Selling is an ancient profession, a useful skill, and a way of life. It also happens to be a lot of people’s first “real” job.
This presents a real challenge for sales managers. In other industries, entry-level employees come prepared with applicable knowledge acquired via education or hobbies. Selling doesn’t fit this pattern though. Good sales habits mainly arise from focused onboarding and training programs.
And as any sales professional knows, this line of work generates competition, confrontation, and rejection in ways you can’t experience anywhere else. New sales reps must be prepared for the hard work and mental fortitude that success requires.
So we recently reached out to our network of sales leaders with one question on our mind:
“What’s the most important thing you want new sales employees to grasp from their onboarding process?”
(Here’s a sampling of what they said, categorized by theme.)
Sales Professionals Do a Ton of Research
Sales professionals like to talk about the pitch, but while a cohesive presentation is important, this is really just the icing on top of the cake. It’s the prospect and industry research that matters most.
This investigation — to continue the metaphor — is the flour, oil, and sugar that makes the cake so damn delicious.
Industry research is every sales rep’s first challenge
“[S]peak the language of the problems you solve for customers. [ex.] What problems exist? How do they manifest themselves? Why do they matter, and what is the value of solving them?”
Rob Jeppsen | CEO: Xvoyant
The best way to learn a language or culture is to live amongst it for a sustained period of time. Until you do that, you’ll always feel somewhat like an outsider.
Selling within any industry is the same way. In order to gain the trust of your prospects, you have to think, behave, and speak as they do. This means becoming so immersed that discussing their business realities becomes as easy as talking about your own hobbies.
Establishing authority and gaining a consultative position depends on this fluency. Without it, your sales team won’t project confidence or knowledge, and this will lose them deals.
On top of that, new sales reps need to learn just where your product fits into the industry landscape. That is to say, how exactly does your product increase productivity or reduce costs for potential clients? (Bonus points to those sales teams that can put an actual dollar amount on their answers.)
Prospect and company research should be emphasized in training
“Understanding their ICP and what their ICP thinks about is really key. It’s one thing to have a command of the product and battle cards. It’s another to get in their heads and understand their workflows, responsibilities, org charts, etc.”
Max Altschuler | Founder: Sales Hacker, VP Marketing: Outreach
The keyword here is ICP, or ideal customer profile. If your sales representatives are targeting the wrong type of potential buyer, this can spell disaster over both the short and long term.
Short-term consequence: Your team will put in a lot of hours only to be rejected by decision-makers
Long-term consequence: Your sales team will sign an ill-fitting customer. Then, once that buyer inevitably realizes their own poor fit, they’ll have a sub-par experience and spread negative reviews of your product. Or, if the company accounts for a large enough percentage of recurring revenue, they can wreak havoc on your support team and influence your product roadmap in undesirable directions.
So communicate to new sales hires exactly who you’re trying to sell to. This information can include company type or size, industry, and/or a particular role within a company. Most importantly, sales reps need to follow these guidelines.
“Stretch” deals can be pursued with proper communication and supervision — a deal desk is a great way to vet these with your team. But generally, when a standard set of criteria are met, selling and retaining customers will be a much simpler objective.
“What does the prospect’s company sell? Who do they sell it to? How do they make money? You have to be able to answer these questions to understand what the buyer cares about.”
Steve Richard | Co-Founder: ExecVision
Company, ideal fit, industry, and use case fall under the category of “macro-research.” The next step is to find out exactly to whom you will be selling. This research goes beyond merely finding the right role within an organization (although that is super-important).
Sales reps should learn how to dig deep when doing prospect research in order to understand an individual’s incentives. What positions have the decision makers held at past companies? What type of information will pique their interests? It’s also helpful to run a quick search for the prospects name in case they’ve published or contributed to any content recently. This will help to create a more well-rounded buyer persona and guide the selling process.
There is No Secret to Sales Success, Only Hard Work and Motivation
“I want my new reps to know that success is in their control. Too often, sales reps feel powerless as meetings get canceled and rescheduled, cold calls don’t get answered, and DocuSigns are never viewed. At the end of the day, hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard, and every rep has the power to put in maximum effort every day.”
Adam Liebman | Founding Member: The Revenue Collective
It’s no secret that the majority of cold calls are flops and the vast majority of cold emails go unopened or unresponded. After a while, these snubs start to feel even worse than flat-out rejections.
Sales managers should communicate this reality to their teams, and prepare them for the type of work they’ll encounter. The message isn’t “get used to failure,” but rather “learn how to dust yourself off and stay positive.”
You lose many more times than you win
Sales — especially entry-level sales — is a numbers game. That also means it’s an excellent opportunity for sales reps to experiment and innovate. AB testing email subject lines, varying calling hours, and tweaking call scripts are all measurable and replicable actions.
When you find something that works, double down and monitor the results. That’s how you turn “working smarter” from a catchphrase into an actual competitive edge.
“How to get kicked in the teeth and rebound from it.”
Jake Dunlap | CEO: Skaled
Even though we’ve said it already, it’s worth repeating. New sales representatives may make 50, 100, 150 calls in an afternoon and fail to book a single meeting. This does not spell doom. Let them know the realities of the industry and reinforce that good habits always generate results over time.
Stay Curious About Sales Techniques (and Everything, For That Matter)
“You must keep learning, even if it’s one blog post at a time, 20 minutes of reading at night, or audiobooks on your commute. Just do something that makes you a better you. And those things don’t have to be business related… One of the side effects of focusing on non-work learning is that it frees the mind to learn things you can apply at work.”
Richard Harris | Founder: The Harris Consulting Group
Successful sales professionals all share a drive to communicate better and sell more. Progress is a valuable currency in itself.
This desire to innovate and advance oneself is vital in today’s fast-paced markets. There will always be a new tool or emerging technology, and these will require adaptation on the part of your sales team.
But there’s a lot of value to learning about aspects tangential to selling, that may serve to motivate or improve sales performance. For example, a lot of great books focus on relevant themes for sales professionals, such as endurance, perseverance, persuasion, and psychology.
“Nothing guarantees your success, but you directly control it through your efforts to continuously learn and strive to succeed.”
Scott Leese | SVP Sales: Qualia, Bestselling Author
Furthermore, staying relevant with industry-specific news is a non-negotiable requirement. When competitors release new products or features, you’ll want your reps to adjust their sales techniques accordingly. Similarly, if a competitor drops out of the market, this becomes a prime opportunity to gain new business — you don’t want to be the last one to convert on a golden opportunity.
Sales Reps Should Find How Their Work Fits Into the Big Picture
“We know KPIs and metrics are important — they need to understand these expectations — but reps also need to appreciate the ‘why’ of where those expectations fit with the greater business goals. Especially with junior folks – they have to know their contribution is special/valuable.”
Greg Freeman | VP Sales: OneUP Sales
It’s easy to think of the sales floor as a world unto itself, separate from the rest of a company, where the monthly quota is the one and only goal. This, however, is not the case, and explaining (plus showing) how prospecting and selling contributes to the overall company mission builds strong professional bonds.
If this connection is underscored effectively, it can boost employee morale, decrease employee turnover, encourage collaboration, and improve performance within your sales team.
Not to mention, learning what other areas of the business are up to is a great sales training technique in its own right. Shadowing employees from different teams will teach new sales reps:
- Product/Engineering – What’s driving the product roadmap, and what lies ahead?
- Customer Support – How to clients actually use the product and what problems do they face?
- Marketing – How do we position our product, and what resources do we have to help advance prospects through the funnel?
No team is an island. New sales reps will learn the intricacies faster when they have a better idea of how they contribute to the company’s broader goals. This is a key feature of effective onboarding programs.
Stories Open More Minds (and Wallets)
“Storytelling. Simple, but not easy… Particularly for those salespeople that are earlier in their career development, mastering customer stories — ways you’ve helped others, and how your solution solves real business challenges — is the most effective way for them to find early success.”
Cliff Unger | Sales Director-Strategic Accounts: InVision
New employees need to learn everything they can about the industry, their prospects, and how the product increases value for customers.
The truth is, when pitching to a 15-year veteran VP of Marketing or a 20-year IT professional, an early-career sales representative will operate at a knowledge-deficit. This is why customer stories — and the way in which they are presented to prospects — are so important.
Good storytelling sales techniques follow a three-step formula.
1. There was a vital business need that wasn’t being met
2. Previous strategies and tools didn’t do the trick
3. Using your product is what eventually helped them achieve their goals
New sales reps should have multiple stories that follow this model on-deck and ready to be shared. The one they choose to deliver should be tailored to the prospect based on previous research and generalized buyer personas.
Overall, sales leaders want their new employees to understand a few main points that will eventually guide their onboarding processes and careers.
Success will not come easy. Rejection is common and representatives should not be discouraged if things don’t go according to plan early on. By sharing accurate statistics about what to expect, sales managers can prepare their teams for realistic goals and methodical attainment methods.
Research never stops. Learning will always be in fashion for sales professionals. Whether that means learning about individual prospects, researching a company’s revenue model, keeping up with industry trends, or reading a motivational book, this knowledge is fuel for productive sales conversations.
Confidence helps. So as a new sales rep, you know now that you will fail often and there’s a lot you don’t know. Daunting, right? The important thing is to embrace the rejections and learn from them. Stay hungry and never be intimidated by the prospect. Even if you don’t have years of experience, you have stories, scripts, and sales enablement content at your disposal.
Finally, sales is one of the oldest professions because it’s one of the best. Sure, there are objections and no-thank-yous, but there’s also an unlimited potential for growth. This is one of the few positions where entry-level employees can make large impacts (not to mention large amounts of money) at the beginning of their careers. This, and the sage advice from those who have succeeded before you, provides ample motivation to move forward with swagger.