Sales Profession, We have a Problem (Part 2)

Congratulations! You just landed a new position in sales. Maybe you’re with a new company, or maybe you transferred into a different division within the same company.

It’s time to ramp up, and the learning curve is steep. The clock’s ticking and time is not your friend. Your manager might tell you to “ease into the role,” but don’t be fooled—you are expected to meet your target in year one. The faster you put points on the board, the better off you will be.

Feeling the pressure? You should be. Welcome to sales!

You can’t do it all at once. How will you spend your precious time?

Ready. Set. Go!

As a sales leader for a $24B enterprise-services company and advisor to several organizations, I’ve witnessed the onboarding of thousands of sales professionals. I’ve observed that 70%–80% fall short of hitting their targets year one. Many sell nothing.

So what happens?

First of all, if you’re not on target, it’s 100% your fault. Our profession chews up and spits out anyone who plays the victim. Let’s get that out of the way.

That said, most companies have the wrong formula for ramping up sales people because they encourage sales people to be too internally focused.

Let’s unpack a typical onboarding plan, shall we?

First, you’re loaded up with information about the company’s culture, beliefs, values, policies and procedures. You are asked to either pore through numerous company presentations and videos or enroll in an onboarding class somewhere.


In addition to all the corporate materials, you’re expected to drink from the firehose of products and services information. Your company spends millions of dollars building differentiated products and services as well as the collateral and training materials that describe them—don’t be surprised when you’re asked to regurgitate the information to clients.

You’ll need to learn the company’s integrated selling process, state-of-the-art tools and selling methodologies. They’re the same ones the company has used for the past 50 years, so you’ll be expected to adhere to them.

Even though you don’t have a deal yet, you still need to understand the intricacies of your CRM (customer relationship management) platform—after all, it’s the “one source of truth.” It’s critical that you can accurately enter sales opportunities in the system, ensuring that deal values are appropriately allocated to the right offerings, sales stages are up to date and close dates are precise. You can’t possibly sell something to a client without being proficient on this platform, can you?


Now let’s look at all of the meetings that have been scheduled on your behalf over the next 90 days.

First, you’ll meet key business leaders. They’ll want to explain how they landed in that corner office (well, it’s a corner cubical these days).

Next, you will meet with partners from HR, Finance and Legal, etc.—all of whom will tell you they are committed to your success.

Finally, there will be no shortage of people willing to meet with you to ensure you know how things really work around here—they are the key process owners and stakeholders who make the company run so smoothly.


So you’ve successfully digested all the critical company information, you’re deep in product knowledge, you’ve built key internal relationships, and you can recite the company’s methodologies in your sleep. By now you’re 30–45 days into your new role—maybe 60.

So, let me ask….

How’s your pipeline?

Describe the new client relationships you’ve built so far.

What problems have you identified that your customers are struggling to solve?

Have you gotten your first proposal out the door?

What? Wait, you don’t even have your account/territory assignments? At this point, you can cross off the first quarter. You’ll be lucky to sell something in the first half of the year.


In spite of my sarcasm, company’s values, beliefs, relationships, detailed product/service knowledge, processes and procedures are all very valuable—but in your sales role, you don’t have the luxury of time to learn and recite them all right now.

Every minute spent internally focused is time you are not spending with prospects and clients. This holds true even while you are ramping up.

The best sales professionals I know spend most of their time externally focused—EVEN DURING RAMP UP. They are fearless, resourceful and resilient. They engage with clients straight away. They study their clients’ businesses and the industries their clients operate in. They spend very little time learning company processes or building internal allies. They only consume the very basic product or service knowledge before engaging with clients.

Successful sales professionals know that:

  1. The most important rule in sales is to engage with the right buyer. Only buyers buy—nobody else. The quickest path to your success is the one that leads you to a real buyer, and they are not easy to identify these days. Good sales professionals can engage the buyer by providing him/her with unique insights they’re not getting from others.
  2. A knowledge bank can be built on the back of client’s inquiries. Successful sales professionals are comfortable saying “I don’t know” when a client asks an important question on the spot. They don’t make up the answer at the risk of losing a client’s trust. Great sales professionals use these “I don’t know” opportunities to demonstrate just how resourceful they are at getting the right answer as well as how important the client is to get it for them. Before long they’ll have more knowledge than anyone around them.
  3. Genuine internal relationships come WHEN they have a “real” client opportunity in their hands. Few people around you actually know how to create a deal—this is the rarest skill in sales. If you’re any good at it, don’t worry—you’ll be plenty popular in the company.

Don’t spend too much time studying the company’s playbook!

Many of you are hard-wired to follow the plan that has been laid out for you. As exemplary students, there’s been little reward or encouragement to deviate from the rules.

And by following the internally focused onboarding approach, you will likely fail.

Guess what you can do with all that proprietary knowledge you’ve gained if you haven’t sold anything? That’s right, you’re restricted from using it in your next job—so it’s useless. Oh, and all those meaningful internal relationships you’ve built? Try asking one of them to help you find a new job.

If you’ve already sold something—congratulations. You’ve figured out what works for you. Keep doing what you’re doing—if you’re not on target, let’s figure out how to shift your focus.

I’ve heard all of the concerns before:

“How do I figure out which accounts to focus on first?”

“Why would a client take a meeting with me when I am so new in my role?”

“How can I engage a client before knowing the details of our products and services?”

“Will I lose credibility when I don’t know the answer to a client’s question?”

I will address these questions and others in future posts. With the right approach, you will have the confidence to engage with clients after just one week of ramp-up activities. Feel free to send me your questions or thoughts via Linkedin and follow me on Instagram and Twitter @donato3P.