Sales Profession, We have a Problem

I have stumbled upon a staggering observation. In talking with sales people from various companies across all different industries, I estimate that 70–80% of sales people fail to meet their sales targets in year one. Is this happening in your organization?

This dynamic leads to a whirlwind of employee turnover and lost value for everyone. Why is this the case? Is it a factor of a bad hire, poor target setting, ineffective on-boarding and ramp-up or something else? Who’s at fault and who should be accountable to fix it?

We need to reexamine how we support new sales professionals in year one. Here’s why.

When a sales professional hits his/her goal in year one, their probability of success in the following years increases while their enthusiasm for our profession flourishes. But how do we predict who will be a future star by the end of year one? We may think we know, but we really don’t—especially as the skills required to be effective in sales are evolving as we go digital. Talent will leave sales and may never return if we aren’t careful. That’s not good for our profession.

I see the problem akin to what’s happening in youth sports. Too many kids either fall off the coach’s radar or lose interest in a sport before they hit their growth spurt. Adults are hyper-focused on finding the next superstar by 5th or 6th grade but they don’t have a system to nurture the rest of the field.

There is a natural process where someone chooses sales, but quickly self-selects out when they realize it’s not the best career choice for them. However, if someone has the will, we need to help them find the way. If we continue to treat year one as a “weeding out” process in sales, talent will fall through the cracks or get turned off by the profession too soon in the process.

The problem will only get worse.

We have an influx of early-career professionals coming into the job market. This group requires a higher degree of support, yet very few companies are increasing their investment in learning and development. Further exacerbating the problem is the fact that our seasoned sales experts and leaders—the men and women who could provide coaching and mentoring to the new crop of reps—are exiting the market in droves.

I see an environment where companies expect salespeople to be more self-directed in their skills and development as well as more self-sufficient in the pursuit of high performance. We need to enable new sales reps to own their future and the impact they can make when they hit the ground.

I have strong and somewhat controversial views after having watched thousands of sales professionals make or break their career in year one.

I invite you to bring other sales professionals, both early career and experienced leaders, into the discussion. Let’s co-create the formula for success regarding onboarding and ramp-up to be sure more talent chooses a meaningful career in sales.