The sales rep onboarding hack

by Steli Efti

A lot of companies selling complex, technical products spend weeks, or even months, training new sales reps before they let them interact with real prospects.

You don’t need to do that, because today you’ll learn how to train sales reps to make sales calls from day one. Turn new hires into product experts at the speed of startup, so they'll be able to answer any question right away.

It’s a scalable strategy for training and onboarding new sales hires a lot faster.

Practice trumps theory

Don’t just shove training materials down their throats, but expose them to real-world scenarios.

It’s like learning to swim - you can’t learn it by reading about swimming. You need to actually get in the water.

The documentation you give them is just a life jacket to keep them afloat, not a boat that prepares them for getting in the water.

Create a new sales rep training manual

What are the 20% of questions that prospects ask 80% of the time? What are the 10 to 20 most common things they want to know? 

Write down these questions.

Then write down the short and concise answers.

(Involve the most successful members of your sales team in creating this training guide for new sales hires). You’re basically creating a sales objection management document.

Have your new sales hires study this document, so that they can confidently answer the majority of questions prospects ask.

Don't know the answer?

What if a prospect asks a question the new sales rep hasn’t been trained on? 

Train your new sales reps to say this:

  1. That’s a great question.
  2. I don’t know the answer for this,
  3. but I will find it out for you. I will go to a person in the company that’s the best person to answer this and I will make sure to come back to you with an honest and accurate answer today – is that ok with you?” 

This accomplishes two important things:

  • It enables your sale reps to get the right answer to the prospect, and learn more about your product.
  • It creates trust, because it’s authentic and truthful.
We called hundreds of thousands of people when we were still running our outsourced sales force, and nobody ever was upset about this. People often appreciate getting such an unexpectedly candid answer from a sales person. They'd rather havehonest answers later over bullshit answers now.

But what if it’s a super-simple question?

Some questions are so basic that it can be almost embarassing if a sales rep doesn’t know the answer. Things like: “How long has your company been in business?” 

How should a new sales rep respond if he can’t answer such a simple question?

Same formula, just add these words after “I don’t know the answer”: “...because this is my first week. I just got started here.”

Nobody is mad at people who are new at a business. Everybody has been in that position and knows what it’s like.

What’s your company culture?

Don’t expect your sales people to be perfect and know all the answers. It’s going to create pressure for them to bullshit when they don’t know the answer.

They will just say things like: “Oh we have been around for three years.” - “Why did you say that?” - “Well, I didn’t want them to know that I don’t know and embarrass us.” 

You know what's embarrassing? Having to make up lies instead of giving forthright replies.

Just be honest. It’s an opportunity to stand out from the crowd, and it starts with the way you onboard new sales reps.

Don’t require them to have all the right answers - require them to have the right attitude.

Flip it, and reverse it.

Here’s how you take this to the next level. Have your sales reps respond to questions they can't answer as follows:

  1. Great question.
  2. I don’t know the answer (because I’m new here).
  3. But I’ll find it out for you.
  4. In the meanwhile, let me ask you: what would you want the answer to be in a perfect scenario?
  5. Why?

That fourth and fifth step is where the magic happens.

Have them tell you what they want and then ask them why.

Flip the question around, and turn it into an opportunity to learn more about your prospects, to understand them better, to qualify them.

Here’s some questions that will be helpful for this step:

  • What would be your ideal answer?
  • How are you going to use this? / What’s the use case?
  • What is the work flow when this is relevant and important? 
  • What do you want the answer to be and why is that important to you?
  • Tell me a little bit more about your company/team, and by the end of the conversation I will make sure to come back with any missing information.
  • Why do you want that to be that way? Why is this important to you?

Typically what happens with new sales hires who don’t ask these questions, is that they don’t provide enough context.

They’ll go to the engineer and say: “Somebody ask me, how do you configure this on the API level?” 

Engineer: “What’s the use case for this question? Why is this relevant?”

New sales rep: “I don’t know, I just put down the question, I didn’t ask them anything about it.”

And then an engineer can’t provide them with a good answer, because they lack context.

Most sales leaders teach new reps to give the right answers. Great sales leaders teach new reps to ask the right questions.

Most sales leaders teach new reps to give the right answers. Great sales leaders teach new reps to ask the right questions.

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