In another time, onboarding a new salesperson would not have been difficult. In fact, many new salespeople did not go through onboarding at all. There was very little preparation to ensure the salesperson would be successful in their new role with a new company. The person accepting the job would be expected to know how to sell, and their onboarding might have consisted of being given information on their product or service, a territory, a phone book, and a wish for good luck.
While this may once have been sufficient, the onboarding experience has improved. In part, this is because turnover in a sales department is incredibly expensive. When a salesperson washes out early, their territory isn't covered, and the longer it takes to replace them, the more difficult it is for the sales manager to reach their own goals. Large companies spend months preparing their new salespeople, which is necessary in an environment where B2B sales is more complex and often more difficult. Despite this improvement, most companies would benefit from even better onboarding to prepare their new salespeople to succeed.
There are several topics that dominate and are often heavily emphasized during onboarding, and this can cause the salesperson to believe they are more important than they actually are. Often times this causes the salesperson to have a poor start when they begin pursuing opportunities in their territory. Three mistaken priorities include:
- The company's story: Many onboarding starts with teaching the client about the company. Those companies with a legacy approach to sales will have the salesperson practice telling the company's story, a priority in their approach.
- Products and services: While it's important for the salesperson to know what their company sells, providing them with a deep dive into the joys and wonders of what some sales teams describe as a solution, doesn't provide the salesperson with what they need to know to succeed.
- Policies and procedures: A new salesperson will learn the company's policies and procedures, including everything from reporting the expenses, using the CRM, and dozens of other topics that are important but do nothing to help the salesperson succeed.
How to Onboard a New Salesperson
The success or failure of the new B2B salesperson will not be found in any of these topics, even though they are priorities in onboarding. Even if these topics are important, they do nothing to help the salesperson to succeed in their new role or in sales more generally. The best ways to prepare salespeople to do their job are as follows, in order of importance.
Understanding Why Clients Change
Push the paperwork aside and start the onboarding by explaining that the salesperson and their clients have similar needs. The salesperson's greatest need is not a lack of information about the company they just started working for. Instead, it's going to be a lack of new opportunities. The clients’ greatest need is a change that will improve their results, which has nothing to do with information about the salesperson’s company.
The best way to prepare salespeople for their new role is to educate them on the internal and external forces that cause prospective clients in the industry to change. When clients understand why they are struggling to produce the results they need, they are more prepared to change. The greater the salesperson's understanding of what causes clients to change, the better they are going to do once they are in the field and carrying a quota. Once the new hire understands what compels clients to change, they will better understand the company's products and services.
If you want a new salesperson to experience meaning and purpose, explain to them how their work will make a difference for others. Why wouldn't you prioritize this major outcome?
Learning From Successful Reps
Requiring a new salesperson to join meetings with a successful salesperson will do more to help them understand how to handle the sales conversation better than anything else you might provide in onboarding.
But the newly hired salesperson should not be allowed to passively observe the experienced salesperson. Instead, they should be required to act as a scribe, writing down every question the senior salesperson asks their prospective client, and the client's answers. They should also write down the client’s questions and the salesperson's answers.
Require the new rep to ask about the meaning and importance of each question in the sales conversation. This process will help them start to recognize how to have an effective sales conversation with their client, including understanding how to identify the root cause of the client's poor results and why it is compelling them to change.
Giving the salesperson an experience of what good practice looks like will do more to prepare them than anything else you might provide.
Making Cold Calls
One of the worst possible outcomes of onboarding is that it often means it will be months before the salesperson makes their first cold call. The longer they go without having to prospect, the more they will believe that everything else is more important than acquiring a new meeting and a potential opportunity.
Even if the salesperson doesn't acquire a meeting on their first cold-calling training block, it is important they recognize that the company values prospecting more than their ability to tell the company's story. Some companies allow a salesperson to occupy the position for months before prospecting, causing them to believe other things are more important, especially when their onboarding spends more time on topics that are not related to creating and winning opportunities.
It needs to be clear very early in the onboarding process that creating new opportunities is a top priority. It's important to teach a new salesperson that the organization values new opportunities.
Salespeople create and win opportunities using nothing but a conversation. Because this is true, their onboarding must provide them with the ability to successfully conduct that conversation. Too few companies use role-playing, in part because some of their sales force would prefer not to participate (a red flag).
Practicing the sales conversation and the many challenges and obstacles the salesperson will face once they are in the field will provide them with the confidence to effectively address these challenges.
The Traditional Onboarding
Having created an onboarding that prepares the new salesperson to succeed, you can also provide the new hire with the traditional topics. While important, these can now be in the context of the real work the salesperson will need to do.