20 Secrets to Sales Onboarding Success (Worth Up To $2M Annually)

Sales leaders have a bad habit of dumping people into a new job without properly preparing them to succeed.

When I landed my first “big girl job” 20 years ago as an Inside Sales Manager, I was underqualified, overambitious, and soon underwater. Although I went through two weeks of training with my team, they were underwater too.

I wondered, “How did no one teach us how to actually do the job we were hired to do?!”

Since then, it’s been my quest to help people feel successful at work. So tune in…

I’m going to share my top 20 sales onboarding secrets to help your team beat their 30-60-90 day plan.

What’s So Important About Sales Onboarding?

When I ask people what the hardest part about building a team is, do you know what they say?

Retaining trained reps. Rep attrition is incredibly expensive and time-consuming for companies at any growth rate.

With more companies popping up and more funding being poured into them than ever before, there are so many new job opportunities for sales reps. The downside of this is that your new reps have a lot of other opportunities if they don’t feel like you’re setting them up for success.

That’s why it’s so important you get sales onboarding right. You may only have a short time with your new rep. If you train them well, you’ll get more out of the time they’re with you, and they’ll be more likely to stick with you.

There are 4 major benefits I’ve seen from improving sales onboarding.

Revenue: you can see between $200K and $2M in annual revenue returned by getting teams to quota faster.

Attrition: If you’re losing people in the first six months, look at your training. A good program can cut attrition in half.

Customer experience: When you get a new rep, so do your customers. You’re burning leads, accounts, and future revenue if you don’t properly prepare new-hires.

Engagement: Read the studies. You’re new hires are begging for better development — especially Millennials.

If you can cut ramp time in half, SDRs will be hitting goals in about a month and a half and ISEs/AEs in about three.

Unfortunately, not all of us have the recommended annual budget of $1,500 per rep and $3,000 per manager for development, nor do we have a Sales Training department that can actually train salespeople properly.

I’ve spent two decades designing a new-hire onboarding program that I call “sales rep and sales manager training that works.” That program is centered around 20 sales onboarding secrets that I’ve learned over the years. I’m going to share those secrets with you today.

Let’s get into it.

Lauren’s 20 Sales Onboarding Secrets

#1 – Call recordings change everything

Learning when to say something takes a lot more time and experience than learning what to say, but you can speed up that process by introducing new reps to successful sales calls early.

Use a library of call recordings that you can play, pause, and discuss for training. Recordings get reps into the mind of the customer and teach them when to use their new skills.

#2 – Go beyond company orientation, systems, and products

Your sales onboarding should go beyond surface-level things like systems and products. Get into the business and industry acumen they’ll need, the digital sales skills, and the process.

Teach them the who and the how to get stuff done at your company.

#3 – Get them obsessed with your customer base

An employee who truly knows and cares for your customers will be much more effective than one who isn’t. Teach new hires a deep understanding of the customer situation, industry, motivators, and challenges.

This is the secret to quick connections and faster deals.

Related: Building Client Relationship: 3 Smart Ways to Avoid Losing Your Largest Accounts

#4 – Product training

Most companies put new hires through some kind of product training, but they don’t usually focus on the most important part.

It’s not about learning the features and benefits of the product or service itself. You need to teach your reps how to question prospects to uncover the underlying need your product promises to solve.

#5 – Get on the phones

The best way to train a rep to be good on the phone — which is important since they’ll do a lot of calls — is to get them on an actual phone call. Do it early and often.

Even if it’s with current customers or just for data cleansing, it will still build confidence and teach valuable skills.

#6 – Run systems training

Don’t show your reps the support portal and let them figure things out. Do exercises, like timed system drills while role-playing on the phone. You need to run structured systems training regularly and intensively to help new reps get up to speed quickly.

It can take months for reps to integrate all the skills they need while selling. With intensive and directed training, you can kick it into your reps by the end of the first three weeks.

#7 – Teach managers how to call-coach

Your reps won’t become good on a call if your managers are no good at call-coaching. Spend as much time, if not more, making sure your managers know how to coach before you send them to teach your new hires.

Invest in a custom grading or coaching form. Use it as your final exam in training. It will help you know if the rep is ready, but it also helps you see how your managers are doing. It aligns training with future call coaching — and seriously, managers need it.

#8 – Test often, fail often

It may have taken six weeks to fill the seat. You may feel desperate. But don’t let a rep on the floor if they aren’t going to make it. Test new reps continually, and make sure they are truly ready before you send them out on their own.

A bad rep will be worse for your company than no rep.

#9 – Heavy-pour the Kool-Aid

You want your new reps to be completely sold on you, your product, and your company. You need complete buy-in from them.

Bury them in testimonials, calls, and stories of why customers choose you. This is not a quiz on company leadership and history — when would they ever use that on a call? — this is to help them KNOW why your company is great for the customer.

#10 – Timing

Two days of sales onboarding is too short, and five weeks is too long. Onboarding should focus on their first month on the job. However, that doesn’t mean training has to end there.

Bring reps back periodically to train them on things you couldn’t cover in onboarding: advanced sales techniques, tips and tricks, and anything else they’ll need to succeed. This prevents the firehose-and-forget cycle, and builds confident reps who are ready to crush it.

#11 – Involve the managers

If you have a training department, I bet 50 bucks your managers don’t know what’s being trained.

The result: Managers have to start over with training when reps hit the floor.

Involving the managers, even just an hour a week, during training will save 20 hours of teaching down the road. Boom! You just cleared up a bunch of coaching time!

#12 – Managers aren’t trainers

Folks, training is a profession with a right and a wrong way to teach. I learned the hard way that it’s harder than you’d think.

Having a manager talking in front of a class won’t be retained or applied. Hire a trainer to teach, and use managers to coach, test, and add color commentary.

Leave the training to the professionals.

#13 – Custom is king, but outsource what you can for speed

A killer program can take a year or more to build. Big budget holders have custom training built and licensed for their company. That’s not feasible for a company with a small budget in a big hurry.

If you don’t have the time or the money to build your own training program, buy the training that came with your systems and outsource the sales training.

#14 – Don’t buy sales methodology

80% of a rep’s time is spent trying to get a conversation with the prospect. Start with basic training that will help them get that first conversation, and do well on it.

Buy sales training focused on process and phone skills, not on a sexy sales methodology. You can add sales methodologies like MEDDIC or SPIN Selling around level 301.

#15 – Pair new managers with new reps

Try giving a newbie team manager all the new reps for 90 days. You’ll be able to test and develop their management skills without risking lost revenue from your more experienced reps.

If they turn out to be good at celebrating small wins and developing people, great. But while you’re evaluating their skills, other leaders can manage the big deals coming through the pipeline.

#16 – Synthesis

Never spend a whole day on systems training. You’ll overwhelm them (just look at how quickly their eyes glaze over). Mix it up. Think product training + sales role-play + system entry.

This keeps things more interesting and ends up being a more realistic method, as reps will be required to do a variety of tasks every day.

#17 – Process

In the first six months, 75% of a rep’s questions start with, “How do I …?” To counter this, teach them to be self-sufficient.

Teach the steps of the sale, who they should go to for what, and how to find answers to a customer’s top 10 questions. A good way to teach this is scavenger hunts and Post-It reference sheets.

#18 – Most e-learning sucks

Avoid using e-learning for more than 35% of your training. If you have to, use microlearning, interactive modules, and multiple formats, and then break it up with life on the floor.

There is no substitute for in-the-field or in-person training. Only rely on e-learning when absolutely necessary.

#19 – Call shadowing fails

Call shadowing often leads to jaded reps, zoning out, and bad habits. If you continually jump in to take control or direct the call, you’ll frustrate your reps or become a crutch for their bad habits.

Instead, have the manager fill out forms with what they saw and what a rep could have improved, then discuss it after the call. This can even be done with call recordings, saving the manager’s time.

Over time, a rep should have fewer and fewer notes — because they’re applying what they’re learning, making mistakes, and self-correcting along the way.

#20 – Scripts = smelly fish

I might be a little passionate about this one!

Messaging samples and starters are great, but never give your words to a rep and expect them to sound as good. If you force them to use scripts, they won’t like it, they won’t perform well, and chances are, they won’t stay.

Scripts = smelly fish.

Teach them to fish instead! Teach them the principles, give them starter ideas, but let them develop their own system.

What’s Next?

If you are lucky, you can implement 100% of these sales onboarding tips. And you’ll be glad you did, because bottom line, sales onboarding pays for itself (and then some).

If you’re not able to put these tips to work, you’re going to need…

  • a line item for recruiting and tools
  • a line item for a sales trainer
  • an annual development budget

…Even if you have to reallocate a rep headcount in year one.

The key is investing into your new reps. Remember, sales onboarding and training isn’t something you can skimp out on. Your new hires are your future. Treat them as such.

Lauren “LB” Bailey is a 20-year sales veteran & a five-time recipient of the “Most Influential” designation for Inside Sales. President of award-winning training & consulting company Factor 8, LB and her team are best known for getting immediate revenue results by putting reps live on the phones during training.

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