As part of CSO Insights’ annual Sales Performance Optimization (SPO) study, we asked the more than 2,000 participating sales organizations to share their hiring plans for 2011. Seventy-eight percent said they would add salespeople. Of that group, nearly half intend to grow their sales teams by more than 10 percent.
That companies are willing to expand their sales teams is a sign of optimism that the economic recovery will continue. However, let me inject a dose of pessimism: Hiring new reps is one thing; making them fully productive is quite another. A metric that we track as part of the SPO study is new-sales-rep ramp-up, defined as how long it takes a new salesperson to generate the same level of revenue as an experienced one. In 2003, our study found that 60 percent of sales organizations had ramp-up times of less than six months. Today, that number has dropped to under 40 percent.
This year’s study data showed companies that give new reps access to sales intelligence (SI) systems have significantly shorter ramp-up than those that do not. The differences are reflected in the chart below.
SI systems originally focused on giving reps information about contacts in the accounts into which they are trying to sell. Often integrated directly with the sales system the company employed, SI solutions populated and updated contact data in the CRM application. To a new rep, this is a crucial service in informing him about whom to call.
However, during the past few years, the level of insights coming from a new generation of SI companies, such as FirstRain, InsideView, OneSource, and ZoomInfo, has expanded dramatically. Today, employing Web-crawling and other data-gathering methods, SI solutions constantly gather information about the marketplaces into which reps are selling, the competitive landscape, and details on prospect accounts and key stakeholders.
Think of it this way: Each sales rep has his own digital research assistant constantly to track key news and events in his territory. Let’s say a new executive gets hired in a prospect firm you are targeting, or a company reports an earnings surprise (good or bad), or a merger is announced in one of the industries on which you focus. The SI system immediately would notify you about any of those developments. Then that information could be appended to contact and opportunity records in the CRM system you are using to manage your pipeline.
Armed with those insights, new sales reps not only know whom to call, but also what to discuss in order to land that first appointment. As a result, more opportunities will get started sooner after the reps have been hired. In addition, gaining access to knowledge throughout the sell cycle should mean getting to “yes” faster.
Be aware that SI services do carry a cost. But looking at the chart, it’s clear that it is an investment worth making. If you can shorten rep ramp-up, the revenue generated by your new hires would cover the costs many times over. So, if you expand your sales team this year, give your new salespeople the technology resources they need to make them productive sooner.
Jim Dickie is a partner with CSO Insights, a research firm that specializes in benchmarking CRM and sales effectiveness initiatives. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.