The most important part of any relationship is the beginning. This is especially true when companies battle to attract and retain top talent. Onboarding plays a crucial role in first impressions, as well as the productivity and long-term happiness of employees within an organization.
But even talented sales candidates can turn into liabilities if their first few weeks (and months) on the job aren’t managed effectively. It’s up to you and your sales team to provide a comprehensive, effective, and engaging onboarding process.
So whether your team is small or large, remote or in-house, these tips will ensure your sales training creates skilled employees and builds team unity.
Table of Contents
- Sales Onboarding Stakes
- Common Mistakes to Avoid
- Your Onboarding Program
- Structuring a Ramp-Up Period
- Technology That Helps Sales Training
- Sales Mentorship Programs
- Recruit to Retain Sales Employees
What you need to know about onboarding new salespeople
There are real stakes in your onboarding process
Ineffective and/or inefficient onboarding processes can have serious negative consequences. New hires won’t be able to contribute productively for a longer period of time, and if they’re unable to recover, they’re more likely to experience burnout and leave.
In essence, a bad sales onboarding experience is equivalent to a mishire — and potentially more costly. Conservative estimates put the financial burden of a mishire at six to nine months of that employee’s salary, but there are many more factors at play:
- Time spent interviewing
- Time spent training
- Missed team targets
- Decreased morale
In addition to these quantifiable consequences, poorly equipped employees may also give rise to this culture of micromanagement, which in turn can further decrease morale and productivity. Not to mention, it’s hard to retrain bad habits.
Common problems to avoid during sales onboarding
To give new sales hires the best chance of reaching their potential within your team, Try to avoid these missteps during the onboarding process.
Long Presentations. You naturally want to maximize knowledge sharing, but new sales employees are probably a little nervous for the first few days. To ensure everything sinks in properly, keep presentations short, ideally no longer than 30 minutes. Presenting information in more digestible chunks allows fresh sales professionals to ask questions and engage with sales leaders — significantly improving retention.
A Short Onboarding Period. If your training is too short, your reps may not have had enough repetitions to learn your sales process. If agent’s don’t know how to document interactions properly, or if they don’t know how to use your sales software, any system you’ve established will be thrown into disarray. Autonomy is a vital trait to look for when hiring sales representatives, but relying too heavily on this independence can lead to inconsistencies and lost communications.
A Long Onboarding Period. If the teaching phase of your sales onboarding program stretches on for weeks or months, agents risk permanently assuming the role of a novice. That is to say, when they feel uncertain about their actions, they’ll lack the autonomy needed to work unmonitored. This will not only hurt their chances of attaining quota, but it will detract from managers’ and other representatives’ time.
A Lack of Practical Skills. You want your new sales employees to understand and appreciate the company’s mission and values, but these can be presented effectively over coffee and pastries sometime during the first week. The majority of sales reps’ first days on the job should be spent getting familiar with the team’s software, processes, and routine. Teach the hard skills first, then focus on philosophy.
Create an effective onboarding program for sales representatives
Give new sales reps immediate access to the software they’ll be using whenever possible. In fact, it’s best to get all this set up before they step foot in the office. Every minute they don’t have access to the processes your sales team is currently using is a minute wasted. (Hyperbole, but almost not…)
Have them watch video tutorials and use these to create quizzes. In-depth knowledge of these platforms will be gained through shadowing more experienced representatives.
Build Phone Skills
Modern phones allow for your new representatives to observe active calls undetected. Make sure this process isn’t passive. New reps should be taking notes consistently and ready to ask a variety of questions if necessary.
But then, the roles should be reversed, and experienced sales reps should monitor the new hires. On-call experience is a vital part of the sales onboarding process, and sales agents should experience real — albeit supervised — calls before going completely solo.
Interviewing Other Departments
Sales is a unique position. On one hand, it is a very specific function: to increase revenue by acquiring new customers. On the other hand, sales representatives have to be company generalists and product experts. No other department will field as many direct questions related to the product and company in such high-stakes scenarios.
This is why it’s highly beneficial for new representatives to interview and shadow teams other than their own. This will give them an inside look at how everything is made, why it was made that way, and how issues are resolved or remedied. Specifically, new sales reps should shadow support agents answering help tickets. This, additionally, gives them an idea of how clients use the product and where pain points can occur.
Include Checkpoints and Quizzes
Quantifiable progress is a good indicator that onboarding is going well. New hires should take (and study for) checkpoints and quizzes to show they’re ramping up according to schedule. Subject areas of emphasis should include:
- Product knowledge
- Software skills
- Proper documentation of conversations
- Company history and culture
The value of a ramp-up period
Why should you allow new sales talent ramp time?
Unless you’re hiring a highly experienced pro, they will likely need time to establish foundational sales knowledge and skills. Putting too much pressure to meet quota early on will inevitably lead to excess stress and decreased productivity.
Your employees have lives and responsibilities. If they’re too worried about making rent or paying off loans, they’re unlikely to absorb the information necessary to succeed at work.
You can alleviate this stress by making goal attainment easier for the first few weeks and months as a seller.
If you give new employees too much work too soon, you risk creating feelings of insecurity and incompetence. This results in premature burnout and mental fatigue.
A slow ramp-up process, however, will impact sales readiness. It doesn’t prepare reps for the expectations of the job. They won’t be able to complete work efficiently, and they’re likely to miss targets once quota’s reach their expected values.
What should you expect from a good sales ramp-up program?
A good ramp-up process teaches the processes and routines of salespeople in your organization while removing excess risk of failure. Additionally, it lets new employees become accustomed to the environment and company culture while learning the skills they need to succeed.
Furthermore, the slower pace allows new representatives to attempt their workflows without supervision from mentors or supervisors. Productive sellers are autonomous individuals and go-getters.
Furthermore, there’s a good chance that reps will exceed targets during this period. This builds confidence and affinity for the organization.
What do you need to learn in the sales ramp-up program to be successful?
The lightened workload is meant to ensure that sales team members follow the correct processes when prospecting clients and discussing the product. When these processes break down, communication records can be lost, and metrics become less precise. (And, more importantly, leads can’t be attributed to the correct sales representative.)
Furthermore, time that will eventually be spent in direct-sales activities can be used to learn more about the product and company. It’s during this period that new reps will do the majority of their reading on competitors and the industry space.
How technology helps get new salespeople up to speed
Why should you rely on technology to get new salespeople up to speed?
Even though employee onboarding has traditionally been considered qualitative in nature, more and more can be quantified in the digital age. Using software that tracks new-hire progress and administers tests can help team leaders know where they need to provide additional assistance.
Furthermore, onboarding works best if there’s an established process. Repeatable steps and phases are important not only for providing consistent and accurate information but also for creating bonds and shared experiences amongst employees.
But industries also change rapidly. While the onboarding process may stay the same for months and years, the technologies new employees need to master might change. Digital onboarding documents and processes are more scalable than traditional media.
What is the best technology for getting new salespeople up to speed?
From an organizational level, you want onboarding resources that are easily shareable and can be monitored for progress.
For workflows, you’ll first want a tool that lets employees and managers track progress. There are a number of project management and team tracking tools, but two more popular options include Trello and Process Street.
Documentation is another requisite of any organized employee onboarding. Google Apps — for spreadsheets, presentations, and word documents — is a popular mainstay of many organizations. However, collaboration-specific tools like Notion and Evernote could prove more intuitive for some teams’ needs.
But no sales training would be complete without modules covering sales calls.
It can be a nerve-racking process — getting on the phone for the first time for a new organization — but advanced phone technologies have made the process easier.
For example, call shadowing, call whispering, and call barging are three tools that allow supervisors to monitor, advise, and intervene (respectively) during onboarding phases. Furthermore, complete call recordings can be easily stored and accessed, so supervisors and new employees can review their calls just as an athlete would review game footage.
Assigning Mentors to New Sales Hires
Why should you use mentors to ease the transition into a sales role for new employees?
When a new employee begins, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. After all, they’re learning dozens of new names, faces, and workflows. The primary role of assigning a mentor to each new employee is to give them a point of contact for any questions or concerns that may arise.
A lot of onboarding processes are automated, and technology plays a (justifiably) big role in streamlining the process. However, the mentor-mentee relationship humanizes the beginning of a new role.
Furthermore, individuals within the organization — if designated to do so — can provide instant feedback to new employees. With so many technologies and indirect forms of communication, it’s comforting to know that there’s somebody who’s willing and open to help you out in a chaotic moment.
How can you choose the best mentors to ease the transition for new employees?
While your organization may have a lot of really knowledgeable and effective salespeople, not everyone is always a great mentor for new sales hires. The ideal candidates for this internal role are:
High Performers. They consistently hit or exceed their sales targets and follow industry best practices. They also read sales literature and blogs (plus listen to sales podcasts) outside of work. They show an ability and desire to learn tips and trick, and they show genuine interest in career advancement.
Articulate. Just because you’re good at your job doesn’t mean you’re skilled at articulating what it is that makes you successful. Good mentors are able to break down their processes and analyze successes/failures. This makes your sales onboarding program effective — new hires learn from past experience.
Enjoy Team Success. Even though selling is competitive by nature, good mentors thrive most when everyone around them is succeeding. Without this sense of camaraderie, new sales representatives are unlikely to get the individual attention they need, especially if it detracts at all from the mentor’s work.
Patient. Every new employee has a different learning curve. Some will learn software dashboards and call scripts in a few hours, others may take a couple of weeks to achieve mastery. A good mentor is willing to offer assistance and see the onboarding program through.
How can you make good matches between mentors and mentees?
If hiring practices have been followed and company culture is secure, there shouldn’t be any detrimental matches between sales mentors and mentees. However, ideal matches will require a bit of an eye for compatibility.
For example, the stereotypical sales rep is outgoing, extraverted, and talkative. In reality, many reps are more subdued and prefer to speak strategically. Pairing similar personalities together may increase camaraderie and encourage open communication.
The opposite effect may also prove beneficial — that is to say, matching opposite personalities to promote a balanced sales approach — but in general, a new job is exciting enough on its own. Mentor-mentee conversations should promote a safe space where thoughts, encouragement, and criticism can be shared effortlessly.
Recruit to retain new salespeople
Onboarding new sales representatives will prove to be a frustrating and fruitless task if your company culture and practices don’t retain high performing individuals.
What are the most effective ways to retain NEW salespeople?
Establish the Process. If this article has taught anything, it should be the importance of an organized and thoughtful sales onboarding process. How your new salespeople begin their employment determines initial success, which in turn leads to long-term stress levels and overall job satisfaction.
Provide a Grace Period. Part and parcel to this process is not overwhelming new agents with too much responsibility or workload early on. Easing employees into their daily (and monthly) tasks during a ramp-up period is the preferred way.
Create Room to Fail. Good sales onboarding strikes a balance somewhere between “swim-or-die” and “participation trophy.” It’s important that your sales training not take too long, since even a few weeks of lost productivity — for both new hires and trainers — can add up to significant reductions in revenue. However, quota targets should naturally be smaller than experienced agents, and there shouldn’t be consequences for initial failures. These are learning experiences and shouldn’t create a defeatist mentality.
Acknowledge Achievements. Benchmarks aren’t just there to be checked-off and forgotten. These are concrete accomplishments that your new sales representatives have worked to achieve. Announcements to your team that they’ve successfully completed another step in the onboarding process will let them know their hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed.
Make Them Feel Welcome and Wanted. Interactions shouldn’t just remain between mentor and mentee. Make sure everyone on the team introduces themselves and is available to answer questions or simply talk. Sales is a competitive field, but humans are social animals. If new employees feel like they’re part of a unit, they’ll be more comfortable and energized to continue doing good work.
How do you retain top-performing salespeople?
Training the next generation of sales professionals at your company requires a wealth of knowledge from experience and successful professionals. If you can’t retain these high-performing individuals, the information flow won’t be complete. Documentation and learning resources can only go so far without a human component.
Here are a few common ways to make sure your top salespeople stay happy and devoted to your organization.
Compensation and Promotion. It shouldn’t go without saying, salespeople like making money — it’s a prerequisite of the job. A fair and enticing commission structure is the classic, and reliable, means of making sure sales employees are motivated to continue doing their best work. Additionally, there should be room for growth within the organization. More compensation is an excellent short term goal, but individual-performance and management-based promotions should also be tangible goals.
Showing Trust and Awarding Freedom. Modern sales teams should be equipped with technology that isn’t physically tethered to a workstation. Cloud-based communication, such as chat, text, and telephone, as well as collaborative CRM software tools, mean that work isn’t restricted to the office.
Rewarding strong performance with the flexibility to work remotely breaks up everyday monotony and alleviates stress. Also, while occasional remote work is a benefit most technology-focused companies are adopting,
Personal Development Budgets. Show your hard-working employees that their talents and personalities are valued. Many high performing reps will want to learn new skills to help them take their careers to an even higher place. In addition to the individual incentives, this could potentially add value to your organization.
But even if there’s no direct impact on win rates, providing employees with opportunities to enhance their lives outside of work will have a positive influence on performance and morale. Extracurricular subsidies, like for gym membership, will help your workplace edge out any competition in the HR sphere.
Final thoughts for sales managers
Your onboarding strategy should primarily be one that promotes the practical skills to achieve sales performance on a daily basis. Larger company initiatives are also fundamental to the onboarding experience but should be presented in an engaging and brief manner.
Additional emphasis should also focus on not onboarding sales reps with too much information too quickly. This can be achieved through a defined period of ramp time, where new hires can experience the sales cycle in a controlled, slower-pace setting. Easing new sales professionals into the role will have the added benefit of providing time to interview and learn from other team leaders and coworkers.
Finally, good onboarding doesn’t end after a couple of months. Sales coaching should be an ongoing objective for sales managers. As product knowledge and sales methodologies continue to evolve, this onboarding and training will keep your representatives successful.