Why expecting Salespeople to sink or swim without good onboarding is just plain dumb

Matt Garman
14 May, 2021
open sea swimmers on boat

As we fast approach the 4th anniversary of ‘Catch 21’ team’s successful Channel swim in 2017, a recent conversation with a business introduction last week prompted me to write an article on whether we ought to leave salespeople to ‘sink or swim’.

After an unspectacular rugby career that ended aged 40, a friend of mine suggested we have a go at a triathlon. “Fantastic”, I said: I can’t swim, I’m a lumpy runner and haven’t ridden a bike since my paper round – hardly Ironman material (although I’m proud to say that I did subsequently finish an Ironman).

So back to swimming and sales – much the same way if you can’t swim you have to start somewhere, and the same can be said about sales. To do this you need to find a group that will make you feel welcome, have people around you that are prepared to help you, and have a coach that often ends up telling you nothing more than ‘you’re not as crap as you think you are’.

You go through a process of swallowing your pride, putting away the ego and coughing and spluttered up the slow ‘beginners’ lane with both hands on a float, then one hand on the flat and one trying to swim.

Eventually after 2 coached sessions a week and another practice session on your own you start to get better. One length turned to ten, ten to 50, and you eventually find a groove where you can swim for long periods of time.

When I first started selling it was commission-only selling life insurance – a tough gig by anyone’s terms but it taught me a huge amount. Yes, it was tough and yes there were many times I had to pick myself up after disappointments but I most certainly never felt like I was left to sink or swim.

I had a good induction, I had great training, I had a mentor who took me under their wing (someone I’m proud to stay I still stay in touch with), and I learned a lot about myself along the way.

Be under no illusion, sales is tough and don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise. However, the archaic notion that salespeople are a disposable resource, placing all the emphasis on them being able to sink or swim to me is naïve beyond belief and something business needs to get a firm grip on.

With average tenures of sales resources falling, businesses have to make sure they provide great onboarding, solid training with clear development plans, all backed up with good coaching and mentoring.

Taking on sales resources is no different to any other human capital investment that you make, and just because it was ‘the way you did it in your day’ doesn’t mean it’s right for now. Adopting this approach is nothing but foolhardy and likely to cost you far more in the long term.