Onboarding New Sales Reps on “How to Sell?” – Science, Not Art

Onboarding | Sales Readiness

onboarding sales repsWhether your sales reps are experienced hires or freshers, it’s important to train your new reps on “How to Sell” in the “selling” context of your business and customers. With experienced sales reps, any rigorous interviewing process will ensure that the reps already come in with strong selling skills.

While training on What To Sell focuses on who the customer is and how your product can meet their needs, How To Sell is about the experience that you give your customers when they interact with your sales team. There are three aspects to How to Sell that should be incorporated into a sales onboarding program:

  1. Sales process;
  2. Technology and Tools; and
  3. Customer Conversations.

I’ll share practical advice and tips on what I have seen work well at MindTickle and several progressive sales teams that I have had an opportunity to work with.

For example, a fresher sales rep will need to be trained on best practices in negotiation and closing, while a seasoned sales rep who is new to your business should probably focus their energies on learning about pipeline management for your business.

Sales Process

For a new sales rep, being on top of their sales process is critical to delivering in their job. This includes understanding the sales funnel, knowing how lead generation works within your business, what elements impact pricing of the product and what actions should be following to sell in a consistent and efficient manager.

There are three key elements of sales process training that I believe are critical here:

1. Sales Process Metrics: A winning sales culture is usually about hiring the right people, discipline and the right strategy. The sales process metrics (aka SLA – service level agreement) are the foundation of a strong sales culture. Setting expectations on the required SLAs, training new sales reps on them and actually implementing them all contribute towards driving the right sales culture. For example at MindTickle we believe in putting the customer first so our SLA for making contact with a new inbound lead is 5 minutes. It’s a tight SLA but all our reps are trained on this and strive to meet it, which builds discipline in our sales execution.

2. Sales Funnel: It is important that sales reps have a holistic understanding of each part of sales funnel, from lead generation through to account management. The How to Sell should help them develop an appreciation of the entire cycle of the customer experience. For example, while direct sales reps may rely on SDRs to generate leads for them, understanding how those leads are sourced and what expectations are set during the initial calls will help them meet those expectations. Similarly, understanding how customers are onboarded and what drives customer success will enable sales reps to respond to prospect questions and objections more effectively.

3. Sales Strategy: If your reps are selling a high volume SaaS product then the best practice sales process for them to follow will be different than if they were selling a complex enterprise-wide system. In fact, best practice sales process may even differ between verticals or procurement cycles within your organization. The key to best practices is to customize them to meet your specific organizational objectives and customer needs. But once these strategies have been established by the sales leadership, they need to be passed down to the sales reps like a proven recipe. If a certain sales rep is going to be working on mid-market deals, then they need to be specifically educated on what a predictable sales cycle looks like? For instance, who are the buyers and decision makers? What is the primary selling point? How do you create urgency and how to close? All of this needs to be defined in the context of mid-market. For SMB and large enterprise, the same questions would be still be relevant, but would have different answers.

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One of the traps I’ve seen many organizations fall into is to spend time on training reps on what’s important for the sales manager, like forecasting and team quotas. While these are all important, they’re not necessarily the top priority for a sales rep to learn to become competent to sell – at least not in their early days. When designing the How to Sell training program, consider what the sales rep needs to know to take responsibility of their own pipeline, and then consider what components can be learned online and what requires offline activities to achieve competency. It is also important to keep the training simple and focused on what delivered sales results.

Technology & Tools

It is critical that the sales reps leverage the latest sales productivity tools and the managers need to ensure that the tools are being used correctly. Since it is quite likely that your competitors may already be using these tools, it is no longer about getting an edge; it is the cost of doing business.

Broadly, there are a few categories of technology and tools that every sales organization should consider adopting:

1. CRM: Independent of which CRM (e.g. Salesforce.com, Netsuite, Close.io, SugarCRM, Dynamics) that you use, the most important training activity for new hires is to align them with how your CRM is setup and what is the right method and cadence for recording data. I am sure I am preaching to the choir when I say that poor data entry and compliance is huge challenge for sales leaders when it comes to effectively forecasting revenue. Good habits need to start from day 1, and it is absolutely critical for your news to understand the importance and guidelines for leverage CRM as an asset for their own success and not as a favor to the managers.

2. Customer Engagement: This includes tools that enable you to track emails you send to customers (eg. Sidekick, ToutApp, YesWare), to share proposals or marketing collateral (eg. Slideshark, Clearslide) or produce online webinars for them (eg. Clearslide, Fileboard, Join.Me and GoToMeeting). Since many of your sales reps may already be familiar with these tools, the training for these tools is best presented on-demand. Again, the most critical requirement is to ensure that the new hires understand how these tools amplify their sales effectiveness and their ability to meet or exceed their quota.

3. Lead Generation: This may range from databases (eg. data.com, InsideView, SalesLoft) to social selling tools (e.g. LinkedIn, Twitter) and inbound marketing tools (e.g. Marketo, Pardot, Hubspot). The relevance and importance of these tools may vary by the role of each sales rep. A regional sales rep may find the local area code lists as the most valuable resource while a mid-market SDR may source all leads through LinkedIn InMails. In my experience, documenting what is working for seasoned sales reps and cross pollinating best practices from within and outside the organizations through bite-sized tips and social learning is the best way to setup the new reps to succeed with the help of these resources.

4. Sales Readiness: These tools help you enable your reps with onboarding/training, ongoing updates and keep them up to date on product knowledge, competitor battlecards, field communications, pricing, case studies/success stories etc on an ongoing basis. It helps to provide the access to these tools as early into the new hire’s journey as possible. Many of MindTickle customers provide access to the new hire training platform to the new sales reps immediately after accepting the offer (even before joining). Through a combination of integration with CRM, a native mobile app for feet-on-street sales reps, the next generation platforms such as MindTickle can significantly enhance the effectiveness of your sales reps.

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onboarding sales reps

How to Run Customer Conversations

Every sales organization will have best practices for how their reps should manage various situations from how to qualify a lead, to winning over a champion or handling customer objections. The aim here is to bring these best practices to light and ensure that your new sales reps are well versed on these and can implement them in a way that delivers an engaging experience for the customer.

While the overall customer experience could be very hard to get one’s arms around in a short period of time, there is tremendous value of breaking down sales conversations into smaller pieces in order to prevent the new rep from getting overwhelmed. This approach also lends itself really well for creating a structured process for providing coaching and feedback to the sales rep. Here are a few examples of customer customer conversations that I ask new sales reps to practice:

1. Introductory elevator pitch – Explain what is MindTickle; add credibility with customer proof points, impact with a strong focus on value delivered (in less than 2 mins)

2. Discovery / qualification call – ask the right probing questions that help identify the need or the lack thereof. It is usually never about selling ice cubes to the Eskimo.

3. First call pitch – 1) How MindTickle helps sales teams similar to the prospects 2) success stories 3) differentiation & benefits and 4) how it works (in less than 10 mins)

4. Demo – Move beyond features and functions and have reps share their demo story setup answering the why rather than the how (in less than 15 mins)

5. Objection handling – Share the most common objections and have reps share recordings of how they would respond to them. The library of these recordings can be great training resource.

6. Creating urgency – What questions would you ask to proactively identify blockers and work with the champion to get to closing?

Certifying Sales Reps on How to Sell

The final stage of the How to Sell training is to certify your new sales reps. You can use different methods to certify their competency depending on the activity or capability that you are looking to certify. For example, you can have the sales rep generate a new lead and enter it into the CRM to demonstrate a their ability to use the system. We talked briefly about pitch certification in the above section.

These exercises can be pre-defined, dependent on the specific KPIs of the new hire. So if you’re training an inside sales rep, they will need to know more about how to research a first call quickly, how to qualify a customer over the phone, and then what best practices they should follow when passing on information about the customer to the field rep. So their exercises should specifically address these tasks and certify them as competent.

Once the rep is competent and certified, the next stage of their onboarding is to address any weaknesses or skill gaps. This is best achieved by creating a structured coaching program for them to go through with their sales manager.

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