How Long Does it Take the Average Sales Rep to Reach Their Maximum Potential?
Sales rep development can be both costly and time-consuming. Training alone costs an average of nearly $1,900 per salesperson for companies with less than 500 employees.
And when you factor in the time spent recruiting, onboarding, and ongoing development, it’s clear that getting a new sales rep up to speed can be quite onerous. So, a common question many companies have is, “How long does it take the average sales rep to reach their maximum potential?”
Let’s find out by synthesizing the findings from a few different studies.
Looking to the Data
One study by independent research firm, CSO Insights, found that it takes a minimum of seven months for salespeople to reach full productivity. Of the businesses surveyed, 61% said it takes at least this long for investments they make in reps to pay off.
A second study by the Sales Management Association (SMA) found that it takes a bit longer at just over 11 months for a new sales rep to become fully productive.
And a third study from sales training and consulting firm, RAIN Group, found that it’s even longer and takes more like 15 months. Although it takes around 9 months for a new sales rep to become “competent to perform,” it takes well over a year before they hit their full stride.
Ask different experts and you’ll get different answers, but after crunching the numbers, we can surmise that it takes around 11 months or so for the average sales rep to reach their maximum potential.
11 Months? That’s a While!
I was personally a little surprised that it takes this long, and I’m sure many other companies feel the same. But it makes sense when you consider all of the steps a new salesperson has to go through to get in the groove.
They have to:
Not only learn your industry and product but eventually master it
Understand the greater context of how your product fits in with the needs of prospects
Learn your brand’s core values and philosophy
Master the product demo
Build initial rapport with your customers
And so on
When you unpack everything, it’s easy to see why it takes nearly a year for the average sales rep to reach their full potential.
How to Accelerate Sales Rep Development
So, what can you do to hasten the process and get a salesperson firing on all cylinders more quickly?
Mike Schultz, president of RAIN Group, boils it down to focusing on two main things — strengthening your onboarding and sales enablement.
“With a strong onboarding and sales enablement process, this timeframe can be shortened considerably,” Schultz writes. “We’ve seen ramp-up time cut by greater than 50% when companies hone in on improving in this area, increasing seller effectiveness, and correlating turnover of sellers for whom getting up to speed was taking too long.”
In terms of specific actions, you’ll want to first identify the skills that are most essential to your sales team’s success and make those focal points during onboarding and continually reinforce them during the subsequent phases of a rep’s development. Schultz also suggests systematically teaching additional skills as a rep becomes more comfortable in their position. This allows you to effectively distill foundational knowledge and gradually build upon it over time.
Finally, Schultz emphasizes the importance of holding sales reps accountable when using those skills. One of the best ways to do this is to use tangible metrics such as a leaderboard like this that shows performance.
This creates a high level of transparency, while at the same time creating some friendly competition — something many reps thrive on. In fact, research found that 55% of salespeople enjoy a competitive environment.
“A well-built curriculum not only shortens ramp-up time,” Schultz says, “but also transforms sellers into top performers.”
Besides developing a strong onboarding and sales enablement process, there’s one last thing I’d like to suggest, which I’ve personally had a lot of success with. And that’s hiring sales candidates with amazing selling skills over those who simply possess a wealth of industry knowledge.
From my experience, I’ve found that most people can be trained on products, but very few people have naturally outstanding sales talent. Unfortunately, many companies hinder the growth of their sales team because they zero in solely on finding candidates with X years of industry knowledge.
Like I said in a previous post, as long as someone knows how to sell and will sell, their skills are usually transferable, and they’re likely to thrive in less time than it would take if you have to teach someone to sell from scratch.
So, this is definitely something to keep in mind.
Building a Framework to Help Sales Reps Succeed
Although the findings vary somewhat from study to study, research suggests that it takes most sales reps somewhere around 11 months to really get going. And that’s longer than what I think most sales leaders would prefer.
That’s why it’s important to consciously look for ways to expedite that process — something that can usually be done through a strong onboarding and sales enablement process. That alone has the potential to cut salesperson development time in half.
Also, don’t get so fixated on industry knowledge that you pass up A+ salespeople with transferable experience. These types of reps should be able to climb the ranks faster and have a much higher ceiling than their counterparts who simply possess a ton of industry knowledge but are only mediocre at selling.
A great way to do that and find the best of the best is by using a hiring tool like HireDNA. It uses science-based assessments based on 21 core selling competencies and intelligent matching that analyzes 20 key data points to help you filter through the candidate pool and find high-level salespeople, while saving you a ton of time.