The Sales Valley of Death & Big Salty, Salesy Tears

Post by The Sales Valley of Death & Big Salty, Salesy Tears

I cried. I was in my car parked way out back in the ugliest office park in the world. I was making phone calls to prospective customers and I just couldn’t do it anymore. I was frustrated. I was angry. I hated it. 

I can remember every detail of that moment and I planned to quit that very day. 

I tell this story to every sales rep I’ve ever coached. In my early years as a sales manager, I used to wait until they were crying and try to console them with my story, “If I can do it, so can you.” 

Over the years as I became Sales Director and Country Manager, I told this story to every sales rep on their very first day. I’d have a group of brand new hires excited for their first day, a bit nervous about what’s to come, and I’d make light of the fact that in 3-4 months from now, they’d be crying. The job is hard, I’d tell them, but don’t lose faith. Don’t give up. We will help you through it. I cried. And if you do, when you do, it will be ok. 

Then I’d tell them about The Sales Valley of Death. 

It’s a mathematical hell hole that is as inevitable as the nerves that come with your first day of work. 

In the end, sales is all about finding ways to predictably deliver revenue. Great sales teams have it down to a science. Here is how it worked at HubSpot, and why I knew that 3 or 4 months into the job, new sales reps were going to start crying. 

Let’s walk through the sales activity of a typical sales hire over their first 6 months. 

In month 1, the new sales rep sets up 15 meetings with prospective customers. Those 15 Opportunities result in 10 Discovery meetings the following month. Those 10 Discovery meetings turn into 5 Product Demos the following month, which in turn become 2 sales the following month. 

Assuming that the sales rep is fully ramped up by month 3, the following chart maps out how many Opportunities, Discovery Calls, Product Demos, and Sales happen every month. 

Well, let’s now add in a twist. Quotas. A sales rep’s personal worth is tied up in their quota and every sale is worth $1,000.  Let’s add that to our chart. 

What I’m sure you start to see is that the first couple of months are really hard for new sales reps. They really struggle to find deals that close quickly. Some get lucky and others have to wait for the deals to come in. 

If the average deal closes in 90 days, sure some will come in faster than 90 days, but some will come in later than 90 days too. Sometimes this is just luck.

What you can see from the sales activity chart above is that a new sales rep is doing everything right by month 3 or 4. They are working hard and deals are predictably moving through the sales funnel.  

But it takes another 3 months before they reap the rewards and see predictable sales come in.

Just at the time when they feel the worse, they’ve actually never been better. They’re on the road to stardom, but they feel like they're in hell. This is the Sales Valley of Death. 

Leaders can help their reps survive The Sales Valley of Death with encouragement, focused attention on skill mastery, and storytelling. Too many new sales reps destined for success never made it to the other side of the valley. And that’s a shame because they were closer than they thought. 

Feel free to use this anyway you can to save the next bright sales star.

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Dave Shepherd

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