8 steps to successfully onboard new sales representatives: Balancing training and productivity

Coworkers having an informal meeting in a modern office

Everyone wants to onboard new sales reps as quickly as possible. The longer you spend training them, the less pipeline and revenue they are generating. At the same time, new reps don’t sell well without the right guidance. The more you invest in reps upfront, the more effective they will be in the long run.

That makes onboarding something of a balancing act. How do you get your reps on the phones as fast as possible while still giving them the training they need to succeed. 

Are you struggling to find that sweet spot? Here’s the onboarding process we use to develop high quality inside sales reps in 12 weeks.

Have a thorough hiring process

Your onboarding process lives and dies on the strength of your hiring process. The more unsuitable candidates you have, the harder it will be to get them up to speed. That’s why we have a rigorous interview process that separates candidates who won’t make it in sales from those who will. In particular, we aim to identify those who can take on feedback and those who can’t. 

None of us are born salespeople. We all have to learn the tricks of the trade. And that requires a willingness to learn and be taught. If someone is too pig-headed to take on feedback during the interview process, they will be even more resistant once they’ve got the job.

Start as many people at the same time as possible

The onboarding process will be a lot easier to manage if you have everyone starting on the same day. We used to start people at random, and it quickly became a logistical nightmare. 

Now we start everyone on the first of the month, and it’s way more manageable. To be honest, we’d move to quarterly onboarding if we could. But it’s not fair to keep employees waiting two months to start their new job. 

Lessonly’s Ben Battaglia recommends starting as many people at the same time, too. “This strategy breeds cooperation and competition—or coopetition,” he says.

“First, the new reps will have the shared experience of the onboarding process, providing an opportunity for team camaraderie, unity, and growth. But they’ll also feel the pressure to perform. If a rep sees the peers from his cohort closing deals left and right, he’ll feel inclined to work harder and match their performance.”

Get new hires on the phone immediately

Our new hires prospect the first day they are in the office. It helps to build resilience and sales skills quickly — and gets over any initial fears they might have. Plus, it’s the only way they’ll really learn.

As Close’s Steli Efti says, learning to sell is like learning to swim. You’ll never learn just by reading a book; you need to get in the water. 

Don’t worry about finding unrelated people to phone, have them get in touch with genuine prospects. Brands have a tendency — understandably — to care about their image. They are wary of what a brand new recruit might say on the phone. But your prospects get so many cold calls a day that most won’t stick in their minds, no matter how bad they are.

Teach the fundamentals of work and sales

As important as it is to get new reps on the phone as quickly as possible, you’re also going to need to teach them fundamental sales strategies. Basic things like the difference between features and benefits, how to source a target list and the best time of days to call a prospect might seem obvious to you, but they are eye-opening to new reps still wet behind the ears. 

The techniques that you teach reps at the start of a sales rep’s career lay the foundation for everything that follows, writes Trish Bertuzzi, president and chief strategist at The Bridge Group, Inc. If you nail these basics, you give your new reps the best chance to succeed. 

If you are hiring grads, you should also be aware that you’ll need to teach them the ABC’s of working in an office. Remember, university won’t have taught them when to reply to an email, how to respond professionally and how to conduct themselves with clients.

We like to front-load the coaching work we do at EngageTech. The majority of the time in the first week will be spent in the classroom coaching new hires. In week two, there’s more of an even split between the classroom and the sales floor. Week three and beyond, almost all of a new hire’s time will be spent prospecting and making calls.

Use tools where appropriate

Tools are essential to our onboarding process and none more so than our call recording system, Vonage. In the opinion of EngageTech Commercial Director Callum Henderson, call listening sessions are the best way to improve a new SDRs performance. A VoIP system that records calls is absolutely essential if you are training or onboarding SDRs. 

It’s not the only tool you can use, however. In the last five years, several onboarding and coaching tools have come onto the market to improve and speed up the way you train recruits. Chief among them are Refract and Gong. Both of these insight platforms simplify call data for SDRs and managers, allowing them to identify what works, what doesn’t and where they are going wrong. These tools are incredibly useful, but they are also expensive. If you can afford them, they’ll be a huge asset. If not, you can still achieve a lot with your VoIP system.

Assign mentors to new recruits

Everyone starting as an SDR at EngageTech gets a mentor who sits next to them and feeds back to them regularly throughout the day. Mentors will ask questions that help reps dissect how a call went, where they went wrong and what they could have done better. Instant feedback is incredibly effective at helping new reps learn quickly and not make the same mistake twice — it’s far better than anything that can be taught in the classroom.

When choosing mentors, opt for SDRs with one or two years of experience who are ready to progress to the next level. Make sure they are continually hitting targets, as it becomes harder to do so when you are coaching someone else at the same time. The worst thing you can do as a sales manager is to give more responsibility to someone who is already struggling. 

That’s not the only reason you want to partner new reps with your best salespeople. Your new reps will also learn a lot by listening to how their mentor makes calls, says Hubspot’s Dan Tyre. “Whether you’re listening live or listening to recordings, you can pick up key phrases, rapport-building techniques, and closing strategies that you can personalise on your own calls.” 

Have a timeline, but know everyone progresses differently

Ideally, your onboarding process should take about 12 weeks. While some will definitely be ready to hit the phones by that time, others will need a bit more practice before they can be left to their own devices.

You can’t control how quickly new reps get into the swing of things, but you should have a clear idea of what a qualified inside sales rep looks like. In our opinion, that’s someone who:

Sources and cleanses data without any guidance

  • Regularly makes 100 calls a day
  • Books 15 appointments per month

Would be an average performer at worst if left to their own devices. 

“Don’t take our word for it, however. Sales cycles differ between industries, notes David Bloom, CEO and founder of LevelJump. If it takes longer in your industry, your onboarding period needs to account for that.”

Don’t be afraid to let go of underperforming reps

Let’s not beat about the push. There is a significant churn rate in this industry. Some of the reps who enter your onboarding process won’t finish it.

A lot of the skills needed for a career in sales can’t be taught, writes sales blogger Tony Hughes. “If someone’s a poor fit, not a force for good within the team, and they’re also just not diligently making an effort, then they need to go, plain and simple — even if they’re scraping by with their numbers.”

If some of your new hires are displaying behaviour traits that aren’t conducive to a career in sales (like being afraid to pick up the phone), it’s in both your interests to let them go. 

Once you’ve got reps up and running, empower them with the information they need to succeed. EngageTech identifies the companies most likely to buy your product and gives your team the details they need to reach out successfully.
Request a demo today to find out how our software can supercharge your new reps’ prospecting.


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