A comprehensive guide to sales rep onboarding, including best practices and tips for a successful onboarding process. Learn the best practices.
March 14, 2023
According to CareerBuilder, 36% of employers don't have a structured onboarding process for new hires. Other research has found that “newly hired employees are 58% more likely to still be at the company three years later if they had completed a structured onboarding process.”
Sales onboarding is critical to employee retention, but what’s the best way to do it? Let’s explore.
Sales onboarding assists new sales representatives in gaining the skills and knowledge they need to do well in your company. An effective onboarding plan covers various topics, from background information on your company to your selling process, company-wide policies, your target client, your selling systems, and more. This article will take you through sales onboarding best practices so you can create an effective plan for your organization.
Training sales reps and effective onboarding can take up to 90 days, although it varies from company to company. Below are some factors to remember as you determine an appropriate ramp-up time for your new sales reps.
Imagine that it takes four months for your experienced sales reps to close deals based on data you've gathered from a variety of sales. It's unrealistic to expect new sales reps to perform at that level right away; new hires will need longer to close their first deal. So how much time should you allow?
Sales organizations typically give their reps 90 days for onboarding and training. However, 90 days might be too long if your sales cycle is only a week long (for example, if your leads go from seeing an online ad to watching a webinar to getting on a strategy session, all within 72 hours). By contrast, if you're selling a complex financial product that multiple stakeholders have to sign off on, your average cycle might be six months or more. In that case, you'd want to consider extending your onboarding period.
In addition to your sales cycle length, your ramp-up time should consider a sales rep's previous experience. A seasoned sales rep should be able to ramp up quicker than someone new to sales. An onboarding plan isn't a rigid document that every rep should follow to a tee — make sure to leave wiggle room for tailoring it to each rep.
If your organization doesn’t have a standard sales cycle, you can instead use the average time it takes for new sales reps to reach 100% of their quota. This is your ramp-up time. Not all accounts are identical, so it's reasonable to give reps some leeway in their ramp-up time.
For sales reps to perform well, they need to know what success looks like in your organization. To do this, sales team managers should establish clear expectations and communicate them regularly. Before new sales reps make a call or send an email, their sales manager should give them personalized quotas, sales goals, and performance expectations. In a one-on-one meeting or a team meeting, the manager can:
As part of onboarding sales professionals, your organization should have every rep complete training on your company's sales process, including how to find and close leads. Reps should also receive regular updates and refreshers when changes are made to the sales process.
Standardizing your sales process will ensure every salesperson follows it and doesn't wing it, which can lead to problems. For example, a lack of standardization can lead to sales reps exaggerating the results your company can deliver — resulting in disappointed, upset clients down the line.
Make sure your training program for sales staff includes the following:
Utilizing the overarching principles below will help you create the most effective onboarding plan. Let’s take a look.
By standardizing the sales onboarding process, your new hires will have a consistent experience. Lay out the onboarding phases so they flow logically from one phase to the next. Each sales rep and their sales manager should know which phase the rep is in at any given time.
Standardization prevents critical pieces of information from falling through the cracks, ensures your managers aren't reinventing the wheel every time they train someone, and assures the company owners that their sales reps are learning all the essential information.
Formalizing the process requires documentation of everything a new sales rep needs. Include various aspects such as how to get software logins, where the knowledge base is housed, how to schedule time with their manager for coaching, and who to talk to when they have questions. This can look like online slide decks in your company's cloud drive, training videos that reps can access at any time, and a training manual. It should be easy for new reps to access these resources.
Job shadowing is an excellent way for sales reps to see their role in the action. Shadowing means pairing a new rep with a seasoned rep for a day, week, or longer so the new rep can observe. Not only does it reinforce the training, but it's an easy way for sales reps to meet their colleagues.
You can also develop job shadowing into a mentorship program in which experienced sales reps mentor new sales reps. Have the mentor and mentee schedule face-to-face, regular meetings to maintain momentum. Ensure that the mentor isn't the rep's direct manager so the rep isn't worried about discussing mistakes.
Experienced sales reps and managers can shadow new sales reps after completing most of the onboarding tasks. This is called reverse shadowing. Sales organizations do this to determine if the new hire has the skills and training to be more independent — or if they need more training.
Reverse shadowing can be as simple as sitting down with a sales rep to help them complete sales tasks or listening in on cold calls. It also includes listening to recordings of sales conversations. You can include reverse shadowing in your sales team's periodic check-ins, which will help you identify potential opportunities for process improvements
Incorporate regular assessments into your sales onboarding program to ascertain what information a sales rep has mastered. This can be as simple as a Google form they fill out at the end of every week. The sales manager can then use this to ensure the rep reviews information where they need additional support. The idea isn’t to use assessments as tests to weed people out but rather to customize the training as needed.
Create an onboarding checklist as an online, clickable document that the sales manager completes as their new sales rep moves through the onboarding and training process. Having this online allows other people in your organization to check in on new reps’ progress. Some of the things on the checklist can include the following:
Give an overview of your company's main competitors and then provide a competitive analysis that discusses what sets you apart (your unique selling proposition). Be open about the areas where your product/service is lacking compared to your competitors and discuss objection handling in case prospects bring these up during sales calls. Review the areas where your product or service outperforms your competitors and why.
A sales team's goal is to establish a lasting relationship between the client and the company. This begins at the start of the onboarding process when you build and reinforce your team-focused approach to selling and serving customers. Include all team members in the onboarding process and have established sales reps introduce new sales hires to clients, vendors, and contractors.
Especially in remote companies, it's critical to integrate new sales reps into all the online platforms your company uses to communicate. The situation you want to avoid is sales reps working in siloes, refusing to help each other, and guarding their contacts to the extent that it negatively affects customer service. With a team-based approach, you ensure frictionless training that onboards new reps seamlessly and fosters a healthy company culture.
It can be helpful to structure a 90-day onboarding and training plan using a 30/60/90 framework. The first month is for learning, the second month is for practicing/role-playing, and the third month is focused on improvement and refinement.
After the first 30 days, new sales reps should be able to answer questions such as:
The five Cs of new-hire onboarding are compliance, clarification, culture, connection, and checkback. Let’s review them below.
Compliance refers to your team having a foundational understanding of your organization's policies and procedures. While people often see this as the boring HR part of onboarding, it's still important — don't skip a thorough review of safety regulations, company policies, harassment prevention, confidentiality requirements, and procedures for the sales department.
Clarification means laying out the new rep's role and performance expectations, so there's no ambiguity in what you expect of them. What does the rep's role look like in the context of organizational and team goals? What are their individual goals? What is the mission of your organization? Cover all of this upfront instead of letting the hires try to figure it out on their own.
Culture should be an integral part of onboarding from the start. Go over stories of how the organization started and its norms, goals, and mission. A good sales culture includes healthy competition, low team turnover, collaboration, accountability, and excellent sales compensation.
Connection refers to encouraging every new sales rep to develop interpersonal relationships at work. Ensure that new hires are familiar with and can connect to subgroups within your company. In large organizations, this could mean having a community service group or a networking group for young professionals. In smaller organizations, this could mean more informal ways of promoting connection, like introducing reps who went to the same school, have the same interests, or have other things in common. Additionally, consider assigning a mentor to each new sales rep to help them with their first few months on the job.
Check-back is shorthand for regular check-ins between managers and new sales reps. Don't leave check-ins to chance; instead, formalize the process and have managers put recurring check-in meetings on their calendars.
At The Sales Connection, we've made over $157 million in sales and trained over 12,173 reps for organizations selling B2B and B2C in the education, financial, coaching, and consulting markets.
92% of hires from our recruitment process reach the top half of the sales force in their first year. Our highly refined and efficient onboarding process is a huge part of that.
Kayvon has over two decades of experience working with high-level closers and perfecting his sales methodologies. He has earned the title of Canada’s #1 pharmaceutical sales representative and continues to share his expertise as a keynote speaker and through his multi-million-dollar coaching program.