Sell to Win

Onboarding sales reps: 6 tips for increasing new hire productivity and engagement

Jacob Thomas
Contributor, Sell to Win
Jacob Thomas
Contributor, Sell to Win

Even if your hiring process is bringing in the right talent, you can’t expect your new rock-star sales reps to succeed without an equally effective onboarding plan.

Generally speaking, employee onboarding is the process of training a new team member and integrating them into your organization.

Onboarding sales reps can include typical best practices like having them review your employee handbook and attend orientation meetings, but it should also incorporate training and engagement elements to better acclimate new sellers to their surroundings and responsibilities.

Research shows that properly onboarding new sales reps is important because:

  • It increases retention: The average turnover cost per sales rep is $97,690 when you add up recruiting costs, training costs, and lost sales. Employees are 60% more likely to remain with an organization for three years or longer when a standardized onboarding process is used. Translation: It's expensive to hire new sales reps, and it's much more cost-effective to retain the ones you have.
  • It boosts productivity: Starting a new job is fraught with productivity pitfalls. "How do I perform this task?", "How do I access that tool?", and "Why do we do things this way?" are all common questions that new sales reps will ask. A successful onboarding process answers many of those queries efficiently and can boost new hire productivity by 25%.

According to the Society for Human Resource Management, a proper onboarding process should accomplish three main objectives:

1. Acclimate

Making a recent hire feel comfortable in their new position requires more than simply handing them a parking pass and pointing out the location of the restrooms. They need to understand your company's mission, what's expected of them, and what kind of support they can expect from the company.


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2. Engage

Multiple studies have proven that engaged team members are more productive and less likely to seek employment elsewhere. The onboarding process is the perfect place to bolster employee engagement and help new sales reps establish relationships with other staff.

3. Retain

As we just mentioned, engaged employees are much more likely to stay with your company long enough to pay for themselves. A successful onboarding process greatly increases your organization's chances of retaining its top talent.

Now that we’ve convinced you of the importance of onboarding, let's dive into some expert-approved tips for onboarding new sales reps. Implement these strategies and you'll see new hire engagement, productivity, and retention rise in your sales department.

6 Tips to Onboard New Sales Reps More Effectively

1. Have a Standardized Process

The first thing you need to understand about onboarding new sales reps is that it isn't a one-day event; it's a process that can last six months to a year. (Really.)

With that in mind, you need to define and standardize an onboarding process that’s designed for the long-term. What specific actions does each new hire need to complete in the first week? Which training courses do they need to complete in the first month? What should they hope to accomplish within the first quarter?

“Our sales team members are the face of the company in the market, and it’s so important to set them up for success,” says Deborah Hanamura, Executive Director of Sales & Marketing for Paladino and Company. “We created a structured onboarding checklist with recommended time periods so that we can begin to schedule the onboarding activities before the new team member even starts:

  • The early days emphasize company culture and include meetings with leaders from each sub-team or division in the company. We cover foundational lessons about our brand, service offerings, company history, and additional context to help them understand the company better.
  • The next phase moves into products and services education. We review product descriptions, sales playbooks, and scopes of work for standard projects.
  • Once they understand the company and its solutions, then we move into a deep dive into the markets we serve, our client segments, and buyer personas so that they can understand how those buyers will relate to each offering from their unique perches.

“The process is methodical and emphasizes a deeper understanding of our services over getting someone into market as quickly as possible,” Hanamura explains.

In short, you should analyze your current onboarding process (or the onboarding process you hope to implement if your company doesn't have one yet) and identify specific events every new sales rep can be taken through, then make them the standard for all hires.

2. Put It All in Writing

A new sales rep can’t be expected to retain 100% of the knowledge that they’re presented with during onboarding. It always helps to have some resources and reference guides that they can use to refresh their memory on the fly.

“Before a new rep comes on board, the company should work to build a document filled with FAQs about the company and the role, compiled using questions that previous employees and customers often ask,” advises Kraig Martin, Commercial Director at Storage Vault. “This will be a permanent and physical point of reference for them should they need help with routine questions.”

“Developing sales process and intelligence documents will save your new reps from lots of wasted trial-and-error in their first month or two on the job,” adds Jeff Kear, Owner of Planning Pod. “You should equip your new reps with sales objection documents that provide them with the most common objections that you hear from prospects and the best ways to respond to them. This way they aren't surprised by any responses they get from prospects and can respond quickly to many objections.

"And you should definitely make sure your new reps have a complete array of phone scripts and email templates that they can start using out of the gate; these scripts should cover most of the touchpoints during a typical sales cycle. Most good reps will customize these later on to fit their style, but providing them with these resources upfront gets them up and running much faster."

3. Set Clear Expectations

In order for new hires to be successful, they have to know what's expected of them. The onboarding process is the best setting to deliver these essential details and get new employees acclimated to their work environment.

Start with your organization's overarching mission: What are the corporate goals that the entire team is working towards and how will the new sales rep help achieve them? The better they understand this, the better equipped they'll be to have a positive impact on the company sooner.

For instance, perhaps your sales department is committed to increasing sales numbers by 20% this year. After doing the math, your team knows that it needs to close an average of 15 more deals every month. This is a tangible goal your new sales rep can help contribute to immediately.

After company goals, move on to individual milestones you expect them to reach by specific dates, whether that's an amount of new revenue, a number of new clients, or (if you're an SDR) a number of qualified leads passed on to your closers. Creating 30, 60, and 90-day plans will keep new hires on track and ensure they don't get overwhelmed by all the information being delivered to them.

“When setting expectations for new sales reps, you need to be totally realistic,” Kraig Martin says. “Base your targets on the work that previous new hires have done, balancing this out with the achievements of your existing staff. Account for the length of the sales cycle in your target creation so that the goals are reachable.”

Related: How to set quotas that don’t sink your sales team

Setting clear expectations is essential, but don't forget to share what new recruits can expect from your organization as well. Let them know that you (or someone else on the team) is there to help them and answer their questions. This will alleviate feelings of anxiety and make sure they engage in their new position without feeling overwhelmed.

It also creates an environment where both you and your reps are held accountable. As 3dcart COO Jimmy Rodriguez puts it, “You will provide all the tools they need to step up to the plate, but it will be up to them to hit the homerun.”

4. Take Your Time With Training

You've worked hard to hire highly skilled people, and your newest sales rep has a history of success and valuable experience. But that doesn't mean you can simply throw them into the deep end on their first day and hope they start making sales.

New sales reps, no matter how talented or experienced, need to receive proper, personalized training when they're first hired. They need to learn how your company's products work, the sales process your team follows, who the major players in the industry are, etc.

“The worst thing you can do is hire a salesperson and rush them out to market without integrating them into the business,” warns Deborah Hanamura. “It’s important that your training is efficient but it’s also important that it not be rushed. If you take the time to have in-depth conversations about the most important issues early in the onboarding process, you will have a better long-term result because the rep will understand the processes and implications that come from a sale. They will feel like they are part of the organization, and not just a nameless person going after a target.”

According to Jimmy Rodriguez, the complexity of your product should influence the type of training you offer to your new reps. “Our particular product is a software that has many unique features and benefits so we have to ensure that each of our reps is familiar with them,” says Rodriguez. “Outside of dedicated class training on the product, we also have our sales reps spend the first few weeks as customer support so that they encounter different customer personas and product questions.”

Pro tip: If your organization uses Nutshell or another CRM platform with sales automation features, you can use the software’s automated tasks and reminders to provide constant guidance on your company's sales process and the exact actions that a rep needs to take on a daily basis. Having step-by-step directions like this makes it easy for new hires to get up to speed.

5. Partner New Reps With Veteran Team Members

Allowing new hires to shadow veteran salespeople as they interact with customers, give demos, and close deals is a great idea. Pairing them with specific mentors within the sales department is an even better one.

This process must be handled with care, though. Your top sellers might not have the time or the patience to mentor new recruits, and matching a new hire with the wrong mentor can actually have negative effects. Look for experienced sales reps who have the necessary skills and insights, but also a natural ability and desire to teach and develop new hires.

After you've identified a suitable mentor for your new rep, involve them in the onboarding process as soon as possible. The earlier they can begin building relationships with your new sales reps and training them on the inner workings of your company's sales processes, the better.

“The new sales rep should have the opportunity to observe the experienced rep in action, noting down tips and tricks to employ in their own work, rather than spending long periods of time employing a trial-and-error approach to their sales technique,” says Kraig Martin. “The experienced rep should be approachable and should regularly check in with the new rep, at least weekly, to see how they are getting on.”

For new reps, the mentorship process should include not just watching experienced sellers, but also having those mentors present when they’re ready to set off on their own. “It’s one thing to listen and another thing to try to handle the calls themselves with the support of a teammate,” says Deborah Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation. “If we give a new rep too long to onboard and sit and listen, they become more and more nervous to jump in. Having team members there to back up the new rep as needed is a great way to train sales reps quickly and force them to get on the calls early.”

You may also want to have your new sales reps shadow team members in other customer-facing departments. “One great onboarding strategy that has worked for us is to have a new sales rep shadow an existing rep for two days, followed by shadowing a customer care specialist for two days,” says Jeff Kear. “Shadowing the sales rep is just common sense, but we have found that shadowing one of our customer care reps gives them valuable insights into many of the issues and challenges that crop up with customers after the sale is made. This knowledge can help them better identify the best customers for our product during the sales process and give them a better sense of how our customers converse and interact on a day-to-day basis.”

6. Optimize Your Onboarding Process

Properly onboarding new sales reps is a process that will need to be optimized over time. It's highly unlikely that you'll adopt the perfect approach right out of the gate. That's okay, as long as you're willing to continually analyze your onboarding efforts and optimize them for greater future success.

Ask yourself questions like: "Are our company goals being helped by our current onboarding process?", "What processes can we automate for greater productivity?", and "Is the sales mentorship program we've implemented working as it’s supposed to, or is not worth the lost productivity of our veteran sellers?" Answer these questions honestly and adjust accordingly.

You should also look at the impact on “leading metrics” that your new hires are having, from calls booked to deals closed. “Track the things that end up in revenue based on your sales cycle,” says Tarek Alaruri, Co-Founder at Fairmarkit.

Also, don't be afraid to ask your new sales reps for their feedback on how the onboarding process is going. Listen to their opinions on what your company could be doing better in this critical early stage. Not only will this provide you with valuable information, but it will also make your employees feel valued and more engaged.

“Feedback from the sales rep is the best way to understand if the onboarding process is working,” says Deborah Hanamura. “Are they connecting the dots between the company, market need, and target customer? Are they recognizing the impact that a sale has on the business? Do they interact with the team independently without prompting, showing they are part of the company in a meaningful way? Our sales cycle is long and complex, and we generally don’t see the impact in sales immediately, so we need to look for other signs that the onboarding process is a success.”

Wrapping Up: Onboarding New Sales Reps

There you have it—what onboarding is, why it's important, and how to do it successfully. We've covered a lot in this article so let's do a quick recap of our six tips:

  1. Have a Standardized Process
  2. Put It All in Writing
  3. Set Clear Expectations
  4. Take Your Time With Training
  5. Partner New Reps With Veteran Sales Team Members
  6. Optimize Your Onboarding Process

Implement these tips and your company will be much more successful when onboarding sales reps. Good luck!


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