Sinking Fast: A Solution for RSMs

A high-impact sales enablement mentoring program was developed after managers reported trouble staying afloat.

Ponder this scenario: You are a new quota-carrying individual contributor regional sales manager (RSM) at a fast-growing global business software company. In your first week, you attend new-hire orientation where you learn about the company and HR-related topics, but not much about sales. In your first month, you attend a week-long sales boot camp with lots of pre-work but no tangible follow-up. You have a daunting list of useful resources scattered across multiple intranet sites. You set up shop in your home office and are expected to figure it out on your own.

The usual questions arise: How do I get a password for this tool? How do I get access to that system? Where do I find the latest product information? Which training programs should I take and in what order? Who can support me with setting up a customer demo? How do I engage with the marketing team? How can I be successful at this company?

Naturally, you want to ask your manager, but she is usually busy closing deals to hit quota since little takes precedence over making quota. You also were assigned a “new-hire buddy,” but he is busy with his own deals and slow to respond.

You spend a great deal of time trying to find basic answers on your own, but it takes away from your time learning products and sales processes, not to mention prospecting and building a pipeline. It feels like you will never make your quota. If you can’t make quota, it doesn’t pay to work here. Given that no one seems to care about your success, why should you stick around?

Identifying the issue

That scenario describes what life was like just 18 months ago for many new RSMs at our company. The business impact of this experience was tremendous:

  • A new RSM took twice the industry norm to ramp to quota.
  • With fewer RSMs making quota, sales success was not evenly distributed. Top performers exceeded growth targets to carry numbers and the greater team.
  • Regrettable attrition of new RSMs was high and costly—18 percent versus 14 percent in high-tech sales overall

To better understand the ramp and attrition challenges, my team asked two questions of the salesforce at the 2012 sales kickoff. The first was “What inhibited or slowed down your ability to be successful quickly?” Their top three answers were:

  • too much unorganized information
  • difficult to navigate company infrastructure
  • lack of a quality mentor or good onboarding

The second was “What is the #1 thing your manager can do to ensure your success?” Their top three answers were:

  • be an actual mentor and coach to me
  • remove roadblocks
  • spend time with the team

We gained a clear picture of our RSMs’ needs and how they intersected with revenue and profitability objectives. Those needs could be addressed through internal knowledge-sharing or traditional mentoring. However, asking peer volunteers who were serving as traditional mentors to put on yet another hat would not sufficiently fill that need.

Program goals

Stepping outside the bounds of the traditional mentoring model, we created an internal team of nonquota-carrying mentors to focus 100 percent on mentoring new RSMs. With compelling survey data and executive sponsorship from our most senior sales stakeholder, these mentors turned insight into action and created our Sales Success Mentor Program to accomplish four goals.

The first was to coach new RSMs on:

  • navigating company resources
  • identifying key experts to add to their sales network
  • maximizing time with manager and experts
  • practicing discovery, account plans, and presentations
  • following a prescribed onboarding program
  • assimilating within our culture
  • gaining best practices with proven results

Next, mentors tracked individual RSM progress on:

  • sales plans, including 30-60-90 day, territory, and discovery and close plans
  • customer and prospect meetings
  • pipeline
  • closed deals

After reporting to leadership on key themes affecting productivity, the fourth goal was to identify solutions for implementation by:

  • creating resources to address key themes and best practices
  • engaging sales consultants to transfer knowledge on how to best use sales methodology and associated skills
  • providing visibility to sales leadership on messages from the field to inspire operational change
  • communicating with organizational leaders across the business on opportunities to enhance existing tools and associated processes


Comprised of four creative problem solvers, our Sales Success Mentor team has worked with new-hire RSMs (a 1-to-30 mentor-to-RSM ratio) in 21 countries worldwide. In collaboration with executive stakeholders, sales managers, HR, and other support functions, this team made immediate and significant progress against goals, in part, simply by connecting company silos. In addition, sales leaders can now focus their time with new-hire RSMs on high-value tasks identified in our survey, including territory planning and account strategy.

The mentoring program distinguishes us from our competitors and is used as an incentive during our recruitment process. Candidates are told during the interview stage that they will be provided with an individual mentor for their first six months. Mentors engage with the new RSMs as soon as they accept their employment offers. Before their first day, the new hires receive an email and phone call welcoming them to the company. The program has three distinct phases.

  • Months 1-2: initial support for tools, processes, learning, and company culture
  • Months 3-4: territory planning, account prioritization, and internal and external network building
  • Months 5-6: ongoing coaching around identified themes

RSMs eagerly welcome the support from their individual mentors as they work against a step-by-step mentor playbook of what successful RSM behavior and actions look like during the six-month engagement period. This “situational mentoring” is an example of contextual, relational learning. It embodies contemporary trends toward coaching versus training, an approach that is ideal for our sales audience.

Equipped with deep content expertise in sales, learning, and management, and certified by the International Coaching Federation, our mentors guide each RSM in ongoing development using a learning path customized to individual needs. Mentors direct RSMs to required coursework and optional formal and informal learning, including growth assignments.

In addition, our mentor program leans heavily on social technology for its execution. RSMs and mentors collaborate to share best practices, discuss challenges, and offer support to one another—a critical pillar to the program’s success.

Mentors are given new RSMs’ résumés before they come onboard so they can identify where additional support may be necessary. Mentors pull CRM reports for each RSM to track progress on customer opportunities and to connect with their mentees weekly. Our mentors have created job aids and a coaching guide to support mentor conversations and provide guidance.


As with any learning program, business impact is crucial. The Sales Success Mentor Program has far exceeded expectations. When comparing new 2012 RSMs with mentors to new 2011 hires who had no mentor, we saw

  • nearly 300 percent improvement in deals closed
  • ramp time cut in half
  • three times more RSMs make quota
  • overall RSM attrition down 80 percent
  • 73 percent of new RSMs indicate the onboarding experience was significantly better than what they had experienced at previous companies

Many other companies have mentoring programs; they’re nothing new, and the benefits of such programs are well documented and studied. Typically, a mentee establishes goals he would like to work on and the mentee and mentor come together to discuss and monitor progress against an action plan. What also is common about these other programs is that participants are not held accountable for the results. If a mentee does not improve or advance against the established goals, this is no fault of the mentor—she is, after all, a volunteer, with a full-time day job.

Sales enablement is the practice of fostering and enabling world-class sales competencies and standards that guide and empower sales leaders and sales training professionals to develop the next generation of sales. Why are we settling for average, traditional mentoring programs when we have massive sales enablement demands?

As sales enablement professionals, we should be driving the programs with the most impact for our clients. The return-on-investment of our innovative Sales Success Mentor Program is irrefutable—top-line revenue producers are engaged, ramp up faster, achieve quota, and remain high-impact members of our sales engine for years to come.

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