sales leader

Sales Leader's First 90 Days: Learn and Take Action for Early Wins

This is a continuation our exploration of how sales leaders approach their first 90 days in a new role. The topic was born from a startling statistic: The average tenure of a sales VP is brief – only about 18 months.

In our first post, we tackled onboarding yourself with your new company or team to prepare for day one. We offered concrete steps for cutting down initial chaos in the fog of transition.

We also discussed how to avoid falling victim to the six common transition traps. These can derail the sales leader’s first foundational first 90 days.

In this post, we’re going to extend our top onboarding themes. This includes team, customer, structure, and financials. You must learn your new organization well enough to achieve early wins that are critical to establishing credibility.

So Far: You Should Have Accomplished…

Continue using the onboarding checklist to gather and review information. These insights are your first clues as to where you might be able to achieve early wins.

You should set a meeting with management to confirm their business priorities. Have these in mind when determining where to focus your time.

BOLO: Transition Traps #1 and #2

During your initial 30 days, be on the lookout for the first two of our six transition traps:

  1. Failing to secure your team because you've made assumptions about team morale, commitment, and job satisfaction
  2. Misjudging sellers or making hiring/firing decisions based on assumptions about the ideal seller capabilities

The remaining four transition traps are important, but you’re more likely to encounter these two initially.

Your INITIAL 30 Days Objectives

In your initial 30-45 days as a leader, you need to do two things:

  1. Learn your sales organization well enough to start making informed decisions
  2. Be seen as taking swift action to signal personal leadership and obtain early wins that establish credibility

Learning your organization fully and deeply takes time. That doesn’t lend itself to taking swift action that’s informed. 

And we do want to act. It’s human nature, particularly when under scrutiny and pressure. Acting makes us appear decisive. It broadcasts the message that we’re in charge and we know what we’re doing. It can be useful in raising team morale, lowering management anxiety, and fending off political detractors.

The Action Imperative

For new sales leaders, the temptation to start acting before understanding their inherited sales situation is overwhelming.

For example, a sales leader demanded we build an overly complicated, highly rigid sales process for his new team. He didn’t consider or understand that the laid-back, informal sales culture he inherited wouldn’t absorb it. Or that his hardline management tactics would likely incite rebellion. The results were predictable.

When sales leaders take over a new team, they need to take the time to learn. They also need to act fast.

How to reconcile this dichotomy? Fortunately, we have a solution.

“Secure & Get Right”

We call it Secure and Get Right, or SGR. It balances the need for learning and decisive action by alternating the two activities.

Instead of acting without learning or spending time without taking any action, work your way through by alternating the two in a structured and prioritized manner.

The SGR Methodology

The SGR Methodology has five steps that follow onboarding themes: team, customers, structure, financials. 

Here are the steps:

Step 1:  Secure the team

Step 2:  Secure the customers

Step 3:  Get the initial structure right

Step 4:  Get the financials right

Step 5:  Get out of the way

SGR in Action: A Case Study

Jason Barnes is a sales vice president with Central Garden and Pet, a $1.8B consumer packaged goods manufacturer. Central makes products like grass seed, fertilizer, and weed control.

Jason manages a portfolio of four disparate sales teams. He is responsible for just under half of revenues.

Jason has been at Central for more than a decade. When he became a sales VP, it was initially for one team. The additional three teams were added gradually. Each has a distinct sales culture and a different customer base. There was always a lot to learn.

And then there was a wrinkle: Every sales team added to Jason’s portfolio had declining revenues. He was expected to turn these teams around. He did so by applying the Secure & Get Right Methodology.

Which brings us to an important caveat. SGR works beautifully in a turn-around situation. If you’ve just taken over a start-up or team that’s experiencing high growth, you can still utilize the steps. Securing early-adopter customers may need to take precedent over securing the team.

But sooner or later, all the steps are going to be required for optimal performance. We’re using a turnaround example as the best way to illustrate the method.

Step 1:  Secure the Team

When Jason assumed management of the team, revenues were at a staggering 10-year low. Morale was lower. However, the team had real talent. Jason knew this. So, in his first 30 days he needed to secure the team to:

  • Ensure he didn’t lose this talent (early win #1)
  • Dig deeper into the team’s morale concerns and capabilities (learning #1)
  • Figure out how to raise morale (early win #2)

Run, walk, run.

If he couldn’t sort out the morale issue, no effort would produce a high-performing team. He couldn’t afford to lose the talent. His sellers had deeply technical product expertise that would be difficult to replace. Fortunately, the morale and retention issues were linked.

“The first thing I did was sit down with every person on the team and asked, ‘How’s it going?’”

He learned the reason morale lagged: the team felt their considerable expertise wasn’t being fully used and the customer was at a distance. So, Jason immediately upgraded titles for team members and added to their responsibilities. His goal was to ensure team value. The effect was immediate.

"It was like watering a nearly dead flower; everybody perked right up, 
because they were suddenly empowered to do their jobs."

Jason used the interviews to begin “sorting” capabilities of individual team members. What were their strengths and weaknesses? How could they complement each other? What were the implications for any structural changes? Did the team require enablement tools? These were learnings he filed away for later use.

He also was aware of the financial performance issues. If the team felt the customer was at a distance, the customer probably felt it too. In fact, he knew they did. Jason spoke with the merchandising VP, the most senior executive.

Step 2:  Secure the Customer

“If there are customer relationship issues to address, do it immediately.
Rip the band-aid off.”

At their meeting, Jason remained candid.

“Look, Central has lost its way.”

Fulfillment issues were partly responsible for financial decline. Grass seed and fertilizer weren’t reaching distribution centers at the rate they should. The product wasn’t available to sell. The reasons for these issues weren’t transparent to the merchandising VP.

Customers don’t like being in the dark.

Clearly, the situation called for higher collaboration and immediate operational transparency. Jason concentrated on operational basics: product fill rate and on-time order delivery.

In his first 30 days, Jason needed to secure the customer by:

  • Being transparent with them on product fill rate and on-time delivery status (early win #3)
  • Digging into the cause of the fulfillment issues and how to fix them (learning #2)
  • Keep the customer apprised of improvements and repairing the relationship (early win #4)

Run, walk, run.

By now you’ve detected the pattern for prioritizing learnings and actions to achieve early wins.

It would be helpful if you had a set of criteria to help choose impactful and successful early wins. We’ve built a decision table to accomplish this.

Step 3: Get the Initial Structure Right

Once you've secured both the team and customers, use your knowledge to improve structure.

Do what great managers do: Find the unique talent of everyone on the team and leverage it to full advantage.

Jason discovered that some of the team’s fulfillment issues came from inefficient time being spent by sellers.

He changed the structure by dedicating resources for sellers to collect information and assist with forecasting. This way, sellers concentrated on selling, forecasting became more consistent, and fulfillment could improve.

“Get people into the right jobs or adjust their responsibilities to fit their talent. Use every tool you've got.”

Any structure or organizational changes you make at this point should be grounded in what you know so far.

Be careful when considering radical changes to structure before truly understanding your organization. You may later find yourself in the position of reversing an expensive and disruptive decision.

Step 4: Get the Financials Right

Let’s recognize a couple of things about financials:

  • First: They won’t wait for a secure team and customers
  • Second: Everything having to do with sales has an impact on financials

Jason knew fill rates and on-time deliveries were key for more product on the shelf. This is a more clear-cut task than changing product formulas or launching a new marketing campaign.

Also, you will not be significantly improving revenue in just 30 days. Make sure whatever financial commitments you make are realistic.

Step 5: Get Out of the Way (to a degree)

Jason’s advice after securing team, customers, structure, and financials is this: get out of the way. He doesn't micromanage but doesn’t keep his hands out of the field. Knowing what's going on in his ecosystem is critical.

“I travel to be with my teams about 75% of the time… to get as much first person
observation as possible. Then, my goal is to coach my direct reports to coach that person.”

You have created an environment for initial success. It will need refining. In the next article, we’ll be assessing whether the team has the skills and tools they need.

You may find that additional structure or role changes are required. New processes or technology may be in order. You will be assessing all of this in the next 30-60 days.

For now, your team should be able to achieve an operational rhythm. This allows you to assess long-term strategy needs. You should have set a regular management cadence with them.


The steps you take in your initial 30 days to learn your organization well enough. Acting decisively to achieve early wins are highly situational. Our Secure and Get Right Method and the “early win” decision grid (below) will add efficiency and thoughtfulness to these efforts.

First 90 Days Toolbox: Choosing & Prioritizing Early Wins

We like this grid because it calls out true reasons for choosing early win candidates. Is it just to make you look good? Will it have a real effect on the sales team, company, or customers? Will it truly aid in setting up a long-term strategy?

It also helps us be realistic about the ease and speed with which we can achieve the early win.

If you are aggressive in estimating how much you can do in a short time, this grid acts as a reality check.

Sales Early Wins

Sales Team Wins

Next: Article 3 (of 4)

Our next article touches on learning efforts to obtain an even deeper understanding of your organization. It also discusses defining the capabilities of your team and a formulation of a longer-term strategy. You’ll begin building relationships with key influencers in the organization.

About The Author

Author photo Hope is a sales effectiveness expert who builds winning sales organizations. She works side-by-side with sales teams around account segmentation and planning, helping complex organizations rethink the way they serve their largest accounts. Her specialties include sales transformation, sales capability development, leadership development/coaching, and performance management. Hope’s expertise and execution focus mean she’s the consultant that clients want to keep around.

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