Feb 9, 2016
I’ve written previously about how effective onboarding of sales reps can increase the top line of your business, but how exactly should you do it? Given that it can take between 6 to 9 months to get a new sales rep to meet their quota, the benefits of expediting the process are high both in terms of opportunity cost and having to hire fewer reps to meet your targets. I’m often asked to share tips and best practices when implementing sales onboarding training, so I thought it was worth putting my thoughts down.
Broadly, when developing a sales onboarding process, I suggest dividing the program into 5 stages.
Training is the first stage of the sales onboarding process; this post will cover this stage in detail. Future posts will then go through Assess, Coach, Analyze and Reinforce.
Sales training stage
The training stage should take about one month to complete, and cover two key aspects; “What to Sell” and “How to Sell”.
What to sell
There are 4 key pillars of “What to Sell.” These put the customer front and center and should cover foundational knowledge regarding the customer’s industry, business, and needs. It also ensures that your rep understands, and can articulate, the product’s unique value proposition so that they can engage a prospect in meaningful conversation when they’re ready to sell.
By the end of the “What to Sell” section, your rep should be able to understand and articulate what the different customer personas are, how they differ, and how to recognize them. They should also understand how the product satisfies their needs, and articulate the value proposition clearly, along with its competitive advantage.
Through the use of online learning, your sales rep can learn some of the “What to Sell” components during the pre-join period, saving you both time and money. For example, with online learning, you can introduce your new hires to the company culture and corporate vision, as well as a broad introduction to your customers (perhaps add some testimonials), and other publicly available or non-proprietary information. A structured online program prior to their first day will make it easier for them to get up to speed, and get them excited about starting to work with you. After day 1, you can then combine on-demand training, with both live training and online resources, so that your reps can review materials at their convenience.
How to sell
The “How to Sell” component should cover tools and processes that will make your rep more efficient and shorten the sales cycles. This is functional and should be tailored to your business.
For example, consider these questions:
- How are leads generated within your business?
- Is there a marketing team that supports them, or will the rep be expected to prospect for themselves?
- What prospecting best practices are used by your best reps?
- What is market intelligence available within the business?
- What questions should they ask a customer when qualifying them?
- What CRM is used, and how is the information recorded in it?
- What are each of the components of the sales cycle, from demo to follow-up?
This is all invaluable knowledge, designed to ensure your rep will be ready to get out there and sell, once the onboarding is complete. Success stories, product updates, and best practice sales initiatives, are also important to include here.
Data point: 30% of reps in a typical company are not aware of latest wins and success stories.
How do you make sales training effective?
One method that I’ve found effective when delivering sales training is a flipped classroom.
The structured learning plan can be shared with the reps upfront so that they understand how each topic will be approached. The trainer here is more of a consultative guide, rather than a teacher; this engages reps from the get-go and gives them the opportunity to take the initiative in their own learning. Reps are encouraged to speak to each other, benefit from their peers’ perspective, and get hands-on with the product.
The key to this training model is to ensure that you have defined the required business outcome, provided the pre-work and pre-material, and then develop a structured in-person facilitation format. This will ensure that sales reps come in prepared with their questions, and engage in a democratic learning process.
They can then apply their understanding, reinforce it, and even go beyond by taking on more challenging tasks if they wish to stretch themselves.
Leverage the power of the video format
We have found that 92% of people will watch a full video, compared to only 78% when given a presentation. The impact is much more engaging for the learner, like this video that I use when training our new reps at Mindtickle.
One thing to keep in mind when creating sales training videos, the ideal length is between 3 and 10 minutes. Anything longer is likely to disengage your audience.
An important aspect of training is to determine if the reps absorbed the knowledge. While I’ll go through assessment and certification when I cover the “Assess” stage, it’s worth talking about the “test-to-teach” approach I have practiced for the last four years. It’s an integral part of the Train stage.
The test-to-teach approach employs quick quizzes as a way to reinforce the material, as opposed to an examination or assessment objective. Small bite-sized modules and quizzes, not only reinforce specific nuggets of knowledge have been retained, but also get the neurons fired up when combined with explanations and additional (contextual) along with the correct answers. It’s a bit like running a series of small sprints, building fitness in short, sharp bursts, that will help you get through the marathon in the long run.
The tests are small so there’s also a greater chance of the rep completing it, in fact, Mindtickle data shows that 88% of learners complete test-to-teach modules.
Gamified techniques are not a new concept in the sales enablement space, but in my opinion, very few teams tap into the full potential of this technique. When implemented right, gamification can enable peer-to-peer feedback, benchmarking against a standard of performance (and a little healthy competition), and positive reinforcement, all have the potential to keep sales reps engaged and learning. Gamification can also be leveraged to provide the new sales reps a sense of aspiration by making the points meaningful in real-life. One of our clients projects the new hire leaderboard on the sales floor provide bragging rights to the new reps against their peers and fosters a sense of healthy competition.
Following these handy tips in your sales onboarding process will help you move the bell curve forward, and result in a higher percentage of new hires achieve their sales quota after the initial ramp-up phase.