Four sales onboarding essentials every manager should know
July 13, 2017
by Natalie Steck
There’s a wealth of information on sales onboarding; in fact, there’s so much advice available online that just thinking about where to start is enough to make any sales manager want to put it off for good. But that would be a huge mistake.
Whether you’re running an established sales team or growing yours, there are certain onboarding principles that you need to adhere to as you work towards peak sales performance.
Today onboarding isn’t just a one-time thing, existing sales reps need refreshers on processes, tools and market developments. If you don’t focus on onboarding newbies (and re-boarding for seasoned team members), old reps develop bad habits, new reps adopt them, and efficiency and sales take a nosedive.
Most of the research I’ve seen says that that onboarding programs rely on a set of basic parts that come together and give reps all the right kind of knowledge and experience so that they can hit the ground running. No surprises there, right? The details of how the parts work are what I find interesting. Here are four areas that I believe are essential for successful sales onboarding programs:
1. Sales onboarding starts during the recruitment process
There’s a very popular SlideShare and article on this subject, both of which were published by Mike Kunkle. Kunkle, a freelance Sales Transformation Strategist suggests that hiring right is the first step to effective onboarding. There are many ways that companies assess talent, and there isn’t enough time to dive into all the approaches, however, making yours a documented and strategic process that complements your business is what really matters.
Finding the right person to join your sales organization has to be seen as a long-term engagement. It costs too much to train staff only to see them leave because “the fit was wrong”.
2. Ramp-up time is relative, but enablement material helps
Another equally appealing statistic out on the web today (also in Kunkle’s article) is that the most effective onboarding timeframe is between 3 and 18 months. While that sounds about right, there’s a lot to be considered if you’re trying to determine when your reps are expected to become top performers.
Some sales people are naturals; they just assimilate the role, exude confidence and get the job done faster than most. Others are slower to ramp up, but once they get going, they’re consistent and self-sufficient. It’s like this for a number of reasons: anything from the complexity of your product, your unique character traits, to the quality of your sales training, which is why you’ve got to look at what your ramp-up timeframe is and optimize it as best you can.
One of the simplest and quickest ways to get reps into gear is with accurate, concise and easy to understand information on your products. Your sales enablement content can include anything, but it must enable sales.
One impactful approach I’ve seen came from Close.io’s CEO, Steli Efti. Efti’s approach is pretty straightforward and he says it’s geared towards turning newbies into product experts immediately. He came up with the idea when running Elastic Sales, an outsourced sales force for startups in Silicon Valley. As you can imagine, he always received pushback about how impossible it was for an outsourced sales team to quickly ramp up and sell complex tech solutions.
Efti’s response was pretty smart. He knows that it takes a while to ramp up sales reps, and that like the sales process, the ramp-up process is filled with loads of questions. So he decided to create a list of 20 to 30 of the most common questions that customers ask sales people. He’d then give those to each new rep to study until they were confident enough to answer the questions with the perfect answer. Not the most revolutionary idea, but this approach landed Elastic Sales more business from startups in need of effective salespeople.
3. Know thy customer
You know how painful it is to be a poorly-qualified lead. That sales rep finally gets hold of you and all you can do is cringe as you hear a sales pitch that doesn’t apply to you. It could happen to your prospects too if your reps don’t know who they need to be going after.
There’s no sales process that can conclude with a favorable outcome if your reps don’t have the most intimate understanding of who your target customers are and what keeps them up at night. Make sure that your reps know all there is to know about the personas that your business targets, and most importantly, how to carry the conversation.
4. Don’t skimp on tools training
Getting sales folk to update their pipelines in whatever CRM you’re using can be a pain. And while we’ll never call sales people lazy, the truth is that more often than not the problem is that the software is too complex to understand, or the process is too time consuming. Hopefully, your challenge is the former, in which case training new sales reps on how to use your tools is essential.
The complexity of your sales process has to be reflected within your CRM in some way, and that usually involves the creation of proposals or bids, along with the inclusion of other sales enablement collateral. For new and old sales reps, finding important information that could clinch the deal has to be easy. The alternative literally means time wasted searching for marketing collateral, which leads to less output and fewer sales.
In our line of business, our goal is to help businesses create critical documents more efficiently. One of the ways we’ve done so is by creating an Office 365 app that helps sales (and other departments) find the right content from Sharepoint or OneDrive immediately.
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Make sure that your new team knows how to use your tools proficiently and understands every step and important feature of the tools that can help them to get more done faster.
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