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Sales Onboarding: A Complete Guide for Onboarding New Sales Professionals

Sales performance improvement

how to train new sales reps

May 25, 2022Article

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What is Sales Onboarding?

Onboarding is the process of bringing a new employee onto the team. Onboarding usually occurs over a period of days or weeks. During this time the new hire develops the skills needed to do their job. In most cases, these learned skills are in addition to the ones they have acquired from their experience selling.

Importance of Having a Structured Plan for Onboarding New Sales Professionals

Effective onboarding is becoming a rising priority for businesses for two reasons.

  1. Effective onboarding helps drive more value from the costs associated with bringing a new sales professional onto the team. Consider that the cost of replacing an employee often ranges from one-half to two times the person’s annual salary according to research from Gallup.
  2. Onboarding is important because it represents an early opportunity to empower a new team member with the best possible tools for becoming successful. A conscientious approach to onboarding demonstrates leadership’s commitment to a new hire. This approach leads to a more engaged employee who will “produce better business outcomes than other employees — across industry, company size and nationality, and in good economic times and bad,” according to Gallup data collected from more than 195,600 U.S. employees.

Sales Onboarding Goals

An effective onboarding process aims to achieve three key goals: equipping the new hire with the right mindset, skillset, and toolset to succeed.

The Right Mindset

Gaining the right mindset should be the first goal because having the right mindset is a precursor to developing the right skillset and toolset. To develop the right mindset the new sales professional needs to learn the “why” behind the organization’s approach to selling. When the sales professionals understand the reasoning and logic behind the organization's way of doing things they develop buy-in. This buy-in is critical for building the stamina necessary to meet the other two goals of onboarding

The Right Skill Set

Once the seller has the right mindset they can begin to develop the right skill set. This step precedes gaining the right toolset because the tools are what the seller uses to execute the selling skills. This middle stage of onboarding is often the largest. Sellers must learn the selling methodology, the approach to prospecting, negotiating skills, and the product differentiators. To fully adopt the right skills sellers need to engage with the material in a range of mediums. Learning is most effective when it combines instructor-led teaching, digital learning, assessments, games, video, and role-play.

Learn about the skills we can help your team build by clicking here.

The Right Tool Set

Finally, the seller must learn the right toolset. The tools serve two purposes. First, they allow sellers to apply the skills they have learned. Second, they act as a sustainment tool. Many of the selling tools are embedded in the seller’s CRM and therefore become intertwined with the selling process. For this reason, the process of learning the right toolset is sometimes simultaneous with learning the skill set. 

Click here to explore our Salesforce native CRM tools that ensure better selling behaviors.

7 Best Practices and Processes for Sales Onboarding

Businesses need a better way to onboard. This is especially true for sales organizations for which time-to-productivity is central to success.

1. Communicate Commitment

Leaders need to communicate that they’re invested both financially and professionally in new hires’ success. Doing so fosters a sense of shared goals. When sales professionals learn that the business has allocated resources for their success, they’ll become more committed.

2.  Engage Mobile Learning

New sales professionals move from one meeting to another. Therefore, they need mobile-optimized learning tools that follow them everywhere. The idea is to minimize time out of the market and allow sales professionals to pursue revenue goals while learning.

3.  Shadow Team Members

Selling is a contact sport. New sales professionals need to get on the field fast. The best way to do this is with a coaching program. This kind of program doesn’t need to be complex or even consist of many parts. Many sales leaders will find that shadowing works well.

4.  Start Role Playing

Role-playing is a quick way for new sales professionals to build confidence and practice specific selling skills. This approach builds capabilities through repeated exposure. While the environment is simulated, sales professionals are still performing in front of peers and managers, which creates heightened tension similar to real selling.

Check out this blog for some examples of consultative selling role-playing exercises.

5.  Build a Sustainment Strategy

True sustainment is more than simply maintaining skills. Real sustainment means getting better. Developing a sustainment strategy also means setting expectations through clear, in-person communication that articulates measurable goals.

6.  Drive Engagement Early and Often

Sales leaders should take immediate steps to outline their vision for an employee’s role in the company. Doing so gives them a sense of agency, which is empowering. This empowerment boosts one’s “locus of control,” or the degree to which they believe they have control over the outcome of their work.

7.  Draft a Collaborative Definition of Success

It takes time to form a definition of success shared by the new seller and the sales manager. The sales leaders likely has specific numeric goals while new hire may have more nuanced “soft” goals. Balancing the two is a challenge. By putting the effort in early, the sales leader sets the seller up for success because all efforts drive toward one goal.

The Most Common Mistakes Sales Organizations Make in the Onboarding Process

Effective onboarding is as much about avoiding mistakes as it is about making the right moves. Sales leaders should be mindful of these three common pitfalls.

1. Confusing the Order of Events

Onboarding is like building a house. The right steps must occur in the right order. First, there is a foundation, then a framework, then a roof. Onboarding is no different. The basics must come first. Often the seller is presented with numerous materials like digital tools, printed material, and in-person training all at once. Introduce each piece in the right order so each component builds on the last.

2. Succumbing to Information Overload

Some have referred to this as “drinking from the fire hose.” Resist the tendency to present all the information at once. Allow the sales professional to absorb one piece before moving to the next. The key is to get the seller comfortable with each section or module before moving to the next.

3. Lacking a Single Coach

During the onboarding process, the seller will be in contact with many people including other sellers, department heads, and various team leads. Therefore, the seller needs a central point of contact that serves as a “home base.” the sales leader is best suited for this role and can be a resource for answers when the seller has a question about the many things they are learning.

The Three Phases of an Effective Onboarding Plans for New Sales Reps

Phase 1: 

Understand the Sales Methodology

Sales professionals need to understand the core selling methodology. In this early phase, they should learn the core concepts underpinning the organization’s approach to selling.

  • Define the methodology
  • Explain the steps to the methodology
  • Show why it works and why it is in use

Understand the Pipeline Configuration

New sales professionals must learn how many stages the organization’s funnel has and what those stages are and how they are defined. This information tells the seller how they will classify the stage of each prospect they engage.

  • Explain what characteristics differentiate each stage
  • Detail how a lead moves from one stage to the next
  • Demonstrate how the messaging differs in each stage

Understand the Core Differentiators

Sellers need to know how to position the product or service in relation to competing solutions. The earlier they understand the differentiators the better they will be at articulating those unique characteristics within the context of the customer’s business.

  • Review why the differentiator's matter
  • Share case studies showing how differentiators won the sale
  • Share examples of messaging used to articulate differentiators

Phase 2

Learn the CRM Tools and Capabilities

In most cases, the CRM system and tools support the selling methodology. Therefore, this is a natural part of the second phase of onboarding. The CRM system is also the place where most sellers are expected to record their progress for each pursuit.

  • Explain how CRM activities drive the sale rather than just record it
  • Show the link between the CRM system capabilities and the selling methodology
  • Demonstrate how the data the seller inputs are used to make company decisions

Learn the Communication Cadence

Most selling organizations will have some formalized communication cadence for sellers to follow when interacting with prospects. New sellers will need to learn how often they are expected to contact prospects. This is also a good time for sellers to get acquainted with the sales enablement team and the resources they have for delivering compelling messages to leads.

  • Clearly define how many “touches” should occur at each stage of the sale
  • Describe how the messaging should change based on the point in the pursuit
  • Explain the different messaging resources available to the seller

Learn the Core Sales Metrics

Once the seller has a grasp of the methods they need to learn the metrics on which they will be measured when they begin selling. For most organizations, these metrics include win rate, time to productivity, quota attainment, contract value, and sales cycle among others.

  • Detail why each metric is used
  • Explain how frequently each metric is measured
  • Offer benchmarks and targets for each metric

Learn more about selling metrics by downloading the brief, 8 Critical Selling Metrics here.

Phase 3

Develop Account Planning Techniques

Sellers should learn to address both the width and height of accounts. That is, they should learn how to develop several relationships within an account (width) and how to make those relationships deep, and meaningful (depth). This approach will be critical later when the seller attempts to increase their penetration into a customer’s white space.

  • Offer techniques for engaging with senior-level stakeholders
  • Describe the criteria sellers should use for determining which accounts to focus on
  • Share ideas on how to track changes in a customer’s business

Develop Negotiation Skills

Winning the sale and preserving the chance for future business means knowing how to negotiate mutually beneficial outcomes. Sellers need to learn how to deliver an opening, engage in trading strategies, and control outcomes. Sellers also need to know how to convert the customer’s demand to a need that can be met in a variety of ways.

  • Show how questions serve as a tool for understanding what the customer values
  • Share a structure the seller can use during each negotiation
  • Demonstrate how the seller can identify tradable items before negotiating

Develop Skills for Selling to C-Suite Stakeholders

Earning a chance at success with the C-suite means proving credibility in the first 5 minutes. Sellers need to learn how to do so because C-suite stakeholders are increasingly involved in purchasing decisions. In the third phase of onboarding, sellers must learn how to demonstrate their capabilities in front of executives

  • Show the seller how to gain a deeper understanding of a customer’s business
  • Explain how the seller can articulate their value succinctly
  • Offers methods for mapping the solution to the customer’s world

Sales Onboarding Program Checklist

Like the sales funnel the onboarding process should begin broadly and progressively get more narrow. This means getting new sellers acclimated to the organization with general information first then getting more detailed as onboarding continues.

  • Build an onboarding schedule that outlines the entire process by a week
  • Identify the seller’s coach or point of contact for the entirety of onboarding
  • Provide an overview of the selling methodology
  • Explain the pipeline model used and its parts
  • Review the details of the solution and its differentiators
  • Begin CRM and digital tool training
  • Map the communication cadence so sellers develop an outreach pattern
  • Detail the core sales metrics used by the leadership to gauge performance
  • Share account planning strategies that equip sellers to grow account in the long term
  • Outline key negotiation skills for maximizing deal value
  • Offer training and tools for selling to senior-level stakeholders
  • Review the resources and capabilities found within sales enablement
  • Schedule brief meetings for sellers to meet each department head
  • Provide 1 win review and 1 loss review to demonstrate what works
  • Discuss messaging strategies that enable the seller to articulate value concisely
connected selling training curriculum

Connected Selling Curriculum

A deep & modern sales curriculum enables you to develop your individual sellers against role-based competencies aligned to needs while achieving consistency across teams.

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Bringing it all together

Onboarding is the best and earliest opportunity to set a new seller up for success.

The reality, however, is that only 12% of employees strongly agree that their company does a great job of onboarding according to the same body of research from Gallup. Therefore, businesses need a better way to onboard. This is especially true for sales organizations for which time-to-productivity is central to success.

A sales organization can overcome this common shortcoming by following the steps outlined above. The key is to approach the onboarding experience as a front-loaded cost. Devoting time and attention to the design of onboarding yields results later. Onboarding only happens once.

Click here to contact us and learn how Richardson Sales Performance can help your sales organization improve the onboarding process with a range of sales training programs that teach sellers to take an agile approach to a changing market.

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