Throwing newbies in the deep end of the pool might work in SEAL team training, but it’s a lousy idea for people you want to onboard for the long haul. How you welcome your newest team members will set the tone for their entire time working for and with you.
Onboarding for Sales Success
Tom Brady spent his first season with the New England Patriots on the bench. And on his way to his seventh Super Bowl victory, his new team struggled the first half of the season. Both those sentences point out the crucial importance of proper Onboarding.
Even if you’ve followed every step of the process up to now, your work’s not done. If you just throw your new hires into the job, no matter how good they are, they will struggle.
“Onboarding” doesn’t mean “spend your first day filling out all the legal, medical, and financial forms.” How you welcome your salespeople (hint: or anyone else) to your business and ease them into the process will determine the long-term satisfaction, sales success, and results that person will get. In fact, a salesperson who has a negative onboarding experience is twice as likely to start looking for a new job immediately!
When a new sales associate or genius is hired at the Apple Store, there is a specific onboarding and training process. But there comes a day when they step out onto the sales floor for the first time.
Every associate in the store that day stops what they’re doing and gives the newbies a standing ovation. No matter what. In the middle of a sale. In the middle of an explanation. In the middle of restocking the shelves. They all stop to welcome their newest associate. Very cool – as you might know if you’ve been lucky enough to be in an Apple Store when that happens.
And when an associate resigns and leaves for another job at another company, the process is repeated. Every employee in the store stops to give that person a round of applause to say “thank you.”
According to the State of the American Workplace Report by Gallup, only 12% of new employees agree their company did a good job of onboarding. The final step in hiring successful salespeople is the often-overlooked process of correctly onboarding new sales hires.
Research by the Human Capital Institute confirms there is room to improve onboarding. They showed that 37% of companies onboard for 5 days or less, leaving new hires frustrated and disengaged. Only 24% of companies onboard for 30 days. 29% of companies onboard for 90 days, which produces the stronger talent and best business outcomes. Finally, only 10% of companies onboard for one year or longer.
Let’s get back to the Brady example. Did he just sit on the Patriot bench that first season? From Day One, they made him an active part of the planning, practicing, and play development process. He got snaps during practice. He met regularly with the quarterback coach and the other quarterbacks. He stood near his coach and watched how actual games unfolded. He studied his teammates’ strengths and weaknesses. So when the starting quarterback, Drew Bledsoe, was seriously injured in game two of Brady’s second season, Brady was ready to step in. So ready that he led the New England Patriots to their (and his) first Super Bowl win that year.
Do you think the Patriots “wasted” Brady’s salary having him not play his first year?
And what about his first season with Tampa Bay? The coach put Brady in right from the start, and even though by then he’d proven he was the G.O.A.T., they stumbled out of the gate and looked like they were headed for a non-playoff season. But they had a “bye week,” and Brady used the extra time to get the coaches to fix everything he knew was broken.
If you dump new sales hires directly onto the field with no prep, you risk failure. CSO Insights says the average annual turnover for salespeople is 25%, with half quitting and half being fired. And call center rates are slightly higher at 30% annually. Harvard Business Review indicates the turnover for U.S. salespeople can run as high as 27%, which is twice the rate of other positions. The HBR article also reports that the average tenure for a salesperson, sales manager, and sales VP is less than two years.
It’s very expensive to lose salespeople in less than two years. If you hire the best candidate and provide a great onboarding process, you can dramatically beat these odds. And it’s a lot more than just a video orientation and showing them where the bathrooms are.
With orientation, you present the company and describe the benefits. In an onboarding program specifically for new sales hires, you prepare your sales recruits with the knowledge, skills, and tools to succeed in sales at your company, even if they have similar industry and product experience!
A good onboarding program isn’t just the last step in recruiting new employees. It’s also the first step in retaining employees. When the job market is tight for salespeople, retaining new hires will be critical for your sales team’s success.
Orientation vs. Onboarding
|Traditional Training and Orientation||Onboarding|
|Operationally driven||Part of a strategic process|
|Pile of paperwork to fill out the first day||Paperwork sent to employee before first day|
|Supply information to the new hire||Create a good impression of the company|
|Universal to all employees||Tailored specifically to the individual employee|
|Formal socialization – office introductions||Informal socialization – team lunch|
|Employee Handbook for procedures||Immersion in company culture and procedures|
|Stress as employee “figures out” the job||Confident salesperson coached by a mentor|
|Reps selling immediately||Rep shadowing a senior team member|
|Productivity after several months||Immediate productivity|
|Lasts several days||Can last several months to a year|
|Inexpensive to implement||Requires an investment|
|High turnover||High retention|
A best practice onboarding program begins even before your new salesperson starts. A couple of days or weeks before your salesperson’s first day, call them to get them excited about joining your company.
After the call, continue the pre-start phase with an email introduction to team members and others that the salesperson will be working with.
Onboarding To-Do list
Here’s a simple To-Do list that can make your new hires feel welcomed and even more eager to start.
- Conduct a welcome phone call highlighting goals, challenges, and the culture of your team and organization.
- Provide an email Introduction to team members and colleagues (and copy the new hire).
- Connect on LinkedIn.
- Send employment paperwork.
- Send service/product information.
- Provide a welcome package that includes IT access, technology, background – anything that will give the new hire context and preparation.
- Define success for the new salesperson.
- Conduct formal training such as discussing a sales playbook that includes a ramp-up plan, sales process, product details, etc.
- Connect a veteran sales rep as a mentor.
- Engage the team to make the new salesperson’s success a team goal.
- Offer the opportunity to job shadow a veteran sales rep.
- Conduct frequent developmental coaching sessions.
- Check in with trusted team members to get feedback on how the salesperson is assimilating into the team.
- Identify issues and help the new salesperson get back on track quickly.
Traditional paperwork? Sure. But one of the worst ways to start a new job is to spend hours doing mindless paperwork. The first day is a nervous time for all new hires. Don’t compound this anxiety with the added burden of completing new employment forms. Set up a process to allow new employees to complete most of the necessary forms (W-4s, direct deposit approvals, I-9 forms, etc.) before the first day. Consider setting up a safe online portal through many employee-onboarding tech platforms, including BambooHR, ClearCompany, ApplicantStack, and SilkRoad. As we already mentioned, by the time you read this, that list will be out of date.
These platforms reduce the costs of processing paper forms. In addition, since the new hires are completing the forms online from their homes, they have access to all the info needed to complete the forms correctly. This easy access minimizes the chance of errors. They can usually complete the forms, review their file, and submit in minutes.
You can just use old-fashioned snail mail and send them the forms in advance. Whatever you do, don’t waste the precious first day on this! Script your new hire’s first day as you would script a presentation to a target client. First impressions matter a great deal.
You could work with your new employee to co-create a sales success development plan right out of the gate. You could consult with the new employee to establish deliverables, pre-start and initial onboarding activities. This enables new hires to feel included and to understand what you expect from them.
Make the First Day a Celebration
Many companies celebrate when valued people leave. Why not celebrate when your new employee starts as Apple does? Who is more valuable to you? Make your new salesperson’s first day fun and exciting. Let them know they are welcome. Ease them into the job.
The initial start activities should explain your company’s values, vision, mission, and culture. This first day should not revolve around HR paperwork and finding the supply closet.
To reinforce the activities of this first day, have the CEO give an end-of-day debrief to the newest sales members that addresses sales success.
These suggestions will show your new sales staff you are ready and excited for them to join the team. Prepare a welcome package that includes all items your new salesperson needs (laptop, business cards, phone numbers, CRM login and training, access to your VPN, a corporate credit card, etc.)
Develop a checklist seeking input from all departments (HR, accounting, purchasing, facilities, IT, sales support) responsible for helping the new salesperson understand what sales success looks like.
Your onboarding process can also leverage social media to make new recruits feel welcome. One great and easy tool to use is LinkedIn. Help new hires connect their LinkedIn profile to your company’s corporate account. Make sure all relevant staff members also connect through LinkedIn.
Your corporate LinkedIn account is a great cheat sheet to help new salespeople place names with faces. Encourage all team members to send new salespeople a LinkedIn “connect” request. You can even create a closed group for your department on LinkedIn to facilitate conversations within the sales department.
LinkedIn can also be a learning tool. Your seasoned sales staff can share sales tips through your private LinkedIn group. New recruits can post questions to the group even when they are on the road.
First Week of Onboarding
Carefully script the new hire’s first week on the job. In the first week:
- Explain what they need to learn this first week and month.
- Provide a schedule of activities and provide them with the info they need.
- Schedule lunch each day with a different person in different departments with which they will commonly interact, such as customer service, estimating, contracts, production or accounting.
- Review their pre-hire test to tailor each individual’s first few days.
Besides a welcome packet, new salespeople also need a clear understanding of what they will likely encounter on the job. Create a sales playbook that includes materials such as:
- 30-60-90-day ramp-up plan with daily and weekly objectives (Note: Be sure to detail quota and activity expectations. To get buy-in from the new salespeople, let this be a first draft. You can then elicit the new salesperson’s input as they start the ramp-up phase.)
- Ideal client profile, key customer personae, and how to appeal to each.
- Sales process and defined steps of the sale.
- Service/product details.
- Best practices used by your most successful salespeople.
- Sales tools available to your team.
- Key company contacts for important sales information.
You can make this a living document by placing it in your cloud-sharing environment. Give access to your team members so they can add important details from their work in the field.
Your current team will also play a role in ensuring the sales success of new salespeople. Make your team members an integral part of the onboarding process by rewarding everyone for collaboration, leading to the new hire’s success. Encourage teammates to be a source of support and information to the new hire, and discourage active competition.
As the new salesperson moves into the ramp-up phase, solicit feedback from team members about how the new hire is doing, and provide a weekly coaching session for the first 90 days. Use the existing salespeople as your eyes and ears to know almost immediately of challenges the new salesperson is facing. This enables you to provide feedback and make quick adjustments.
Define Success for New Salespeople
Make sure that your new hires understand both the formal and informal markers of success in your organization. Your case study could be days/steps to the first sale or the first quarter’s quota if you have a short sales cycle. If your sales cycle is very long, set performance milestones based on activities needed to move deals through the pipeline.
Provide information necessary to meet milestones. Your initial sales training must provide all new sales staff with the information they need to meet your set’s early targets.
Also, review each new salesperson’s sales assessment onboarding report to define sales concepts they must master.
Give feedback along the way to let the new hires know how their performance stacks up with your expectations, and offer help when they fall short.
Throughout this initial phase, schedule regular weekly check-ins for debriefing the new hire. You should check in after one week, two weeks, and at month’s end. During the check-in, ask the new salesperson:
- What’s getting in the way of your understanding of our company, products, or process?
- What’s missing for you in our initial onboarding program?
- What’s working well or not so well?
You want to use these debrief conversations to head off issues. If something is “going strange” for the new recruit, you want to catch it early to resolve the issue. For example, don’t wait until the end of the month to realize that the new salesperson lacks the correct credentials for your online training portal.
Remember, the purpose of onboarding is to help the new salesperson achieve sales success, not to look for deficiencies.
Make sure your onboarding process includes an opportunity to job shadow one of your top veteran salespeople. Job shadowing helps your new hires:
- Quickly get a feel for what to expect on the job day-to-day.
- See success (and failure) firsthand on the job.
- Witness real-world examples of meeting performance milestones.
- Network with their colleagues to get a sense of “how things are done here.”
- See (if) they are a good cultural fit for the company and your team.
Whatever sales training curriculum you select, deliver information in nine basic categories:
- Industry and Competitor (domain expertise, competitors, industry trends, issues, etc.)
- Target Market (problems faced, opportunities, trends, etc.)
- Solutions (services, products, value, differentiators, etc.)
- Sales Process, skills, and mindset (stages, objectives, alignment with buying process)
- Sales Methodology (best practices, lead generation, discovery, qualification, strategic account management, etc.)
- Customer/Buyer (buyer personas, buying process stages, objectives)
- Territory and Accounts (current state, potential, plans, etc.)
- Tools and Systems (CRM, sales content and collateral, configuring price quotes, etc.)
- Policies and Procedures (coordination with other departments, standard operating procedures, forecasting process, etc.)
Check out our blog post Why Sales Training Programs are Important to a Business to learn more about how to make training and onboarding fun while using game tools to inform and assess your new salespeople.
Zappos takes the “right fit” mantra to a new level. The company puts new employees through a four-week intense training period covering the company’s strategy, culture, and obsession with great customer service.
After their training, employees get a unique offer from Zappos saying, “If you quit today, we’ll pay you for the amount of time you’ve worked plus a $2,000 bonus.”
Zappos execs believe this unusual offer is the best way to motivate a trainee who feels overwhelmed, out of place, and too nervous to quit on their own. It is much less expensive to lose a new employee after 4 weeks than to have an ineffective customer-facing employee for a few months. If trainees take the offer, they leave on a positive note.
We leave you with this thought: What if you were one of the 10 Best Companies to Work For? Or 10 Best Companies to Work For in Your Industry. Think of the impact that would have on your hiring and retention processes. We believe this is a key component of making that list. If you get onboarding and ongoing training right, you’ll go a long way toward becoming a company everyone would want to work for. And think about how much easier it would then be to recruit and keep the best players.