Let’s face it, selling is getting harder and burnout is rampant. Sales processes are complex — particularly in B2B sales — and sales teams and managers are expected to do more with less. Turnover rates are typically high not only because of performance demands but also, surprisingly, because of a lack of relevant, personalized and timely coaching to set salespeople up for success.To combat this reality, many organizations are focusing on building vs "buying" high-performing sales talent. The shift to a more sustainable sales talent management strategy is a different approach for many firms, but it’s paying off in the long run.
One of the “secret weapons” deployed by these organizations is continuous onboarding tied to business or sales objectives. When coupled with best practice microlearning principles, there can be a positive impact on new salesperson success, reducing time-to-value and turnover.
It takes time to ramp up new salespeople; new products, sales processes, customer needs, and market knowledge take time to master. But “one and done” onboarding on products and services doesn’t work, it’s a fact. Studies show that in as little as 30 days, 79% of new information is forgotten — it’s just how the brain works.
A microlearning approach breaks often complex training content into more digestible pieces. When combined with tried and tested spaced learning best practice (scenario-based challenges, repetition, real-time feedback, peer interaction, game mechanics), sales reps are better able to recall new information and apply newly learned skills in the field sooner.
So where to start? These are the 10 core skills that will set sales teams up for success. This is a guide to an onboarding curriculum that can be reinforced through best practice microlearning to ramp your reps quicker and build up the skills they need from day one to first deal.
- Prospecting: If your new sales hires don’t know the ideal customer profile and buying personas yet, how can they successfully hone their search for potential new customers? Prospecting is time-consuming and there is no time to waste in getting reps out in the field and in front of ideal prospects. Plus, there may be various lead flow and processes in place that requires working with other teams such as inside sales. Reinforcing these details up front in week one will set new hires off on the right foot.
- Discovery: Now sales know who they are targeting but what is their pain point or opportunity? Why would they buy? Understanding qualifying criteria and utilizing messaging methodologies to progress or disqualify an opportunity quickly is critical to keep reps focused on deals that have the chance to progress through the pipeline. For example, Snow Software used Qstream to embed the new messaging techniques developed with our partner Slingshot Edge, enabling them to double the number of "first meeting" prospects that take a "second meeting” and thus improving pipeline conversion rates early in the sales cycle.
- Messaging: Often new sales hires are taken through a few sessions in onboarding boot camp and then given access a self-guided library of sales assets to master their understanding of product proposition, competitor objections, corporate messaging and to nail an elevator pitch. So, now they have prospecting, discovery and messaging down and are ready to go out in the field and close a deal, right? Wrong. This approach assumes that reps have the ability to recall key messages and apply critical thinking skills to each and every conversation. Scenario-based training and video practice provides managers with a window into the rep’s "real world," identifying opportunities for improvement and to guide personalized coaching to shape successful behaviors.
- Customer and Industry Insights: Arguably one of the most important skills sales reps possess is the ability to listen to customers, understand their needs and provide valuable insight into industry trends to shape a contextual and expert conversation. But, this is not simply learned and mastered in a classroom or weekly meeting with a sales manager. Sales managers need to be confident that reps can adapt their pitch to each prospect interaction. If reps can practice their craft on simulated customer scenarios as they onboard, they will build confidence and you will have better insight into how that rep will perform in the field. This is even useful for the most seasoned reps as you can present increasingly complex scenarios that challenge and engage reps as part of your overall talent management strategy.
- Product and Service Knowledge: A one-size-fits-all, “spray and pray” approach to training on products and services won’t win deals. A microlearning approach breaks down complex and detailed training content into more digestible pieces and is ideal for getting reps up to speed on new products and services. When this detail is reinforced repetitively over a period of time using spaced learning techniques, reps are more likely to recall the information needed in the field up to 170% more than when they first took in the new information.
- Solution Development and Value Creation: It is difficult to translate a customer’s needs into the right solution for them if there is not an in-depth knowledge of each product as I mentioned above. Even with product knowledge mastered, there is also customer context. Every customer is different so every solution will be different too. It takes practice to translate signals from customers, and then marry up a solution and create value. Presenting reps with various scenarios is an effective way to hone contextual skills and understand how reps might respond in the field. Adding video scenarios to hone these skills is even better.
- Competitor Objection Handling: “Know your enemy.” The famous quote from the ancient Chinese military treatise, The Art of War, has survived the test of time for a reason. Understanding the competition is critical to selling, from objection handling to solution development and value creation. And the competition is always changing, so your competitive training can’t be static either. Short, bite-sized microlearning techniques can keep reps agile in rapidly changing environments.
- Negotiation: There is no shortage of methodologies and techniques to train up a great negotiator. One thing for sure is that negotiation skills can’t be taught in a classroom alone. This skill needs practice, testing, and more practice. Different circumstances may need different negotiation techniques and to be continuously refined. Just like honing responses to competitor objections, challenging reps complex negotiation scenarios will help them hone their skills and for managers to support them with very focused coaching.
- Closing: Your new sales rep has their first deal on the table and it is time to go for the close. Eliminating buyer doubt, being sure you’ve satisfied closing criteria and nurturing the prospect to a decision. This is a critical time for sales managers to coach their new joiner. But how do they know if they have the skills and know-how to close, especially if they are a less seasoned sales professional? Prior to getting to the close stage, measurable assessment of closing criteria and behaviors is vital. Sales managers can then pinpoint their coaching to help that individual get their first sale over the line.
- Order Processing and Procurement: So you think you’ve closed and the contract is sent. But how many deals delay or fall through at the contracting stage? A deal is not done until the paper is in hand. Training and reinforcement of sales process and administration may seem straightforward. But there are legal and financial considerations to ensure there is no impediment to completing or risk to revenue recognition. Reinforcing processes via bite-sized microlearning techniques is an obvious solution for this process to become second nature.
By helping sales reps master these 10 core skills, you are a long way to making each and every sales rep successful, ultimately retaining the sales talent you’ve worked so hard to build and a better chance at meeting your numbers.
And, remember, onboarding is not just getting a new rep up to speed, it is a continuous process of improvement. There is no reason you can’t enroll seasoned reps in any of these programs — it may be surprising what you find when you have measured insights into their proficiency for each of the 10 skills.
For additional hard data on the benefits of effective salesperson onboarding, check out this research from the Sales Management Association.