Onboarding salespeople – yesterday’s good is not good enough

Onboarding New Sales Reps

Onboarding New Sales Reps

How salespeople are onboarded is a significant factor for building sales success.  Unfortunately, it is historically one of the most underemphasized aspects of sales performance development.  Great onboarding programs for new sales people are still the exception. This lack of emphasis is part of the larger problem companies have with Talent Management.

If your company put in place the onboarding system for your sales force more than five years ago, it is likely time to reassess.  Marketplace and organizational changes have significantly impacted what an optimal system looks like.  Let’s take a look:

1. Success matters more.  Because of global competition and new manufacturing technologies it has become increasingly difficult to win by product alone, the number of sustainable competitive advantages has decreased hence the importance of having a world-class sales force has increased.

Today a sales team needs to not only communicate the value of what they sell but also create value by the way the sell. They need to be a competitive advantage, as well as, being able to sell a competitive advantage.

Do you want to learn more about selling value? Here is a free online lecture on Selling Value – starting with Ask, Listen, then Talk.

2. Job demands are greater.  In sales there is a “Book of Knowledge.”  For many companies that book has expanded from a manageable set of chapters to a tome that is encyclopedic in scope.  To be a top sales performer today, a salesperson has to know more and know it at a higher level of proficiency.

The customer’s expectations have shifted.  Just being a purveyor of product knowledge will not carry the day.  The customer knows a tremendous amount about your company and your products before they even engage you in the buying process.  On the sales side of the table the customers expects salespeople to know about their industry and challenges and be in a position to bring fresh ideas and new insights to the engagement.

3. Specialization of the sales function has increased.  If the sales efforts in most companies were studied under a microscope, they would reveal a greater demand for more sales job positions and specializations than in times past.  Because customers are demanding greater and in some cases different expertise from the sales team, the number and kinds of technical sales support people need to be increased.

What type and level of sales skills should technical sales support people get as part of their onboarding – the answer varies by role but zero is seldom the correct answer.  A special issue is how to start from the beginning on how the salespeople and technical sales support can function as an integrated sales team.

4. Generational differences are significant.  New people coming into the sales function are from a generation with a different set of expectations, learning preferences, and experience sets. This shift provides a huge opportunity and a new set of challenges.

One challenge is what constitutes a compelling class is dramatically different.  The new generation brings a level of knowledge about learning technology that could not even be speculated about five years ago.  They know how to use technology to learn and they expect those designing the courses to be equally savvy.  Do stuff online – employ gamification strategies – constantly engage and lose the 60 PowerPoint slides decks.

If one could return to an earlier age, onboarding new salespeople would be a relatively straightforward process at the time of hire.  Not so, if you fast forward to the present.

Today, if you want a world-class sales team you need to define onboarding as an on-going training process, no a hiring event.  Sales training programs are needed not just for onboarding new salespeople but also for upboarding your existing sales team to deal with an increasingly changing buying environment.

As your company enters new markets, launches new products, deals with keener competitors, and copes with ever changing demands within customer organizations, sales training is one of the answers for helping your sales team adjust and adapt their existing skill set to the new market reality.

The need for sales training is now driven by the rate of change in the market not the elapsed time since the last program.   

It’s difficult to overemphasize the potential payoff of developing a world-class sales team. You simply cannot sustain competitive advantage overtime, if you don’t invest in skill development all the time.  Building a state-of-the-art onboarding and upboarding process is an inherent part of that solution.

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©2014 Sales Momentum, LLC

About Janet Spirer

For more than 30 years Dr. Richard Ruff and Dr. Janet Spirer - the founders of Sales Horizons - have worked with the Fortune 1000 - such as UPS, Canon USA, Smith & Nephew, Boston Scientific, Owens & Minor, Textron - to design and develop sales training programs. Janet has followed two different, yet complimentary paths. First, as a B-School Professor she taught marketing, sales, and business strategy courses. She also managed a consulting practice focusing on sales productivity and marketing – working with a variety of clients ranging from Xerox to IBM. She translated those experiences into a book – “Parlez-Vous Business” – that helps sales people develop the business savvy to sell successfully. Since co-founding Sales Momentum® in 2000 with Richard Dr. Spirer received her Ph.D. from The Ohio State University, an M.P.A. from The University of Texas at Austin, and a B.A. in Economics from Brooklyn College. She holds the appointment of Professor Emeritus at Marymount University.
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