In the current pandemic-era economic climate, in which the world of sales has undergone a rapid and comprehensive transformation, companies face a complex and rapidly evolving sales landscape. For instance, in a recent Salesforce study, 79% of sales reps say they've had to quickly adapt to new ways of selling, and 58% of reps say they expect their roles to change permanently.[i] In such a climate, it is vital that organizations adapt swiftly and enable their sales teams with the most relevant sales readiness skills, so reps are prepared to speak to prospects with confidence across the sales journey. The process of building sales readiness begins with sales onboarding. Yet, sales onboarding has also proved to be a significant challenge in the new normal of hybrid work environments with distributed teams across the globe, resulting in 62% of companies reporting their onboarding programs as ineffective.[ii] This lack of effectiveness comes from a company’s traditional and outdated approach to sales onboarding that sees it as a once-and-done exercise after the hiring process rather than as an ongoing process of learning and skill development based on the principles of continuous sales readiness, which recognizes that learning is an ongoing activity and that one-time information sharing is ineffective in building sales readiness in reps.
Such a traditional approach to sales onboarding suffers from several key faults:
Why it’s time to rethink traditional sales onboarding programs
One of the primary reasons for the failure of traditional sales onboarding programs is the misguided assumption that sales onboarding is a process required only during hiring. Seen as a process to be completed before sales reps start “actually selling” to customers, sales onboarding is often thought of only in terms of time to ramp to full productivity. With such a once-and-done approach, there is little consideration for how much of the knowledge and skills imparted during sales onboarding are actually retained, deployed, and kept updated by sales reps when interacting with customers on the job.
When companies treat sales onboarding programs as a single event at the start of a rep’s tenure, they try to cover every possible sales scenario within a short period of time. And in such cases, sales reps are required to consume large volumes of onboarding collateral in the form of sales decks, PDFs, and other assets stored in a shared drive or via an LMS. This overloads reps with too much information, making it nearly impossible to properly learn and retain each significant piece of knowledge. Research tells us that most reps forget 70% of what they learn within a week and 87% within a month. [iii] Think about that for a moment! Hence, only a minor portion of knowledge from a traditional sales onboarding program is retained for sales reps to put into practice in sales conversations. Something here needs to change…!
Disconnection from practical skill development
Traditionally, sales onboarding focuses only on information dissemination, pushing new reps to consume and memorize large volumes of content followed by rote quizzes and assessments that merely measure whether the sales reps have completed their sales onboarding assignment or not and not if they are truly sales ready. In such situations, the learning material is presented more as a narrative for rote-learning rather than in a modular fashion that encourages contextualized deployment and practice of particular concepts and skills as a natural part of the sales conversation, thus, making it difficult for sales reps to apply such learning to real-world situations.
Failure to regularly update skills and knowledge
Sales conversations are highly dynamic and must constantly evolve in response to changes in products and solutions, market conditions, and competitive landscapes. However, traditional sales onboarding focuses only on new hires and fails to account for the need of tenured sales reps to also keep their knowledge and skills sufficiently updated in the form of ongoing sales readiness.
Continuous sales readiness is the key
To overcome the above problems, companies need to take on a continuous learning perspective with regular reinforcement to promote knowledge retention known as continuous sales readiness. Fostering such a culture of continuous learning requires companies to move away from a single event of once-and-done onboarding to adopting ongoing, competency-focused learning frameworks that are integrated with reps’ workflows.
To achieve continuous sales readiness, companies should:
Map onboarding activities onto sales processes and competencies
When companies move beyond event-based sales onboarding, they can build iterative learning cycles in which sales reps learn to apply one set of skills before moving on to the next. When learning, practice, and feedback are thus focused on a specific set of skills in each iteration, such as agenda setting, cold call opening, objection handling, or product demo, it allows reps to methodically build up and retain knowledge in a structured way. When such iterations are tied to the different stages of the sales process, the increased relevance further improves retention.
Provide spaced reinforcement to improve retention
Learning cannot be accomplished with a single or sporadic exposure to onboarding content. When sales reps are given opportunities to repeatedly recall and practice what they learn, this improves retention and builds fluency, making it more likely for reps to integrate their learning into their everyday practice. Such reinforcement of onboarding content can be backed by interactive exercises, real-world pitch scenarios, segmenting industries, persona-based pitch practice, objection handling, discovery elevator pitch, etc.
Support experiential learning
For the highest levels of knowledge retention, experiential learning, or learning through practice, is key. Research shows that while lectures, reading, audiovisual presentations, and demonstrations result in retention levels of 5%-30%, experiential learning increases retention levels to as much as 75%.[iv] Experiential learning can be built into the sales onboarding process in the form of practice pitches as mentioned above, in the form of roleplays across various pitch scenarios, and as video demos that can be recorded by reps and shared with managers and peers for feedback.
Integrate learning with reps’ workflows
In addition to continuous sales readiness reinforcement, timeliness and relevance also improve retention of knowledge. Hence, it is essential that onboarding content is aligned with reps' workflows. This can be done by using microlearning to provide easily digestible learning modules contextually tied to sales activities being carried out by reps. Similarly, practice and roleplays should also be focused on encompassing a range of micro-skills and sales scenarios developed sequentially.
Back up learning with sound feedback and coaching
In order for reps to develop practical skills that they can apply, their sales training and readiness must be guided by specific and actionable feedback. This process of learning would involve effective coaching facilitated by sales managers and unbiased and quantitative feedback provided by AI-enabled sales readiness tools. Such tools provide specific, targeted feedback that sales managers can leverage to pinpoint precise areas of improvement for sales reps to work on to be able to pitch like a pro across a variety of scenarios. This helps sales managers provide meaningful guidance at scale.
Focus on ongoing readiness for all reps
The process of onboarding cannot be focused solely on new hires. After all, when sales conversations change dynamically, reps cannot remain static with what they learned during onboarding. Such updating does not only relate to product knowledge during sales kick-offs and product launches but also to keeping skills sharp and maintaining messaging consistency.
Companies that still view their sales onboarding strategy as a singular event are making a crucial mistake in today’s pandemic-era, distributed-workforce environment. Instead, companies must rethink their sales onboarding programs and invest time and resources to create a culture of continuous learning using sales readiness tools that support experiential learning. By implementing this new strategy of continuous sales readiness, sellers will have the knowledge, skills, and confidence to engage with prospects, build pipeline, hit or exceed their quotas, and be on top of their sales game no matter how conditions on the frontlines change and evolve.
How Nytro.ai can help
Crucial to continuous sales readiness is the need to create repeated opportunities for reps to practice and reinforce key skills and build on them iteratively. A sales readiness platform like Nytro.ai enables sales reps to put into practice what they have learned via onboarding. It enables sales reps at all levels - new hires and tenured reps - to practice pitches across a multitude of different sales scenarios and facilitates remote practice for distributed sales teams. Using artificial intelligence, Nytro.ai provides objective, unbiased analysis, scores, and quantitative insights at scale, assessing reps’ pitches for a wide range of indicators such as tone and speed of delivery, topic coverage, keyword usage, alignment with base pitch, and so on. In this manner, Nytro.ai can provide a contextualized, personalized, and experiential learning environment that ensures reps are sales ready at all times with the necessary sales knowledge and skills that they need when they meet customers.
- [i] https://www.salesforce.com/in/resources/research-reports/state-of-sales/
- [ii] https://salesandmarketing.com/5-sales-onboarding-errors-avoid/#:~:text=An%20effective%20onboarding%20program%20can,time%2Dto%2Dfirst%20deal.&text=In%20fact%2C%20more%20than%20six,Sales%20Management%20Association%20(SMA).
- [iii] https://www.gartner.com/smarterwithgartner/the-evolution-of-sales-training-and-coaching-technology
- [iv] https://thepeakperformancecenter.com/educational-learning/learning/principles-of-learning/learning-pyramid/