Onboarding Experienced Salespeople? Don’t Cut Corners

Hiring is often seen as a daunting task. It can be exciting if you’re experiencing rapid growth. It can be even more exciting if you’ve managed to lure an experienced salesperson from a competitor or elsewhere in the industry. Sure, there’s some detailed onboarding you should be doing, but you want that veteran to hit the ground running and decide to cut corners.

After all, this isn’t a rookie. And, sales is sales, right? If you can sell in one place, you should be able to translate that somewhere else, right? So, you say with a smile and a pat on the back, “You’ve been doing this for 20 years. You know what to do. Here’s your book — go earn some business!”

Sadly, you just started things off on the wrong foot. While you have high expectations of this person, and they have high expectations of themselves, there’s almost always an adjustment period — whether you want there to be or not. 

“Sales” is not the same from company to company. Every sales organization has unique differences, such as:

  • Corporate culture,
  • How aggressive they’re supposed to be,
  • How long the sales cycle is,
  • How much follow up needs to be done,
  • What kind of resources are in place, and
  • Whether or not they are on their own or working with a team.

These differences might not seem insignificant, but they can also amount to considerable challenges. Just think of any star athlete with a proven track record who signs with a new team and flames out spectacularly. The world wonders what went wrong, which can be obvious, but often lurks behind the scenes. With that example in mind, let’s go back to your sales team…

The person you just hired very well may be God’s gift to sales. But that doesn’t make the onboarding process any less important for them than it would be for a salesperson fresh out of college. Perhaps they had a ton of resources at their former job, or they had complete autonomy to make whatever decisions they needed to make. Suddenly, they are coming to you thinking that everything is apples to apples, and it’s not. 

Maybe you need them to be much more entrepreneurial and succeed with far fewer resources. Or maybe they want to charge ahead and not wait for the rest of the team. Perhaps they can adapt quickly, but it would set them up for faster success — and make them less likely to leave — if they felt supported from the very beginning and had clearly-defined expectations set in the onboarding process.

By now you might be thinking, “Shouldn’t these issues have been made apparent in the interviewing process? Wouldn’t such differences have been flagged by the hiring manager or candidate before both sides committed?”

In short, probably. In life we often tell ourselves that “It’ll be okay. We can adjust.”

Learning and Growing in the Sales Onboarding Process

Replacing high-quality salespeople is expensive and disruptive. If you have somebody who’s successful today, it doesn’t mean they’re going to necessarily be successful tomorrow — even if they have 20 or 30 years invested in the industry. 

Do what you can to put them on a path and keep them on a path to ensure that long-term success, which will probably pay big dividends for everybody. This is where adhering to an onboarding process is critical.

  1. Have detailed conversations about the structure of your firm.
  2. Walk them through all internal processes.
  3. Help them understand the culture (current or desired).
  4. Make introductions to the rest of the team.
  5. Explain, in detail, what you need from them.
  6. Outline the behaviors you need them to change or learn.
  7. Know what they are used to, comfortable with, and even uncomfortable with.
  8. Get feedback.
  9. Give them access to necessary training programs and tools.
  10. Allow plenty of time for training and practice.

The last two items are very important. Salespeople need to have some way to learn new skills and a way to practice those skills. It’s not enough to have a tool that just is going to teach them, but they need that ability to practice in a safe space. And if you make a tool like that available to them, you’ve taken the first step in giving them a resource that they can use to evolve their behavior set and “groove” those new behaviors.

How do you manage your onboarding of new hires — especially with veterans who “shouldn’t need much direction” to succeed? More often than not, the onboarding process isn’t as thorough as it should be in companies. But that doesn’t mean it has to be that way with your company.


Author: David Solot

David Solot, Ph.D., is Chief Science Officer & Senior Vice President of Product Management at Sciolytix.