This is the second part of my series on managing sales to beat quota. The other posts are on hiring new reps, setting the sales quota, culture, managing and coaching, and aligning sales and marketing.

The first weeks of a new sales rep’s time with the company can set her up for success — or failure.

For some companies, onboarding consists of that four-hour period during which new hires sign all of their HR forms, fill out insurance and other applications, and are ceremoniously delivered a copy of the company’s policies, including a form to sign acknowledging receipt of the sexual harassment policy. New hires deserve more; wise companies provide it.

Successful sales people need both skills and information. Hopefully you hired self-motivated people with good sales skills and an excellent track record — people who can think on their feet and are well-spoken. So you have a solid foundation to build on.

To be successful, a sales rep needs deep company and industry knowledge. If they don’t have the industry knowledge from prior experience, you need to start providing it.

You need to train them on your products and services and what differentiates them from those of your competitors. They also need to learn about:

What industries and segments you sell to, and why
Your buyer personas
What the buying team might look like, and the different priorities, concerns and questions of the different team members
Your cases and presentations, including customer success stories and reference accounts
The most common objections and how you handle them
How to use your CRM, marketing automation and other systems, what data they need to enter (and how quickly) and what information they can expect to get from them
Third party sources you use for prospect and competitor research, your company’s social media properties and some of the best blogs and Twitter accounts for keeping up with the industry
Contracts, SLAs, order sheets, and other documents used to actually close and formalize the sale, and who has signing authorization.
Show them how to find their sales materials: intro emails, call scripts that include qualifying questions (and follow-up, probing questions), PowerPoint presentations, case studies, competitor fact sheets, analyst reports, etc. Discuss which are appropriate for different buyers, stages and situations, and to what degree they can be customized, and how.

If your company uses a particular sales methodology — such as Sandler, Miller Heiman or Power Base Selling — reps will need to be trained on it if they didn’t go through that before being hired. Training in the methodology can’t just come from a book or videos. As David Sandler famously put it, “You can’t teach a kid to ride a bike at a seminar.” So training should include interactive exercises and role playing, and it’s likely that training or mentoring in the methodology should continue on an ongoing basis (if the best athletes in the world are constantly being coached, your team needs that, too).

Beyond this sales methodology, reps then also need to learn the sales process that you use in your company. The sales process is the roadmap – the step-by-step activities from qualification through closing and post-close activities.

Part of a 21st Century sales methodology should be your approach to social selling, and your social media policies. Hopefully your company encourages reps to research, interact with and serve prospects via social media, and to build their credibility by tweeting, blogging and posting about your industry in general and your company in particular. Social selling is social helping; reps should be encouraged to participate in LinkedIn and other industry forums. Part of being a social media participant is being a trusted advisory, and that means being honest. So not everything that they post should be about your company, and it shouldn’t be puffery. You should have a clear, written social media policy.

You may find it valuable to create a checklist of your process for reps to use. The checklist should include all of the items needed for success at each step of the sale: what questions minimally need to be answered to qualify a prospect to move to the next stage, what information needs to be included in a pitch, which issues can the rep resolve herself and which need to be escalated, etc.

Regulated industries will need to be especially precise about their policies and how they conform to regulatory requirements.

Virtually all of the above information should be collected into a sales playbook that represents the collective wisdom of your sales team and best practices. This is a document that reps can use to quickly find information and refresh themselves in the future.

And they should meet the people they will be working with to review opportunities, create pricing and proposals, and make presentations.

Finally, after the training, having new reps shadow existing, successful reps is critical, too. This is the best way for them to see how prospects are qualified, how the company’s pitch is received, and how objections are handled.

Depending on the company and what is being sold, this initial education can take days or weeks. Some Apple Store employees are trained for up to six weeks before they can work the floor on their own: a couple weeks of product knowledge, a couple weeks of shadowing a senior employee, and a week or two of being shadowed before being allowed to work the floor on their own. A B2B rep may need a similar onboarding period, and may not be fully productive for four to six months.

It’s the rare rep who can truly hit the ground running and be successful without in-depth, conscientious training. Don’t short change them.

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Change Ahead signFor a long time we’ve been hearing about information overload due to the exponential growth in content available on the Internet and coming at us daily via email, social media, hundreds of TV stations, newspapers and magazines (physical and digital), instant access to almost any book, movie or piece of music, etc. Continue reading