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Here's What New Sales Reps Need During Onboarding Learn how to overcome onboarding issues and produce top performers.

By Andy Springer Edited by Chelsea Brown

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"Welcome to the team. Now pick up the phone and start dialing."

If only it were that simple to onboard new sales reps. Unfortunately, trial-by-fire onboarding is best suited for the movies. In reality, it takes an average of three months before a new seller is ready to interact with buyers. And it's usually a long road to the top of the leaderboard, requiring an average of 15 months for a new seller to become a top performer.

Sales leaders know they need to shorten the time for new reps. The question is, how?

The critical role of sales onboarding

Overall, effective onboarding programs have been shown to improve most tracked onboarding metrics, including time to productivity, quota attainment and first deal. That's if the program is built the right way. Easier said than done, according to research from Allego. Findings from the State of Sales Onboarding Report suggest that the needs of a sales onboarding program today are far more complex:

  • 67% of sales leaders say sales positions are more complex than they were a year ago

  • 26% of onboarding is customized to adjust to a new hire's strengths and weaknesses

  • 68% of sales leaders say their onboarding doesn't adjust for the new hire's previous experience

Beyond the evolving needs of onboarding, the stakes for getting it all right are high. Research on The Top-Performing Sales Organization found that two-thirds (66%) of organizations struggle with onboarding. And it's costly — not only because of the high talent acquisition and onboarding costs, but poor onboarding also often results in increased turnover and missed sales targets.

Related: Is Your Onboarding Process Broken? Here's How to Fix It.

The recipe for a successful onboarding program

The most effective onboarding is both comprehensive and sticky. In a relatively short time, onboarding should lay the groundwork that new reps need to effectively orient themselves and start selling with confidence.

Too often, sales leaders either overwhelm new reps with information or give them the wrong material to focus on altogether. The latter is one of the most common issues I see. Here are the key areas a sales manager should focus on during onboarding to put sellers in the best position to succeed.

1. Marketplace and company

Not only do new reps need an in-depth understanding of their new company, but they also need to understand how the company is situated in the market. What's the marketplace opportunity? The competitive environment? How does the company's value proposition map to the target buyer profile? This is especially important in complex sales where buyers expect a high level of company and marketplace knowledge.

2. Offerings

This aspect of onboarding focuses on educating new reps about the company's available offerings and solution sets: how the offerings satisfy customer needs and solve business problems, how to justify them and quantify impact for the buyer, which stands to be profitable for the company and so on.

For example, a new sales rep should know how to fluidly tie features and benefits to the most common needs of their target prospect. They should also have a clear understanding of less profitable offerings to downplay or scenarios in which they shouldn't sell a particular offering at all.

Related: 5 Innovative Ways to Train Your Sales Team

3. Prospects and customers

Developing an intimate knowledge of the company's prospects and customers is a central part of the onboarding process. Without this understanding, ultimately, all aspects of the sales process suffer — from prospecting to closing sales.

Indeed, just over half (57%) of organizations report having sellers with the fluent, expert-level knowledge of customers required to find and win business. Similarly, only 54% agree that their sales teams have expert-level knowledge of their customers' industries and markets.

This points to the need for onboarding programs that allow new reps to learn about their target prospects and customers. This means really getting to know these people: the titles of decision makers that have buying authority, their primary concerns, common objections and the most effective way to respond to them.

4. Position and expectations

By position, I mean the rep's actual role within the company. For example, what's the typical list of activities that must be part of the prospecting plan for an SDR to hit quota? What kind of incentives and rewards for top performance can a new ISR expect? And what are the typical questions a rep should ask when qualifying opportunities?

Think about the mission-critical knowledge a new rep must learn about their position and its inherent expectations.

5. Support

Consider this: Only 29% of organizations have sales playbooks that are comprehensive enough to help sellers in every component of selling. Similarly, only 29% say their sales playbooks and knowledge resources are accurate and up to date.

The support aspect of your onboarding should equip new reps with ample places to turn for help, whether their questions are technical, operational or strategic. What resources, people and ongoing learning opportunities do new reps have at their disposal? What kind of support can they rely on every day? Where and how should they go looking for it?

For example, you can avoid inaccurate forecasts by reviewing the sales stage definitions and expectations for each during onboarding (our research finds that only 24% of organizations have sellers who forecast their own pipelines accurately). You can also encourage development by providing reps with coaches or mentors, resource libraries and ongoing pipeline reviews.

Finally, give your new reps solid managers. When they have the support of an effective manager, sellers with less than five years of experience are 240% more likely to be top performers.

Related: How to Build a World Class Sales Team

Onboarding problem? Sure. But it's solvable.

A cursory glance at the sales onboarding landscape can seem bleak. About 43% to 46% of companies have sellers who aren't knowledgeable enough to consistently find and win deals. According to Allego, the typical onboarding sales process takes 38 days or more to complete. And nearly 50% of sales leaders report that hires have quit because onboarding was so stressful.

To tackle these issues, it's critical that sales leaders organize and tailor onboarding programs for new reps. I've outlined the most important areas to focus on. My recommendation is to create a checklist for each area to make sure you cover what your sales reps need to succeed.

Doing so can mean the difference between a sales onboarding program that sinks costs and contributes to churn and one that produces future top performers.

Andy Springer

Chief Client Officer at RAIN Group

Andy Springer is co-author of the bestseller "Virtual Selling: How to Build Relationships, Differentiate, and Win Sales Remotely" and Chief Client Officer of RAIN Group, a global sales training company helping clients improve sales results through training, coaching, and reinforcement.

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