Sales tales: Onboarding, Training and Performance Management

Tim Frankcom was talking to Stephen Allott, Venture Partner, Seedcamp Sales Tales

Tim Frankcom

We first met in 2007 at Yahoo. In 2010 Tim then joined Criteo’s London office and built a global team from zero to in excess of 500 (including ~200 quota carrying sales people) by 2017.

“Rep ramp time” is the time it takes a sales rep to reach fully experienced sales productivity. Reducing rep ramp time was one of Tim’s key success factors.

“Tim, how do you increase your reps’ chances of success?” I asked.

“Stephen, as always and as you taught me, there are 3 points:” he replied.

  • Hire people who can learn
  • Teach them well
  • Personalise their performance management

“All 3 things accelerate sales and reduce the rep ramp time.”

Here is Tim’s sales tale.

Hire people who can learn

“The best example I have ever seen in terms of research was by Esra Bacher. She performed outstandingly well at an interview with me. Her pitch was near perfect. Afterwards, I offered her the role and asked her how she knew so much about the product, her response was that she had filled in the contact us form on the website and one of our existing reps had called her and pitched her on the product. Esra had cleverly asked great questions to ensure she had great answers. That was back in 2011 and I still remember it!!

After the pitch I felt I had all of the information I needed to make the decision along with the test score. Esra was a great hire.

What profile do I look for?

  • Learning track record: evidence they have quickly mastered new markets, products and companies.
  • Personality & attitude: they have the key attributes that are likely to make them a success; such as: hunger, drive, determination to succeed and enthusiasm.
  • Cultural fit: individual is a good cultural fit for your organisation.
  • Sales experience: a track record of success in relevant sales roles.
  • Product fit suitability: valuable experience that they can leverage to be successful in your team. If the rep has sold successfully for a corporate with a clearly defined playbook be careful in assuming that the same individual will be a success in selling where there is no playbook as in an early stage startup.
  • Product complexity: the individual sold complex products on a long sales cycle.
  • Seniority: be careful of over-hiring.
  • Affordability: meets the cost budget the CEO/CFO has signed off for the role.

Teach them well

First, be ready to welcome them on their first day and have a clear onboarding plan for them. Many companies have a branded pen, notepad, laptop, noise cancelling headphones waiting for them along with a company T-shirt or backpack. I once joined a large company early in my career and they didn’t even have a desk for me to sit with the team. I didn’t stay long!

Pre-populate their diary with a training programme, to be completed in the first two weeks. I would recommend a corporate overview provided by you or preferably by a C-Level employee.

The key to the training is learning the pitch, the benefits to the customers, the product and its features and critically how to sell it.

Prepare your onboarding materials in advance, company vision, investor decks, listing the management, org chart, location of offices worldwide, revenues, pension plan, benefits, stock option plan is just the start but essential. Pitch them the product, invite questions, teach objection handling and make this a regular feature of all team members’ weeks moving forwards, showing the humility to do this will be impressive to all reps. Make all the materials Zoom ready.

Teach your sales process.

You should also ensure you have back up presenters. You cannot have new hires sitting in a room waiting for someone who doesn’t show up.

I found it to be helpful to have sales reps start in batches. 2, 4, 6 or even 8 if you are lucky enough to have budget and approval to do so. Learning in groups can be beneficial to both sides.

I also found a buddy system to work very well even across different regions. The EMEA team was ahead of the US in terms of product knowledge. We put in place a buddy system both within EMEA and from EMEA to the US to help the product knowledge transfer faster. This was replicated in APAC a few years later.

Your company might have the budget to consider using an e-learning platform such as that provided by They aren’t cheap, but its a great interface and is a very good scalable way of providing a self-learning facility. However, the creation of the content will be a significant investment of time. And remember the material needs to be maintained and refreshed.

At Criteo we also used product tests and refresher training for teams as a way of ensuring product knowledge was improved and captured, this can be turned into an internal competition. It will help you spot gaps at the individual, team and regional level and ensure that you tailor the training to the exact needs. Finally, consider a certification, make it that people who pass receive some form of certification.

Get customers involved in the teaching.

Meet the Management is always a good idea.

By 2014, Criteo was expanding fast. We had moved from Charlotte Street in London to just off Oxford Street. Stephen came in to help devise my 12 x growth plan. You read that right. Expand by a factor of 12 times.

Personalise Sales Rep Performance Management. The 7 point programme

Despite your best efforts in hiring, training and onboarding, you may still have a small percentage of employees who are not in the right role. The team will be watching to see if there are any ramifications of below average performance. Top performers don’t want to carry a team, they want to work in a high performing sales machine.

  1. Measure: don’t just look at the output (revenues), analyse the inputs such as activity based metrics, number of calls, emails (the reliance on emails), quality of outbound emails, call duration, responses, number of leads generated (that sit within your ideal customer profile) from outbound prospecting not just inbound leads. Customer contact time is the driver.
  2. Use funnel analyses as a diagnostic: analyse their conversion rate, the number of leads at each stage of the funnel, number of days at each stage of the funnel, quality of lead — are they pitching the ideal customer profile.
  3. Make personalised interventions to address issues: use 1:1s to illustrate the issue and document your advice on how to improve each area.
  4. Monitor continued low performance — optimise training for each sales person — retraining, coaching, assisted sales calls, objection handling
  5. Attend calls and meetings with sales reps, hear them pitch, help them pitch and seek to understand why it’s not working
  6. Introduce a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) if performance against key metrics has not picked up.
  7. Exit if performance does not improve and always follow local labour laws and begin a process that allows the person to leave your organisation in the right way.

Letting people go is the hardest part of being a Sales Manager and yet it’s critical to the success of an organisation. It will also help restart the individual’s career elsewhere and allow you to rehire noting what made the previous employee unsuccessful and ensure you don’t rehire the same issue.

In summary, my 3 points:

  • Hire people who can learn -
  • Teach them well so they ramp fast
  • Personalise their performance management
The weather station at the summit of Mt. Ventoux taken by the author



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Stephen Allott

Stephen Allott

Tech vendor scale upper. Decide market strategy. Plan the numbers. Hire the people. Hit the numbers. Solve the problems. McKinsey, MUSE, SUNW, XROX,