The onboarding process allows your team to learn and practice sales in a more effective way. Learn some tips to how to conduct effective onboarding sessions that’ll turn newbie reps into star sellers.
In this article:
- The Importance of the Onboarding Process in Sales
- The Goal of Onboarding
- What Topics Should You Cover?
- The Science of Learning
- Four Weeks of Onboarding… to Start With
- What You Need
- Call Best Practices Library
- Tribal Training
- Tribal Training Sessions
- Management Involvement
- Things to Look Out For – Onboarding Risks
Onboarding Sales Development | A Game Changer for New Reps
Sales Onboarding Definition: A method businesses use to aid newly-hired sales reps in enhancing sales skills, behaviors, and knowledge to effectively reach company goals.
The Importance of the Onboarding Process in Sales
Having a world-class onboarding process is a gamechanger for every part of the sales process. If you have a great onboarding program, you can:
- Hire better
- Retain people better
- Reps start their jobs the right way
- There is higher goal attainment
The better you train people from the beginning, the better the results are down the line.
This is especially true for sales development representatives—if they know they are going to be trained very well, you can get great people coming right out of college, and you can hold on to them, too. This is because they know the company took the time to take care of them.
The number of companies today that don’t onboard at all is shocking.
Taking individuals who have not been taught how to sell and telling them to make it up as they go is a really poor idea in terms of becoming a successful sales organization.
If you’re not providing an onboarding experience to your reps right now, you need to start.
The Goal of Onboarding
The goal of onboarding new employees is to get an individual ready to do their job, and not just teaching them how to do their job.
Starting people in sales before being trained on how to sell is not a good idea.
It is your opportunity to get someone “ready” for their job. If you just teach them “how” to do their job, they will not be successful.
The idea of just throwing someone to the wolves, or “trial by fire,” just doesn’t work in sales. They will get eaten or burnt.
Name any other industry that treats people this way. Nursing doesn’t work like that, and neither should sales.
What Topics Should You Cover?
Here is the employee onboarding checklist you need to cover in training your sales team:
- Company mission and values
- Expectation of the role
- Problem you solve
- Industry knowledge
- Persona training
- Message training
- Objections training
- Technology stack
- Process training
- Time management
All of these need to be covered in a successful onboarding. If you’re missing a few of these, you’re going to miss out on results down the line. If you’re just handing them a script or a product, you will miss out.
Notice that I didn’t include product training, but rather the problem you are solving. The industry you are serving and the persona you are helping is where you need to focus.
A lot of large organizations focus on product in their training versus what that product does for the people you are targeting. If you are just giving people a script regarding the product, you are not helping them.
The Science of Learning
Most of my and other managers’ time is spent re-teaching the same things over and over again. So, I spent some time looking at the science of learning because I felt people aren’t learning right – and that’s maybe because we’re not teaching it right.
One thing that really stood out was the amount of repetition needed for learning something, which is immense and way more than people expect. This is why repetition and reinforcement need to be your primary focus for effective onboarding.
If there is no repetition and reinforcement to what you’re teaching, people won’t learn it.
At times, managers will say they don’t want to hire veteran sales representatives because they don’t want to spend the time to un-teach them of bad habits. You don’t really need to do that though.
You need to teach them new habits, and that is done with repetition.
If you have someone who has done cold calling a certain way for a thousand times and you hand them a script telling them to do it another way, it is not going to work. They need repetition, so people can actually learn it.
Each topic they learn should have four elements:
- Visual – something they are looking at to illustrate the concept
- Listening – something they hear about it
- Doing – an action that they are performing to learn the new concept
- Testing feedback – when they are scored on whether they are doing a good job
Make no mistakes—this includes process training.
Do you actually test people on how well they know your process? How well do they log things in Salesforce?
Salespeople have a bad rep about these things, but how well do we really teach these boring little admin tasks during sales onboarding?
We need to teach it better and test people on it.
Four Weeks of Onboarding… to Start With
This is why for me, four weeks is the minimum amount of time you should spend on a sales onboarding strategy. To expect anyone to learn everything, they need to perform in sales, and to expect less than that is just silly.
Plus, their ramped quota is the important key performance indicator for a new salesperson. The ramp quota should incrementally increase after a salesperson gets hired, making sure management’s expectations are kept in check while the new hire acquires the skills needed to get them ready to perform.
If managers say they need salespeople on the phone sooner so they can “produce revenue sooner,” it’s always a good idea to take a step back. A salesperson’s performance on the first two weeks of the job is not important – what is important is the ramped quota.
I would rather spend more time in the beginning to get them ramped the right way.
Make sure you are focusing on the right metrics, like speed to productivity, rather than expecting for new reps to book their first meeting on the first day.
Don’t stop at four weeks either – salespeople need to keep learning continually, but they need to have at least four weeks of learning mapped out for them.
What You Need
I’ve gathered a list of some tools you need to get started with a sales onboarding program.
Expectations and Standards Document
The standards of excellence for the team should reflect the following essentials:
- How they should behave
- How the team talks to each other
- What the daily activities quota attainment and growth are
- When they meet
After reading, every new sales rep needs to sign this document. If someone is not living up to these standards, you can remind them they signed it.
Your onboarding tasks include needing to record every single training session you give. If you don’t have any training videos, just buy a GoPro camera and start recording.
This way, you don’t teach the same thing over and over again and double down on work. Just record yourself once and it scales out for future onboarding sessions.
The videos should be 15-30 minutes long, and they need to contain all they need to learn about a particular topic. Make sure they can watch the training before the coaching session, so they are familiarized with the content and better prepared for it.
Testing and Scorecards
You should have scorecards built for your calls and for your objection handling answers. This helps them ramp up faster because they can give themselves the feedback you would give as a manager.
If they know what is expected of them on each and every call, they can give you feedback on where they are struggling and where they need help.
Additionally, the scorecard allows you to show that someone is actually ready for their job at the end of the onboarding process. This takes the subjectivity out of the feedback mechanism.
Call Best Practices Library
You need a call best practices library that allows sales development reps to learn the desired behaviors for the job. This way, you can stop having your reps “shadow” the veterans to learn – it’s usually a waste of time.
You need sales reps to hear what the best sales calls sound like from the best sides. These are the “good” examples of how to cold call, and they should be listening to these non-stop.
Here’s what your employee onboarding best practices library should contain (and it should be updated and organized regularly):
- Losses (the epic crash and burns)
It’s important to showcase the bad calls, too, to remove some of the fear of bad calls.
Once you have these elements in place, you can move on to “tribal training.” This is a concept I recently introduced and which revolutionized the way we do sales onboarding.
It’s my new onboarding secret weapon, and it helps me get double the learning in half the time.
Tribal training is, historically, the way humans have learned best. The concept of one single person teaching multiple people is pretty new – we used to have the tribe teach the tribe.
This method has just one outcome in mind: repetition, repetition, and repetition.
With tribal training, sales development representatives are getting four hours of practice each day, spread out across the team and managers. They are taught by other members of the team, and it is 100% volunteer-based (the teacher is a volunteer).
There are many reasons to have such a learning program in place. Here’s just a few:
- You get more repetition for new SDR’s.
- Uses dual learning methods (it’s just as good for the trainer as it is for the trainee).
- Quick introduction (acclimation) to the team.
- You get a much stronger culture – the team starts to feel like a tribe.
- It holds both sides accountable to results.
- It is much easier to scale (training is no longer on the manager’s shoulders).
Tribal Training Sessions
Make sure your tribal training sessions follow these requirements:
- One-hour-long blocks
- Based on high repetition (practicing the messaging or the process)
- Have minimal feedback from managers or reps
- Focus only on certain parts of scripting to ensure it is easily a digestible material
- Notes are shared among the trainers
A daily schedule format for a new sales development representative might look like this:
- Self-guided learning (watching videos, best practices learning, and reading playbooks) for two hours
- Classroom teaching (reinforcing the topic of the day, real-world application, and Q & A session) for two hours
- Practice/repetition with real-world experience and escalating difficulty (four hours)
The goal of this program is to allow sales development representatives to increase the number of repetitions they get before actually hitting the phones.
From a manager’s perspective, there are some imperatives:
- Check-in scores for new reps at the end of the week
- One hour per day spent onboarding the reps (spread across the group)
- At the end of the new employee onboarding plan, the new people need to pass the leadership role (they need to roleplay the VP or CEO)
- Drop in on tribal training sessions impromptu (to take some pressure off the managers)
Things to Look Out For – Onboarding Risks
Like with any training program, there are risks you need to watch out for in onboarding activities. You can easily mitigate risks with the tribal training method; just watch out for the following:
Sometimes, there is mismatching feedback, but you can catch it easily if the managers are taking notes and if the sales development reps are being tested at the end of each week.
The “What If” Funnel
Do not let the sales development reps hijack the training session by asking hundreds of questions. If it’s not immediately applicable, that’s not what the practice sessions are for.
It’s more important to make sure they get the repetitions they need to practice, rather than get answers for hypothetical questions.
Coaches Giving Too Much Feedback
Some managers want to share everything or some best practices that aren’t really useful in this case. Managers need to give really simple feedback focused on getting as many repetitions as possible.
Remember, before a sales development rep ever reaches a prospect on the phone, they should have practiced the call hundreds of times before. This is the only way you can make sure they had the chance to make any mistakes they could make – before they talk to the prospect.
Understanding what the onboarding process is and how it can help boost the performance of your sales team will give you more reasons to use this technique to sharpen the skills of your sales reps. The onboarding practices may require time, but the rewards you will reap from it will be worth the effort and time.
Have you tried a good onboarding sales process? How was the performance of your sales team? Tell us in the comments section.