Drinking from the Fire Hose is Not Onboarding

Picture yourself as a sales person that just got hired to sell for a new company.   You go in on your first day and meet people, get a tour of the facilities, fill out your paper work and maybe sit in a team meeting.  So far so good.  Then comes the onslaught of information that you are expected to process including:

  • Product knowledge on about 20 different products
  • Competitive information
  • Industry information and trends
  • Sales Process
  • Sales Tools
  • Pricing
  • How to use the CRM and what is expected of you
  • Territory assignments
  • Operations procedures (understand so you can sell)
  • Expense policies
  • Employee policies
  • Compensation plan review

Now also throw into the mix that they need to meet with all the department heads, shadow some of their peers and maybe spend some time in each department to understand what they do.  By the way, all of this typically happens over a period of one to two weeks.  Now ask yourself, and be very honest, how much of that information do you think the typical new hire will retain?  In most companies – not nearly as much as they need to be effective.  However, this is the typical “onboarding” or training that most sales people get when they start a new job.  In other companies, the onboarding is more or less “made up” as you go along - another method I would not recommend.  I’ve heard some CEOs and Sales Leaders say things like “That’s why we hire from within the industry.  Then we don’t have to teach them all of those things.”  That’s true to a small degree.  Yes, they may know the industry, but chances are good that they don’t know how to leverage your products, what your differentiators are, what your sales process looks like, who to call in within your organization, etc.  I’ve personally hired people from my competitors in the past and it took more work than people outside of the industry because I had to break their bad habits of selling on price vs. selling on value.   Now fast forward six months after training has occurred and the sales leader is concerned because the new rep “isn’t ramping up as quickly as we expected” and doesn’t seem to follow our process very well.   My answer to that – “Of course not!”

So what does good onboarding look like?  Let’s start by looking at how people learn.  There seems to be a big belief that if you tell a new person something, then they should have it.  Not true.  People typically cannot hear things once and then be expected to fully understand and apply everything you told them.  If your training consists of them just sitting and listening and asking questions, retention will be low – especially if you try to hit all of the items bulleted above.   Get them involved in a way where they have to apply things they’ve learned and show you that they understand and can apply.   For example, let’s change up the typical “shadowing” method of training where a sales person tags along with another sales person and then you ask them “What did you learn?”  Instead, give the newbie a very specific assignment.  “Go with Susan on sales calls for the day.  When you come back, I want you to present to me on the following:

  • Who were the key decision makers you talked to and what were their titles?
  • What were the key things that they cared about?
  • What problems did you learn about that we could solve for them?
  • What were the best questions that you heard asked to uncover potential needs?
  • How did the experienced rep follow our process and use our sales tools?

I can promise you this will be an entirely different discussion than “What did you learn?” which typically solicits some very generic responses.  The key here is specific direction about what they should learn followed by some type of verification to show that they learned it and can at least report out on it.  Next, you might watch them in action to see if they can apply those concepts.   That is true onboarding.   Now apply that same methodology to learning products, learning to follow your sales process, selling against a competitor, etc.   Come up with an assignment and check on their progress.

In our experience, having a defined plan of the key things each sales person should know, along with assignments for each of those things is far more effective than traditional methods.

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