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9 Best Practices For Sales Onboarding
Written by: Victoria Yu
Victoria Yu is a Business Writer with expertise in Business Organization, Marketing, and Sales, holding a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from the University of California, Irvine’s Paul Merage School of Business.
Edited by: Sallie Middlebrook
Sallie, holding a Ph.D. from Walden University, is an experienced writing coach and editor with a background in marketing. She has served roles in corporate communications and taught at institutions like the University of Florida.
Updated on January 30, 2024
9 Best Practices For Sales Onboarding
When you hire a new salesperson or sales representative, you might be eager to get them up and running as fast as possible so they can make money for your business.
But be careful! If you’re too hasty, you could end up throwing your new sales rep off the deep end before they’re ready, setting them up for a disaster in the making. Instead, it’s wise to take the time you need to onboard your new sales rep to show them the ropes.
If you’re a newer sales manager, leader, or business owner who is unsure about how to onboard your new employees, this guide will walk you through nine sales onboarding best practices to build a solid foundation for your sales team.
Sales onboarding is the process of training new sales reps and establishing them within your sales department.
A great sales onboarding program can improve your new hires’ time to productivity, performance, engagement, and retention and improve your company’s overall reputation.
Nine tips to improve your onboarding process include: discussing expectations and goals; customizing the training process; having a sales playbook; providing customer testimonials and case studies; discussing interactive tasks, training tools and metrics; providing virtual onboarding; setting up veteran shadowing, and having a strategy for moving forward.
Why Is Sales Onboarding So Important?
New sales reps aren’t ready to make their first sale from the get-go. Whether fresh to sales or an experienced sales veteran, your sales reps must be briefed on the essential, company-specific information needed to complete their new role. The process of providing and explaining this necessary information to new hires is called sales onboarding.
Unfortunately, Gallup reports that only 12% of employees strongly agree that their organization does a great job onboarding new employees.
However, having a great onboarding process isn’t optional anymore. In order to stay competitive and effective, your company needs an effective onboarding program to support and to build up its sales department. If you’re not convinced, here are five key benefits you could expect from a stellar onboarding process.
1. Improves Time to Productivity
According to The Sales Management Association, it takes an average of 11 months for a new sales hire to be considered successful. That’s almost an entire year. If you’re a young and upcoming business, that means you don’t have a whole year to wait for your sales reps to become productive.
Having a great sales onboarding program will enable you to set up an effective training schedule that will teach your new reps everything they need to know, quickly and effectively, enabling them to get out on the sales floor faster.
2. Improve Performance
In the same report, The Sales Management Organization reveals that 65% of newly hired salespeople at firms with effective onboarding practices are successful, as opposed to only 49% of salespeople at firms with no onboarding practices. In other words, a good sales onboarding process contributes to a strong skill set and sales rep performance.
As you update your sales onboarding process with the most recent and best sales practices, the overall skill level of your sales team will also increase.
3. Increases Rep Engagement
An effective sales onboarding process builds a bond between the new rep and the company, making them feel like a part of the team while helping them understand how their role is important to achieving the company’s vision.
In other words, your onboarding program should get your new sales rep’s buy-in, encouraging and equipping them to do their best work as they contribute to the team’s success.
4. Improves Retention
According to Gallup, over half (52%) of existing employees say that their manager or organization could have done something to prevent them from leaving their job. Despite this, only a third say they talked to their manager about leaving before quitting.
A good onboarding program builds a bond between employer and employee, developing a line of open communication and support as well as a schedule of check-ins between managers and sales reps.
If the sales rep has any dissatisfaction or frustrations in their position, if they’ve been onboarded properly, they will feel more comfortable approaching their manager to discuss any issue. By establishing an open and supportive relationship early on in the employee’s tenure, a company can help resolve problems and reduce attrition.
5. Boosts Company Reputation
Finally, a good onboarding process and satisfied hires will naturally improve your reputation as an employer. As your business grows and hires more employees, this could translate into more qualified candidates applying for positions.
Additionally, your customer satisfaction rates may improve as well, as customers naturally will feel the effects of happy, qualified, and well-trained sales representatives as they engage in sales conversations.
9 Essential Sales Onboarding Practices
Now that you’ve learned why it’s important to have an effective onboarding process, here are a few best practices to help you develop a strong onboarding program of your own.
1. Discuss Expectations and Goals
Before you get into your sales skill training, the first thing you’ll want to do is to talk to the new sales representatives and develop the right mindset for an open-minded and collaborative sales process.
This opening conversation should set clear expectations about what your company expects from your new hire and what they can expect from you as a trainer and employer. Additionally, you should establish performance goals and milestones for the new sales rep’s training to guide their progress.
Additionally, you’ll want to discuss your company’s mission and how your new sales rep plays a part in achieving that mission. With an idea of what the entire company is working for, the new hire will feel a stronger sense of camaraderie and a drive to do well.
Understanding that all employees are integral to helping the company achieve its mission helps to set the stage for an open, collaborative, friendly, and driven company culture, encouraging your new sales reps to rely on you for help and to do their best to help achieve the company’s goals.
This opening conversation should set the tone for the onboarding program and for introducing new employees to your company’s culture.
2. Customize The Training Process
Keep in mind that every new salesperson comes to the company with varying experience and skill levels. It would be a waste of time to train experienced salespeople on basics they already know, and they may become bored with the onboarding experience, giving them a bad first impression of their new job.
A LinkedIn survey even reports that employees who feel their skills are not being put to good use are 10 times more likely to begin looking for a new job! To prevent your new hires from unengaging before they even start, the first step of sales onboarding is to work with the employee to customize the process to their individual training needs.
Though you might have already covered this in the interview process, take another moment to discuss the new hire’s selling skills in-depth to find their strengths and weaknesses, or have them take a skills inventory test. With this baseline in mind, you can skip training areas they’re already proficient in and focus more on their weaknesses, to help them become truly well-rounded salespeople.
3. Have A Sales Playbook
Just as all college classes require an assigned textbook, your sales onboarding program will need a physical guidebook to serve as a codified reference for all the instruction you impart to your new hires. In other words, you need a sales playbook.
Your sales playbook is a collection of the best practices, sales materials, and information your sales professionals need to complete their tasks and execute your company’s sales strategy. It includes materials such as your company’s mission statement, sales processes, ideal customer profile, buyer personas, sales methodologies, sales scripts, and more.
If you don’t have a sales playbook yet, take some time to collect these materials into one easily-shareable binder or online document. As you and your new sales reps progress through the onboarding program, the sales playbook will provide more details on everything you discuss and will serve as a reference guide for the new salesperson to consult after their training.
4. Provide Customer Testimonials and Case Studies
An essential training tool that won’t be included in your sales playbook is a collection of customer testimonials and case studies. You’ll have to provide these separately for your new hire to review.
Reviewing and discussing testimonials and case studies will help your new sales reps learn about the potential customers they’ll be dealing with and how a sales conversation might look in practice. They’ll get to know the company’s ideal customer profile (ICP) and common pain points, learn some best practices for asking lead qualification questions and handling objections, and get a sense of your company’s tone with customers.
Rather than simply reading and reflecting on each testimonial and case study, it might be better to turn it into an interactive exercise. For each scenario, ask the trainee how they would respond to the customer, and discuss how their answer differs from the revealed solution.
5. Include Interactive Tasks
Speaking of interactive exercises, other engaging training activities such as quizzes, discussions, exercises, and role plays can greatly enhance your employee’s participation and knowledge retention.
If you’re training two or more new salespeople, it’s best to train them together in a classroom setting and develop pair activities. Not only will this provide a more interactive education, but they may end up as workplace friends by the end.
According to a LinkedIn survey, a majority (91%) of employees say that it’s important for managers to inspire learning and experimentation. Making your onboarding interactive, interesting, and fun can nurture employees’ interest in the training content, setting them up for a career path filled with natural curiosity and growth.
6. Master Tools and Metrics
According to chiefmartec.com, even the smallest companies with 1-500 employees have an average of 172 applications in their tech stack, that are used for everything from communicating with coworkers to managing the budget and sales operations.
An important part of sales onboarding, beyond training their soft sales skillset, is teaching your new hires how to use all of the software tools they’ll interact with while performing their job.
This is especially important if your business uses a customer relationship management (CRM) software system to track and nurture leads and record customer data. Be sure they know how to enter leads into the CRM, look up customer information, and access dashboards to read important sales and performance metrics. Additionally, it’s best to explain why this data collection is important so your reps understand why they need to enter the data properly.
Some other tools your sales team might use include:
- Project management software
- Messaging or video conferencing software
- Email campaign management software
- Marketing automation software
7. Set Up Virtual Onboarding
Depending on your business and workplace needs, you may hire remote employees in the near future. Or, there may be cases when the new hire or trainer becomes sick or physically can’t make it to their in-person onboarding. In those cases, virtual onboarding tools and resources can be a great way to teach, train, and onboard new hires digitally.
An easy way to set up your virtual onboarding is to pre-record training modules for all of the previous topics we’ve discussed and ask remote employees to watch them remotely. This allows them to learn asynchronously, at their own pace. You may also want to send them small quizzes or tests to check their progress. As your company grows, having these resources on hand ahead of time will only benefit new hires.
8. Shadow Veteran Reps
No matter how good of a teacher you are or how diligent the sales rep is as a student, some elements of sales can only be taught through first-hand experience. That’s why it’s incredibly important for new sales reps to be partnered with more experienced sales reps, shadowing them to learn expert skills first-hand.
You may also choose to set up a round-robin-style shadowing program, having the new sales rep follow each veteran rep on the team for a set period. This will allow your new hire to learn a variety of new skills, as they pick and choose the best practices that work for them.
9. Strategize Moving Forward
Once the new employee’s onboarding period is complete, then what? Will they simply be left to fend for themselves, like a bird thrown out of the nest? Hopefully not.
Just like following up with a customer to ensure they’re satisfied with their product, it’s important to follow up with new hires to ensure they’re satisfied with their position, training, and responsibilities. A good follow-up plan might be to develop a new employee coaching or mentoring program to help new reps integrate into the sales department.
Post-onboarding, sales managers should set performance metrics, guidelines, and additional resources and training for the next few months to ensure new reps settle in well. As they start out, it may be wise to check in with them at least every two weeks as each new hire gains their work footing.
With a process in place to build long-lasting skills, along with new hire support networks, your new reps will be on their feet with the confidence and knowledge they need to make sales, contributing to your company’s overall success.
There are two main ways you can measure your sales training success.
First, measure your new hire’s sales acumen in the field using your typical sales KPIs, such as the number of sales or the amount of revenue. These will let you judge the effectiveness of your skills training.
Then, you can measure the effectiveness of your employee engagement process by tracking attrition metrics over time. If you find that employees are leaving very quickly after their training period ends, it could be that you have a need to develop employee engagement and support for new hires during the onboarding process.
A good onboarding process should cover three main elements: developing a collaborative and positive mindset, developing the proper sales skills, and developing a working understanding of how you utilize your company’s technology and tools.
Some common mistakes sales leaders make when onboarding new salespeople include such things as poor organization, completing onboarding steps out of order, not providing a positive and supportive environment and new-employee mindset, and moving through the onboarding process too fast while giving the new sales rep information overload.
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