A Disney Parking Lot Attendant Gets More Training than Your Typical $250K Enterprise Sales Rep: Thoughts on Bootcamps

At Disney — a company that is truly focused on customer experience — every “cast member” (i.e., employee) gets six weeks of training before they see a “guest” (i.e., customer). “Face characters” (e.g., Snow White walking through the park) spend an additional 40 hours just watching and re-watching the movie to ensure they get every nuance right.

Oh, and how much training does your company give your $250K enterprise salesreps?

Anecdotally, I think the typical answer is a one-week bootcamp. Two weeks is on the long side. Once in a blue moon, you’ll hear 4 to 6 weeks, but that’s typically one to two weeks of corporate training followed by two to four weeks of deep technical training.

This is genuinely strange because a typical enterprise software or SaaS company freely spends between 40% and 100% of revenue on sales. Sales is typically the single biggest expense line in the firm. Sales runs 2-5x cost of goods sold.  It runs 2-5x R&D expense.  So, if we’re going to spend all this money on salespeople, then why don’t we want to train them?

I think there are a number of rationalizations:

  • “We hire experienced people so we don’t need to.” This is dangerous because your new people are experienced at someone else’s company and may have learned norms quite different from those you desire at yours.
  • “We train them on the job.” Either by throwing them in the pool and seeing if they sink or by building a conveyor-belt model where we hire folks as in-bound call-takers who we promote into outbound call-makers then into SMB reps then into mid-market reps. While there is nothing wrong with these models and they do very much help develop reps, it still doesn’t answer why we don’t give them deep training at the start.
  • “We never really developed it as a competency.” When you only have three reps you’re not going to create a six-week training program because — among other reasons — you don’t know what to teach. But as you scale your business that quickly becomes more excuse than reason.

I think the root answer is simple: most senior executives just don’t believe in training. (Think: “those who can, do; those who can’t, teach; and those who can’t teach do marketing.”)

Having competed against the output of some great internal training programs at Oracle and MicroStrategy, having created and run Business Objects University for several years, and then having gone through the outstanding on-boarding program at Salesforce, I’d like to share some perspective.

First, given my experience I would argue that by far the #1 key success criteria for these programs is a dictum from the CEO that they are important, they will be funded, and the organization will support them. Barring that, they get launched to lots of hype and then slowly erode into a self-fulfilling prophecy of mediocrity.

Here are some thoughts on how to run a great bootcamp.

  • Make it mandatory. Everybody goes. No one is too important to skip it from the new accountant to the new COO.
  • Make it long. Shoot for two weeks, minimum. Three is better. A double-dip is probably best of all (2 weeks initially followed by 3 months on the job followed by 2 weeks of reinforcement.)
  • Do it live. Some virtual pre-work and post-work is fine, but the core of your program should be live and in person. It shows commitment. It helps people build relationships. It enables better progress tracking and assessment.
  • Engage practitioners. Don’t learn how to sell from only a bootcamp trainer; hear from one of your top 5 reps on a rotating basis. (And pulling those top reps out of the field is an example of just one thing requires top-level support for the program.
  • Teach culture. Hit values. Train in how you define “The Your-Company Way.”
  • Be operational. Teach how the company wants deals entered in the pipeline, what your stage definitions are, and how to value deals. (These are critical items to maintaining a comparable set of pipeline metrics over time.)
  • Mix up the format. Have lectures, panels, individual exercises, group projects, videos, homework, reading, and team building exercises. Where applicable, do a volunteering session. (If volunteering is a key part of your culture, do some right from the get-go in the bootcamp – as Salesforce does.)
  • Keep it applied. Don’t just teach facts or theory (“Competitor A uses a proprietary, non-Excel formula language.”) Show them how to apply that fact in everyday life (e.g., suggest prospects to build some models to get a taste of what that feels like versus good-old Excel).
  • Everyone’s in sales. Teach everyone how the company sells, what problems it solves, and why customers buy from it.
  • Fire people who don’t take it seriously. The University head should be able to fire any employee during the training period. If you’re skipping sessions, not paying attention, late, disrupting, etc., then boom, you’re gone. It sends a message that won’t soon be forgotten.
  • Send home a report card. Build a culture where managers are embarrassed when their new hire gets a B- and the put people immediately on a performance plan when they get a C. List specific student strengths and development areas. Build the University program into the management process right from the start. Train managers on how work with fresh bootcamp graduates.
  • Try to use it for prediction. Give granular objective grades in different areas (e.g., delivery of corporate message, fluency in finance, consultative selling) along with an instructor success prediction and do regressions over time to see what really drives sales success as opposed to what you might think does. Try to answer the question: do people who do better in the University do better in real life?
  • Hire a consultant. My colleague Elay Cohen is a sales productivity expert, the author of Saleshood (Kellblog review here), and ran the outstanding program at Salesforce — I’m pretty sure he’d be happy to help you setup yours. You don’t have to invent this stuff anymore. Plenty of people know how to do it.

Finally, don’t stop with bootcamp. Build ongoing training programs that take care of your existing hires as much as your new ones. But that’s the subject of a different post.

5 responses to “A Disney Parking Lot Attendant Gets More Training than Your Typical $250K Enterprise Sales Rep: Thoughts on Bootcamps

  1. It’s amazing how often this part of running a sales organization is glossed over. It’s glossed over by sales management, by new hires, by HR, and by the CEO. The first, and often the last, opportunity that enterprise software companies have to embed success is in the precious early days of a new hire. And, you nailed it, everyone’s in sales. Great post!

  2. Great post Dave and extremely REAL title. I see it everyday.

    One of the reasons companies don’t do a good job on training or onboarding is that Sales Effectiveness has to be treated as a living breathing thing. I see sales orgs build a new hire program and expect it will last forever. Content needs to be continuously updated and/or sent to pasture when it’s no longer up with the times.

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