Sales Basics: The Best Practices for Onboarding New Sales Reps

The Gist:

  • A good deal of onboarding gives sales reps inaccurate ideas about what is most important for their success.
  • Better onboarding is the key to a fast start and successful reps.
  • Your onboarding should establish what you believe is most important to your employees’ success.

It’s important to bring salespeople into your company by providing them what they’ll need to work effectively inside the company, as well as to create and win new opportunities outside the company— the results for which they were hired. In too many cases, much of the onboarding process is designed to acclimate salespeople to conditions inside the company without equipping them to sell more effectively and win more deals.

A sales team gathers

Priorities and Precedents

It’s easy to overlook the real cost of mistakes during onboarding. Sure, every employee needs a basic introduction to the company, a round of HR paperwork, and all of the administrative work necessary to process their paycheck. But from there, onboarding practices can easily mislead new salespeople about their most important tasks.

Many onboarding presentations start by telling the company’s story: the stirring origin story, the innovative founders, the impressive corporate growth, and of course all the reasons why a prospective client should beg you to shut up and take their money. It’s a nice story, except for the fact that it can convince the salespeople being onboarded that their clients need to hear that same story in every pitch. Because new employees are (hopefully) excited about their new jobs, they may even learn to tell that story enthusiastically. That’s  all well and good, but information about the company is far less valuable than the other conversations the new salesperson is going to need to have, in order to open new opportunities and win deals.

A few days later, those same fresh-faced recruits learn how to use the sales stack, starting with the CRM. The onboarding will teach them to follow the rules and help them keep their reporting up-to-date, both excellent practices. Because we rely so heavily on technological tools, it’s important the sales force knows how to use them. However, this early emphasis on technology may convince the employee that technology is the most critical part of their work, rather than a necessary but not sufficient tool for succeeding in their new role.

Finally, the new recruits begin to learn all about the amazing products and solutions they are responsible for selling their clients. The more technological the solution, the more they’re taught to talk about speeds and feeds, memorizing all the jaw-dropping features, benefits, and advantages the client can expect. And God help them if they learn to provide a product demo early in the conversation, burning in the idea that the demo alone is going to sell the product.

A sales rep manager teaching a sales rep

First Things First

Do not read this as a suggestion to eliminate these things. Instead, let’s revise our onboarding priorities by changing the order in which we provide education and instruction.

Cold Calls

The first thing a salesperson should learn after taking care of the administrative work is how to make a cold call, so they can develop competency in acquiring meetings with prospective clients. There is nothing more important to their future success, and there is no reason to allow them to believe that they can only make calls once they know everything about the company and their solutions.

To enable this competency, you are going to have to teach them how to trade enough value for their prospective client’s time to be able to secure a meeting. You are also going to have to help them sound as convicted as a fire-breathing evangelist, giving the client the confidence that they believe what they are saying.

Why Clients Change

Before you teach a sales force how to answer the question “why us,” you should teach them to understand why clients change, especially in terms of how much time and money change can cost them. The order of the conversation should reflect the importance of how the sales force is taught and trained. By prioritizing what’s most important to creating opportunities, you can help set the company’s priorities when it comes to salespeople.

To enable this outcome, you have to teach new sales reps to recognize the challenges and problems their prospective clients are trying to solve. When you prioritize products and solutions, you teach reps to that you have a solution that is looking for a problem. Instead, you want to teach them how to compel change by recognizing a problem worth solving.

Observing Great Reps

Mandating that new sales reps observe more experienced and successful reps can do two things for them very early in their new roles. First, it can show them what good selling looks like, provided you carefully select the senior reps. I recommend having them observe reps that prospect well. Second, you want new reps to experience the sales conversation as practiced by people who have already mastered it.

There is nothing more important than learning the sales conversation. The more time and effort you spend on making your employees conversational and consultative, the better reps you are helping to create.

Role Playing

You don’t need to have your salespeople practice on live clients. They don’t need to learn things the hard way, especially when the answers are already known. By spending time role-playing, you prepare new salespeople to improve their confidence and their competence, making it easier and more natural to transition into their new role and find success.

Do Good Work:

  • In what order do you provide your onboarding content? What does that order tell new reps about what is most important at your company?
  • What is the lag time between a new rep’s starting date and the date of their first cold call?
  • How do you enable a new rep to be conversational? How long does it take them to gain the ability to manage the sales conversation?

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