designer who you can work with throughout the project.  There is a lot of strategic analysis and visioning that takes place early on in the project.  And they can be a big help doing that. But you also need to work with someone that doesn’t mind getting into the detail to understand every facet of the sales person’s job and can translate that into meaningful learning experiences.  Your program may include some pre-work, classroom, distance learning and assessments that need to be designed and developed.  Make sure you pick your instructional design partner carefully.

  • Maintenance – Once you launch this thing, it’s going to change.  Period.  I had funny experience once with a design team.  They thought that they’d work on this project until it was complete, and then they’d move on to some other project.  The funny thing was that within 30 days, something changed.  The design team really thought that they should be done and the only reason I was coming back to them is because I was changing the scope of the project.  Once we got over that little misunderstanding, everything went great.  It will be to your benefit to secure a long term resource for this very complex program.

  • Program Management – Someone’s got to run the program on a regular basis.  Who’s going to schedule the sessions, ensure the logistics are taken care of, work with the managers, create the program communications, gather the data and create the reports?  The answer is the program manager.  We’re talking about the person responsible for showing results for the program. And again, it will be to your benefit to select someone for this role that can see the big picture, connect "the dots" when it comes to things that impact the program, has a REALLY good customer service skill set, can relate to sales people and sales managers, and doesn’t mind working in and executing all of the details.  That’s a tall order for sure.  I can truthfully say that it takes a really special person to be good at all of those things.

  • Administration and Support - The level of travel support, food, supplies and general complexity you build into your program will have a big impact on the amount of administrative support that you’ll need to execute the program.  Additionally, you may also need technology and/or Learning Management System support.  I once ran a program that included a "trade show" that consisted of arranging for a lot of tables to be set up, inviting a lot of internal people as "vendors" and managing all of the questions and logistics that went along with it.  I very quickly found a less complicated way for the learners to get all of the truly important information from these events.

Well, there you go.  What do you think?  Next up – The Sales Process

Curt Will

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Building a World Class Sales On-Boarding & Certification Program, Pt 3

October 5th, 2009 Curt Will Posted in Instructional Design, On-Boarding/Certification No Comments »

Now that we’ve discussed getting some measure of senior level support, and possibly some direction, it’s time to get started.  And since I learned the ADDIE instructional design process (Analyze, Design, Develop, Implement, Evaluate) early in my career, that’s the methodology I usually like to stick with.  There’s a lot of chatter about other methodologies.  But in my cursory non-scientific review of the chatter, it seems to mostly be about semantics.  So before we start the analysis phase I’ve got a couple of quick tips:

  • Don’t get analysis paralysis.  Building a program like this is a challenge.  It can seem overwhelming.  Especially if you start thinking about all the different perspectives you could analyze something like this from.  I have seen several training departments get a bad reputation because they were too internally focused on their process and the “right” way to do an analysis.  Don’t fall into that trap.  Your internal customers are counting on your expertise and also have expectations about getting stuff done.
  • Be flexible.  Something you learn today may change tomorrow.  You may get a piece of information or perspective three months from now that you don’t have now.  And some things may need to be a certain way just so that they are more acceptable to some part of the organization.  Don’t let yourself and/or your team get caught up in fighting too many small battles.  Focus on the overall program having an impact.

Scope Considerations
Getting the “big picture” or the scope, always seems like a natural starting place for me.  I’m going to list some of the key scope questions that you want to answer earlier rather than later in the process.  The answers to these questions may change as you learn more about your target audience.  But you need to have someplace to start.  These scope questions won’t address content scope just yet.  We’ll talk about that a little later.

  • Which sales roles will your program cover? I’ve heard of some sales organizations that have over 50 separate and distinct sales roles in their sales force.  If you try to support too many separate and distinct sales roles it could get unmanageable.  Unless of course you have a huge staff and budget to develop, launch and maintain the program.  Understanding some basics about your sales organization’s structure will help you estimate the answer to this all important question.  The goal is to not bite off more than you can chew.  Don’t set yourself up for failure before you even get started.  In one instance, we started out planning to support 32 separate roles in an onboarding program.  Once we learned a little bit more, we decided that the difference between the roles, especially at the onboarding stage in their career path, didn’t warrant separate program tracks.  My recommendation is to combine as many roles within each sales team as it makes sense to do.  This has usually been a thorny issue on the projects I’ve worked on, so don’t be surprised if you struggle with this a bit.
  • Will you develop a program fully integrated with the staffing and human resources onboarding functions or will your program be separate and distinct? You may run into a situation during the development of your program when you realize that the success of your program depends on something that staffing or human resources does.  For instance, one of those groups or the hiring manager may need to start a process, after the offer is accepted, to get system passwords and equipment that the new hire will need in order to start your program.  If your program will include coming to the home office in the first couple of weeks, how will travel expenses be made and paid?  Does a corporate credit need to be applied for before the start date?  Do you have a company or HR orientation that you have to figure into the time line?  Maybe for you this is an easy answer.  In my experience there needs to be a lot of work done in this area once the decision is made to standardize the sales onboarding experience.

Well, there you go.  What do you think?  Next up – Needed Resources

Curt Will

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Building a World Class Sales On-Boarding & Certification Program, Pt 2

September 28th, 2009 Curt Will Posted in Instructional Design, On-Boarding/Certification No Comments »

As I said last time, I’m going to lay out what my experience has taught me in terms of building a world class sales onboarding and certification program.  During our journey together my approach will be simple.  I’ve been told that I’m a simple person (hey, wait a minute…).  Nothing I write will be from an absolutist perspective.  There are too many variables to consider.  I will try and present what I have seen as the process steps with some decisions and trade-offs that you may want to consider.  The whole purpose is to generate some feedback and discussion along the way, and maybe help someone out there who is trying to build a similar training program.  So here we go…

Gain Executive Support
One of the key elements in the ultimate success or failure of any large scale organizational development project is the level of executive support that is demonstrated before, during, and after program launch.  So that’s where we’ll start.  Generally, these types of projects get initiated by someone from the sales leadership, the folks responsible for sales training, human resources, or some other support team.  If it starts with the sales leadership, your job to gain executive support may be a little easier.  But however the need comes to light, you’ll still need a good understanding of the sales culture, their tolerance for change, the amount of influence that the different sales leaders have, and of course, an understanding of the business issues that you want to have an impact on.  These things will be essential for securing and maintaining executive support.

Examples of business needs could be things like, high turnover, too much time being spent by sales managers onboaring sales people, inconsistency in how well people get onboarded, slow ramp up time, or even low overall performance of the sales organization. If you haven’t identified the business need, you can ask your sales managers some questions around those topics.  Whatever business need you settle on, you’ll need that and an understanding of the organizational influences so that you can build your business case and get it approved by the people that own the budget.

Ideally, you’ll want the most senior and as many other senior sales leaders on the bandwagon when it comes to a program like this.  Because, while you probably want to present it as simply and straightforward as possible, the effort required to realize the impact that a program like this can have, is a long term commitment – by the instructional design team, program management, human resources, and sales management.  So the more people on the bandwagon you have, the less likely you’ll end up getting stuck by the inevitable challenges that will arise.  Make no mistake, this is a significant challenge.  But it can have a huge payback if you do it right and stick with it.

Here are a couple of things you’ll want to discuss with your program sponsor(s).  This is not an exhaustive list and of course, you will not have all of the facts or all of your analysis done.  So you may be sharing more of a vision than an actual plan.  And you’ll want to gauge the level of detail that you share with your sponsor(s) depending upon their level of initial support, need for business justification, and level of tolerance for detail.  This is YOUR chance to sell.  So plan it out well, just like we teach sales people to do.

  • Vision, business impact, resources, and budget – share what you know, discuss how you’ll get all of the facts.
  • Sales team participation in the process – you’ll need subject matter experts, feedback, and approvals along the way.  Make sure that they understand this commitment to the project and will support it in a visible way.
  • Ongoing leadership to address issues, including change management for the sales managers on any number of things that may be changing for them.  Once of those things could be the “get out there and sell” mentality that some may have.  This is one that could present a huge challenge.  Some sales managers believe that they hire good people and all they need to do is set them loose.  Ideally, for your program to have the best chance of success, there should be an agreement on a penalty free “training time” for all new hires.  You and your sponsor should spend some time talking about that and figure out an approach that will be acceptable to your sales organization.  I definitely learned that one through experience.  Without an agreed approach, your program will eventually get watered down to the point of being ineffective if managers see the program as optional.  We’ll be talking a lot more later about approaches to support new hires and their mangers during the onboarding process.

Well, there you go.  It’s a start.  What do you think?

Curt Will

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Here are a couple of resources that I use:

The Sales Executive Council

Sales Training Learning Community

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Building a World Class Sales On-Boarding & Certification Program, Pt 1

September 21st, 2009 Curt Will Posted in On-Boarding/Certification No Comments »

Imagine if you were the Vice President of Sales and someone told you that they could develop an onboarding and certification program for your sales team that would ensure that once a new sales person was hired, they would become a fully effective member of the sales team as quickly as humanly possible. That would be great, but that’s not all…

  • The program would help new hires get up to speed on not only your company’s products and solutions, but also guarantee that they could use any special systems, comply with all policies and be fully integrated into your sales culture.
  • You would have complete control over the program, while allowing your sales managers to focus on coaching and impacting sales opportunities rather than developing and administering the new hire process.
  • It would be standardized to maximize efficiencies but customized for each new hire sales person’s strengths and challenges.
  • And if anyone ever questioned you about the resources required to run and maintain the program, you would have the benefit of data that assures you and them that the program is effective and is having the desired impact.

I’ve decided to write a series of posts that outline the process of developing exactly that kind of program.  I’m going to write about what I’ve learned over 14 years while developing sales onboarding programs, sales training programs, sales tools and sales processes for three Fortune 500 companies as well as a couple of others.  The programs I’ve developed have been for companies in the telecommunications, staffing, industrial supply, publishing and information industries.

While it could be an overwhelming project, there is not any particular magic involved.  And I would really prefer that as I outline the process, the questions that need to be answered, and the trade-offs that need to be made, anyone that has a comment adds it to the discussion.   Because while I know that I’ll learn a lot simply by writing this all out, my goal is to also learn a lot from everyone out there as well.

Curt Will

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