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Killing the Launch

Killing the launch

Advice on how (and how not) to launch a new salesperson's career

By Troy Harrison

I love sales management. I truly do. And I honestly have heard few people – speakers, authors, or even sales managers – say that in my 27 year career. It’s fun for me, and yes, it can be aggravating. But, if your mind is right, there are certain moments that make all the aggravation worthwhile.

One of those moments is what I call the “launch.” The “launch” is that moment when it’s all coming together for your new salesperson. The activity patterns are forming up, the pipeline is filling, and those first few sales are coming in. That’s when you know that your new salesperson is going to make it. Any sales manager who doesn’t smile and feel a surge of pride – both for themselves and the salesperson – isn’t cut out for the job.

Here’s the rub. While this is one of the most gratifying moments in sales management, it’s also one of the most delicate. If you want to get the most out of your bouncing baby salesperson, it’s critical that you work to reinforce and build his/her confidence, while avoiding behaviors that can be confidence killers.

This came to mind as I was speaking to a friend of mine that has decided, in her thirties, to launch a sales career. As do all new salespeople, she struggled for a while, but she’s now getting things going in the right direction. In fact, just to be clear, she’s having a month that would be a breakout month for a seasoned veteran, not just a rookie. Which is why her sales manager’s actions are so concerning to me.

Right now, her sales manager still accompanies her on customer signings. Earlier this week, there was a miscommunication about a document the salesperson was supposed to bring on a later appointment (I saw the texts; the sales manager’s communication was non-specific and the mistake was easy to make). The sales manager, however, reacted badly. While sitting at a customer’s location, within earshot of the decision-maker’s office, the sales manager said, in a loud voice, “Good grief, if you can’t get the right forms for a meeting, how can I ever trust you to work deals on your own?” This went on for a few minutes and other people in the company heard. The salesperson, of course, was very upset and her confidence (which should be very high) took a big hit.

Had this happened a year down the road, after the salesperson has established herself as a performer, the salesperson could have let it roll off her back (although it still shouldn’t happen). But, because of when it happened, it’s a big hit. She’ll recover, but it could have been terminal.

Of course, the sales manager committed several errors. As we all know, you praise in public and reprimand in private. You never air out dirty laundry at the customer’s location. And, right before a sales call (as this was), you hold any issues until later so it doesn’t affect the call you’re about to have. Each of those errors is magnified with a new salesperson.

So, what does your salesperson need from you in the launch stage? Here’s a partial list.

1. Confidence and more confidence. You’ve been there before, and in many cases, your salesperson hasn’t. That means that they walk into the unknown every day. Your job is to make as much as possible of the unknown into the known. Show the salesperson what’s ahead, based on their activity and proposal level. Help them forecast which sales will close and which ones will not. Impart as much good selling technique as you can, and strive to let the salesperson work independently as much as possible.

2. Praise. Here’s the thing that might surprise you. In the earliest stages of a salesperson’s development – the onboarding, pre-launch phase (typically 90 days), I advise watching your salesperson’s activity very carefully, and offering correction whenever things are taking the wrong path. That’s because bad habits can settle in very quickly, and you can make better corrections early than late. However, once you’re past the onboarding phase, you might need to err for a while on the positive (this can be particularly critical with millennials).

Your new salesperson, in launch phase, is seeing some success. Those successes might be small and they might be big – but in the salesperson’s mind, they’re all big, and you need to reinforce that (as long as they meet expectations for new accounts). There’s plenty of time in the long term to point the salesperson at the accounts that need to be targeted. For right now, every win should come with high-fives, yells and brass bands.

3. Hold your tongue. This is tough, but it’s one of the steps that separates the great sales managers from the mediocre. Remember that the launch phase is temporary. Typically it lasts from 30 to 60 days, and at the end of that period, the salesperson has convinced himself/herself that things are going to be good going forward, and they “toughen up” mentally and are better able to handle
criticism and adversity.

The question that you, the sales manager, have to ask yourself during launch phase is this: If the salesperson missteps, is the misstep indicative of a pattern that could endanger success on more sales calls, or is it a one-time issue? If it’s a one-time issue, it might be better to make a note of it, keep it under your hat, and then come back to it after launch phase is over. If it’s indicative of a pattern, you should correct it, of course – but in as non-threatening a manner as possible. For an example of how not to do it, refer to my story above.

Here’s the best news of all. If you handle launch phase well, your salesperson will become one of those salespeople that you don’t have to worry about – and you can devote your attention to the next “launcher.”

Troy HarrisonTroy Harrison is the author of “Sell Like You Mean It!”, “The Pocket Sales Manager,” and a speaker, consultant and sales navigator. He helps companies build more profitable and productive sales forces with his cutting-edge sales training and methodologies. For information on booking speaking/training engagements, consulting or to sign up for his weekly E-zine, call (913) 645-3603, email Troy@TroyHarrison.com or visit www.TroyHarrison.com.

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2017 issue of Industrial Supply magazine. Copyright 2017, Direct Business Media.

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