8 Best Practices for Onboarding New Sales Hires

Your process for onboarding new sales hires has a major impact on the success of your new reps. Research demonstrates that 69% of employees are more likely to stay with a company for three years or more if they have a great onboarding experience. Moreover, up to 20% of turnover occurs within an employee’s first 45 days.

Given the significant costs of hiring a new sales representative—around $75,000 per rep according to some estimates—it’s in your organization’s best interests to implement a top-notch sales onboarding program.

A great sales onboarding program accomplishes several goals for new hires:
  • Building relationships with coworkers and managers.
  • Acclimating to the workplace.
  • Developing skills necessary to perform well on the job, including product knowledge, technical skills, etc.
  • Learning about company culture and values.
  • Gaining introductions to existing clients as needed.

Onboarding can’t be fully accomplished in a day, week, or even a month. Typically, it takes around eight months for an employee to reach full productivity. If your sales cycle is extended, it may take even longer than that. Fortunately, managers can improve the onboarding experience.

1. Facilitate a great onboarding experience from the first point of contact

It’s easy to forget that onboarding doesn’t begin on an employee’s first day, or even when they receive a phone call offering the job. In fact, your company starts to create an impression on sales candidates from the moment they first arrive at your website to apply for a job.

Job candidates’ experiences during the hiring process can influence their later perceptions and experiences.

Here are some ways to start a relationship the right way:
  • Create an informative website that clearly communicates organizational values to job candidates.
  • Stay in close contact with all job candidates throughout the hiring process. If there are unexpected delays, make sure everyone remains informed about the status of the search.
  • When candidates visit for on site interviews, make sure they have the opportunity to meet many different employees. They should leave wanting to work at your company (and not just any organization that offers a job).
  • After a candidate’s visits, anyone they interacted with at length should send a quick email saying that it was nice to meet them. These employees can later send congratulatory emails after a job offer.

With these simple actions, companies can facilitate a great onboarding experience early on.

2. Communicate with new hires before Day 1 and set them up for a great first day

Once you extend a job offer, the work of inculcating new hires into company culture should kick into a new gear. Yet too many hiring managers are lax about talking with new hires. According to one study, less than half of new hires receive a phone call from the hiring manager during the onboarding process—a major missed opportunity.

To make new members of the sales team feel truly welcome in your organization, you need to stay in contact during the period in between acceptance of a job offer and the first day of work. And no, emails from HR asking new hires to fill out paperwork don’t count.

Some tasks to do prepare for a good first day:
  • Hiring managers should call new hires to welcome them to the team. During this call, it’s helpful if the manager tries to get to know the new team member on a personal level.
  • Check to make sure that the new sales representative’s office or workspace is tidy.
  • Ensure the candidate has all necessary security badges and parking permits before their arrival.
  • Test any technology they will be using to ensure that it is operating correctly. Their phone should already be connected to your corporate network and they should have an email account ready to go.
  • Provide the new hire with a corporate T-shirt (correctly sized) or mug when they walk in the door.
  • Send the new hire a gift basket. Ideally, the basket should include items that reflect the person’s individual interests. A beer cozy emblazoned with the logo of the hire’s favorite sports team or alma mater, for example, is a great personal touch.
  • Try to complete all necessary paperwork before the first day so that they don’t have to spend hours on these tasks upon first arriving.
  • Ask other members of the organization to stop by to introduce themselves at appropriate intervals throughout the day, but avoid overload. Let new hires meet people at a reasonable pace.
  • Welcome the new hire on social media platforms. Ideally, many different members of the team should join in the welcome. Add the person to relevant LinkedIn groups.

3. Make smart use of technology during the onboarding process

Onboarding can be exhausting and at times tedious. To add a little more interest to the process, use technological tools smartly. Many new employees, especially younger ones, appreciate the opportunity to use new technologies.

Here are some ideas:
  • Incorporate video into training modules. Although training shouldn’t be video-only, videos add interest to your presentation and help new sales representatives to retain information.
  • Use gamification techniques to help new hires get through the onboarding process. This helps make every onboarding task feel potentially exciting and relevant. Evidence suggests that using gamification can help improve employee engagement by 48%.
  • Ask employees to use your scheduling and agenda tools during the onboarding process. Doing so will help familiarize them with company workflows.
  • Give your new sales representatives opportunities to use software themselves during training modules. You can even turn it into a game, such as a CRM scavenger hunt that requires them to use different CRM functions.

4. Allow trainees the opportunity to delve into your product in depth

New representatives will be able to sell your product more effectively if they truly understand what it is, how you’re different from competitors, and why your customers work with you.

Here are some ways to let new hires learn about your product in detail:
  • Give your representatives time to explore the product and all of its features on their own. This will allow them to learn in a way that suits them.
  • Ask members of the engineering and product development teams to present training modules. They can tell new representatives why the product is designed the way it is and what changes are coming in the future.
  • Show customer testimonials to new representatives. If possible, provide them with opportunities to converse directly with your best customers. By doing so, they can discover who your customers are and why they choose to use your product and not a competing vendor’s.
  • Connect sales representatives to members of the marketing team. The marketing team understands your unique selling points, and early contact paves the way for strong relationships between the sales and marketing teams.
  • If sales representatives are new to your industry, provide them with resources to get up to speed on industry trends. Consider offering a crash course on the industry as a training module.

5. Set an appropriate ramp-up period for new sales representatives

Ramping up new sales representatives takes time. Use a data-driven process to determine where you expect new sales representatives to be at different milestones during the onboarding process. Clearly communicate those goals and provide them with appropriate guidance so that they can meet ramping goals.

Try these tips for ramping up new representatives:
  • Examine data from your past hires. How long did it take for them to meet full quota, and what was their trajectory to get there? Use high-performing and average-performing representatives to set your standards.
  • Take the length of your sales cycle into account when setting goals for new representatives. If your sales representatives will be making large deals that take nine months to a year, their ramp-up period will look very different from sales representatives that deal primarily with transactional deals. In general, a good rule of thumb is that the ramp-up period should be approximately the same length as your sales cycle plus 90 days. Sales representatives’ prior experience can also be factored into the ramp-up period.
  • Offer flexible compensation plans at the beginning of sales representatives’ onboarding period. If new representatives feel as though they have to sell in order to pay rent, they won’t be able to focus their full attention on learning.
  • Meet with sales representatives regularly to assess how well they’re doing. Termination may need to be considered in the case of consistently low performers.
  • Gradually increase sales representatives’ sales quota. By the time they reach full quota, they’ll be prepared for it.

6. Give sales representatives opportunities to watch your best sales representatives in action

While learning to sell your product effectively is only one part of the onboarding process, it’s the most important one. To that end, it’s critical that new sales representatives can observe high-performing sales representatives on the job.

Try the following observation activities:
  • On the first day, ask one of your best sales representatives to give a full sales presentation. Afterwards, new representatives should analyze why the presentation works well and how they can adapt these methods to their own personal style.
  • Later on in the onboarding process, give new sales representatives the opportunity to listen in on a real sales call, using whatever technology you utilize. Ideally, new hires should watch several different high-performing sales representatives across a range of scenarios. New hires should watch a cold call, a call with a prospect in the middle of the sales cycle, and a late-stage sales call.
  • Later on in the training process, turn the tables. New hires will give a sales presentation and receive feedback from experienced sellers. Go through mock sales calls, with an experienced representative assuming the customer role.

7. Introduce new representatives to existing clients as appropriate

Depending on the new sales representative’s role, it is likely you will need to introduce them to your existing customers. This is a critical task that helps new representatives integrate into the team. But it’s critical that you do this in such a way that is respectful of customers’ time.

Some tips:
  • Give new representatives time to prepare before jumping into a call or meeting with an existing customer. Provide them with useful tidbits that aren’t necessarily available on the customer’s corporate website.
  • Be mindful of your customers’ communication preferences. For many customers, a simple email introducing a new sales representative is sufficient.
  • If you host social events for your customers, make an extra effort to introduce new representatives in those situations.

By following best practices, you can seamlessly introduce new sales representatives to your customers.

8. Implement a mentorship program

Formal mentorship is a great way to engage new hires with your organization. By providing your sales representatives with a senior mentor, you send the message that you care about their long-term career development. Millennials especially appreciate knowing that they matter to your company.

For a new hire, mentors can be a particularly invaluable resource as they learn the ropes and experience growing pains.

Here’s how to implement mentorship effectively:
  • Match mentors and mentees based on personality, communication style, and career goals. Only select mentors who are enthusiastic about the task.
  • Aside from arranging an initial meeting between mentors and mentees, take a hands-off approach to scheduling mentorship meetings. Allow the relationship to develop accordingly according to the mentor/mentee pair’s preferences.
  • Offer mentors some guidance and training about how to effectively serve in this role.
  • Periodically check in on how the mentorship is progressing. If it isn’t meeting the mentee’s needs, consider a reassignment of mentors.
  • At startups, it is oftentimes helpful to assign new hires a workplace buddy for the first few months. This person isn’t necessarily a mentor in the traditional sense, but can help answer practical questions such as how to contact IT or receive reimbursement for expenses.

Final thoughts

As your company evolves, you’ll want to continually assess the success of your onboarding program and update it as needed. Give employees surveys after they’ve completed the sales onboarding process, and use this data to identify areas for improvement.

Onboarding is an ongoing process that will continue to change as your company grows. By consistently evaluating your sales onboarding program, you can maximize its positive effects on new hires.

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Senior Marketing Manager @ CloserIQ. Previously Recruiter @ ManpowerGroup & Freelance Social Media Strategist. University of Wisconsin Journalism & Strategic Communication Grad.