schoolWith no formal sales training and very little real-world experience, today’s salespeople aren’t equipped to succeed.

Did you learn to sell in school? I didn’t. I graduated from college with a Liberal Arts degree—English major, history minor.

I never expected to have a long, successful sales career. I was young, soft-spoken, shy, and very, very respectful of my elders. My expectation was that all salespeople were pushy, arrogant, in-your-face, loud, obnoxious, and total extroverts. But while some sales reps are all those things and more, I quickly learned that the best salespeople—the rainmakers whose sales pipelines never seem to dry up—are honest, straightforward, respectful, inquisitive, and genuinely interested in helping their customers make the best possible decisions for their businesses and their families.

The problem is that salespeople must learn these success secrets on the job, because they’re generally not on any school curriculum. Sales has always been a “sink or swim” profession, so it’s not surprising how many reps end up drowning.

The Anatomy of a Sales Team

Most new salespeople receive little training, even less coaching, and no real-world experience. So they “wing it” and fail. Why? Dan Lyons explores this issue and shares research from the Objective Management Group in his Hubspot post, “Study: 3 of 4 Sales Reps Have No Idea What They’re Doing.” He writes:

At first glance it seems shocking that there could be a profession in which three-quarters of practitioners are inept. If the same ratio were applied to medicine, we’d have patients dropping dead all over the place.

But the numbers make sense when you consider that most people who go into sales have no formal training about how to sell. They didn’t major in sales at college, or even take a course in how to sell. “How many professions are there where there’s almost no formal education at all?” [Dennis Connelly, vice president of business development at Kurlan & Associates] says. “Marketing people get marketing degrees. Engineers study engineering. CFOs study accounting.” But with sales, “people think you can just wing it,” Connelly says.

OMG’s numbers, however, suggest that “winging it” isn’t working …What they’ve has found is that 6% of salespeople are “elites” who are great at selling. Another 20% are doing well but could do better. Then there are 74% who are failing. Most of the people in the 74% bracket can improve if they get training. But the bottom 25% are hopeless, because in addition to being ineffective, they aren’t trainable. Those people “should be doing something else,” Connelly says. (Read the rest of the article.)

Lyons goes to on share a list of qualities that separate the “elite” from the “hopeless,” as well as some tips for evaluating who has the stuff to make it long-term in sales.

How to Change the Game

So what can sales leaders do with this information? For starters, be more selective during the hiring process. A CEO I once worked for told me the biggest mistake I could make was to hire the wrong people. He advised me to take my time.

What then? Train them, yes, but not on how to give product pitches. Immerse them in your company culture. Talk to them about the problems you solve for clients and the critical sales conversations they must have. Introduce them to the resources in your company who are integral to their success—consultants, customer service reps, account managers, and executives. Learn how your new hires do their best work and set guidelines for how and when the two of you will communicate. Coach them weekly on the behaviors that predict their success. This is not micro-management. It’s you getting the rocks off the road so they can do what they were hired to do—sell.

Don’t fall into the same sales management trap that has plagued new hires for decades: Hire them, give them a desk, a phone, a password, and expect them to go at it. Your new hires will be off and running…to a new company, sooner rather than later.

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