As sales leaders, we have enough experience to know what works, and what doesn't. But, for some reason, we fail to apply these critical filters to our sales onboarding process. The good news: it's not rocket science.
Let's say you have an enviable track record of attracting and hiring top talent. You're bringing in these shiny rock start sales reps, and they're blazing through training… only to seriously underperform in their first year. What happened here?
Some of it boils down to a mismatch of expectations, sure. But the rest can almost always be attributed to an ineffective sales onboarding plan. Studies show that 25% of a company’s new hires would leave within a year if the onboarding experience was poor.
On the flip side, we know that getting new salespeople up to speed quickly is a pivotal factor separating Best-in-Class organizations from the rest. Research from The Sales Management Association reveals that these firms have 10% greater sales growth rates, and 14% better sales and profit objective achievement. Overall, an effective onboarding program may improve new employee productivity by more than 70%.
As sales leaders, we each have our best practices when it comes to onboarding. For me, the following strategies have always delivered the strongest bang for the buck.
Show them the Bigger Picture
Salespeople must imbibe the overall sales strategy, learn myriad sales tasks and processes, and understand company culture, and various other intangibles, aside from the basic sales methodology. They must learn how other functions affect, and are affected by, selling activities: for example, product management, marketing, pre-sale application support, and post-sale service. They don’t need to know how to do those jobs. But increasingly they do need to know what those jobs are and how they affect customers.
In my view, onboarding should be treated as an ongoing process, instead of a one-off event.
One best practice is to have 30, 60, and 90-day plans for onboarding with scheduled check-ins to evaluate the new rep’s progress and determine what they’re doing well, where they’re struggling, and what type of targeted coaching can be used to help them further improve.
Start with Baby Steps
I dislike taking a kitchen sink approach to equipping my new reps with a portfolio of products to sell. Instead, I prefer to pick a few simpler solutions to sell, and set meetings with prospects in need of them. This approach allows the new rep to get familiar with the selling process, and to build confidence while still learning the company and marketplace.
Have New Reps Shadow Senior Reps
An effective onboarding experience should always include some time for your new reps to shadow experienced reps on sales calls. This allows them to see your processes and systems in action. Some interesting numbers again:
56% of new hires prefer having a mentor or buddy to assist them.
Assigning a mentor during the onboarding process is very effective for 87% of businesses.
I always get *some* pushback from existing team members (mostly because of ill-timed questions on the part of mentees), but setting some ground rules for the engagement usually does the trick. Most team members understand the value of the buddy system, having been on the other end themselves!
Pro tip: Get your entire sales team involved in onboarding with a ‘welcome’ meeting. Ask each team member to bring a story or tip based on the prompt, “What I wish I had known when I was new.” This builds instant camaraderie and exposes new reps to inspiring stories and helpful tips directly from the field.
Let them experience the product
The complexity of your product should influence the type of training you offer to your new reps. If your product is a software that has many unique features and benefits, you have to ensure that each of your reps is familiar with each of these benefits. This is a tall ask from classroom training alone - I've found that it helps when sales reps spend the first few weeks in customer service, so that they encounter the holes in their knowledge, and learn firsthand what the use cases for various product features are.
I know what I'm saying here isn't "new". You've done it yourself in some way, shape, or form over the years. Let this article be the trigger to reevaluate your own process, and plug-in strategies from this list, or that have worked for you in the past.
As sales leaders, we've seen firsthand that a strong onboarding process delivers bang-for-the-buck ROI on sales training. Sales training is expensive - we spend more on training our sales folks than any other function in the business. Yep, even the Harvard Business Review agrees with me on this one!
The good news is, that this is completely in your bag. Think it through, bring back some of your old best practices (and feel free to use all of mine!) to create a sales onboarding process that is just right for you and your organization. Then, measure as you go along and tweak to fit - people evolve for the better, and so should processes.
Set your new salespeople on the path to early success, and they'll pay you back not just in sales numbers, but in loyalty and longevity.