Onboarding Salespeople for Success, Even Over Zoom

Identify HR recruit Sales, Business Development and Customer Success hires for a range of client organisations; from global corporates to startups and fast-growth firms. A lot of our clients work in Software, Consulting, SaaS-driven on-line businesses, ERP Solutions, MedTech, and Fintech. Recruiting Salespeople is a tough gig. It can be a thankless and soulless task, dreaded by management. If it was easy and always quick you wouldn’t pay people like Identify HR for our expertise, know-how and know-who and hiring processes. Recruitment in a skill-short world is a challenge at the best of times.

I started thinking about how employers On-board Sales and Business Development hires before the virus put us all in lockdown, furlough or working from home. Salespeople like face-to-face time with clients, as well as team members and their Sales leader contact (‘People buy from people’). With an abundance of meeting platforms available, almost all offering a free version, On-boarding your new Sales hire efficiently and effectively is still possible My colleague Denise Baxter wrote a short piece regarding the use of popular on-line platforms for video and voice meetings, Who’s Zoomin’ Who?.

Sitting in the same room as your new hire, being able to offer real-time, high-impact at-desk coaching is the ideal situation. It accelerates building rapport and trust with your new Sales team member. However, good results can still be obtained if you plan meticulously and have the discipline to follow-through on the On-boarding plan, albeit remotely. It will give you an opportunity to see how your new hire presents on video (as they would to a prospect) and if they can manage a diary and workflow around the sessions you have booked.

In my next article on recruiting and retaining high-performing Salespeople, I will discuss what you should be measuring and what you should be discussing with your Sales hire: the who, what, where, when, why and how of measuring and managing KPIs. I will examine ‘red flags’ and when to fire a new hire (‘hire slow, fire fast’). We will discuss what ‘good’ looks like, what ‘average’ looks like and how to move a new hire from ’average’ to ‘good’ to ‘exceptional’ in their probation period (still part of their On-boarding experience) – all of this is possible, even in ‘lockdown’.

In the meantime, here are my thoughts on why a great On-boarding experience is essential; it is vital to giving your new Salesperson the best possible chance of succeeding. We will look at the benefits to you, your team, your customers, and other stakeholders and how to use this data for forecasting, budgeting and resource planning.

Recruiting exposes management and the organisation to financial, reputational, and operational damage if a key hire does not work out. A bad Sales hire can damage trust in a manager’s judgement across the organisation, as well as blowing a hole in the P&L and revenue forecasts.

A little time spent researching on-line, and one can see estimates of failed Sales hires ranging from 40% (Perkbox) to a less mind-bending 20% (Personnel Today) to a stomach-churning 55% (NASP). Trawling through LinkedIn for articles about failed Sales hires and the challenges of recruiting, retaining, and making productive new Salespeople, one can see the 20 – 40% fail rate is borne out in managers’ reality.

CSO Insights (a firm offering research and market analysis for B2B sales) state that the higher the staff turnover is in a Sales team then the weaker that team’s sales performance is. They claim a direct correlation between staff turnover and poor team performance. According to the book Topgrading by Brad Smart, the cost of a poor Sales hire can be around 6 times base salary for a Sales Executive or Rep and as high as 15 times basic salary for a manager or leader. That is a truly frightening statistic. It should keep even the toughest and most resilient Sales Director awake at night.

An obvious answer might be to look at your hiring process and try to improve it. Have you asked yourself why your hiring process is the way it is? Have you broken down the process into manageable chunks to examine the worth of each step? What measurable insight and understanding do they give you on each person you interview? Do you even have a documented Sales recruitment process? If you don’t have one, how do you accurately benchmark each candidate against your existing high achievers and against the pool of other applicants? Good luck with that.

Sales funnel, sales pipeline, scorecard, KPI, sales target

At Identify HR we developed a separate hiring process for our clients’ Sales and Business Development needs. Our approach is specific to finding the absolute best ‘Hunters’ and ensuring, as far as possible, the risk mentioned in the opening paragraph is minimised. We call our own Sales recruitment IP ‘Sales Talent Engagement Framework’ (or, STEF for short). It works.

Sales training is often something that gets mentioned. If you improve your Sales training, your people will be more knowledgeable and more confident and more motivated to pick up the phone, pitch for a face-to-face meeting with a prospect and so on. Improved training like an improved hiring process will help but it isn’t enough.

A CEO that I have recruited on behalf of for 6 or 7 years said something to me at the start of our relationship and I’ve never forgotten it –

I’d rather have no breath on an account or prospect than bad breath. The damage done by a poor Salesperson could mean that door is closed to us forever.

The point he was making was that it isn’t good enough and indeed could be corrosive just to have ‘bums on seats’ to push a vague sales message out there.

If you are confident your recruitment processes eliminates most flaky, journeyman Salespeople who will pick up their basic salary until you fire them, if your Sales training is fit for purpose, then consider other areas which could be pain points and contribute to your Sales staff turnover.

The first and most easily addressed is your On-boarding process. On-boarding is not orientation i.e. when they really need to use the toilet, they’ll find it. If the building is on fire, they’ll find a fire exit. If they’re thirsty they will find the coffee machine (these are Sales hunters, remember!?). Let HR do their job and walk them through the Employee Handbook and internet policy, etc.

Your On-boarding process should be tightly focussed on getting the new hire productive, busy sourcing and actioning properly qualified leads and beginning to fill their sales pipeline with prospects and opportunities. This is supported by your sales training programme. It should be carved in stone. The On-boarding schedule ought to be on the new hire’s desk (in their diary) on arrival on the first day along with their laptop, phone, fuel card and business cards. A condition of passing probation is completing the full On-boarding process for Salespeople. No exceptions. Salespeople are good at telling their boss why they are special and don’t need to cover the basics. If you allow them to call the shots this early on, and they don’t On-board properly and they fail, it is on you. You have failed your firm, your team, and your management suite.

How long is On-boarding? To my mind it must be at least as long as the hire’s probation period (e.g. 90 days), ideally longer in a complex sales environment. I recruit for a technology vendor who On-boards their Salespeople for at least as long as probation (3 months) and for as long as it takes for the new hire to make their first new business sales. The new hire works with a named mentor-coach, who supports the new hire right from the first hour of the first day. The mentor-coach is not their line manager. There are reporting and feedback sessions through-out the schedule, more training, buddy road-trips, mentor/hire visits to existing clients so the new hire can learn the house ‘style’ of pre-Sales, demos, and pitches and so on. Everything is documented, everything is measured. It works and their staff attrition in Sales is the same as the rest of their business (8.7% annually).

I think your On-boarding ought to include -

Clear expectations around financial performance are set before the new hire’s first day. You must have covered this at interview and offer i.e. what is expected, how they add value and what a high performer looks like. These set expectations ought to mean ‘no nasty surprises’ on their first morning, ensuring they come back after lunch!


A realistic roadmap of milestones – Day 1, Week 1, Month 1, Quarter 1 and so on


These must be reviewed and discussed with the new hire regularly and thoroughly to get any real-time and actional benefit from them. Review sessions ought to be safe places with no filter to talk about their success so far and their failures (perhaps a sales call went horribly wrong or they couldn’t get a PowerPoint demo to work at a pitch), their knowledge gaps, their fears and frustrations, and other pain points. If it is a problem to them, discuss it. It is their reality and if not resolved, it will become your reality and problem too.


All of this can be done with a mentor-coach supporting the new hire and their line manager. It adds value, acts as an early warning mechanism for problems on the horizon and the relationship builds trust and rapport and credibility in your business.


I appreciate startups and smaller firms may not have a mentor-coach type available in the business. If you are an Identify HR client, we can do it for you. Have you asked your Sales recruitment partners what they can do to help? Does your Sales recruitment partner add any extra value to your team? Other than finding people for you to interview, does their commitment to you for the fees you pay them end when a new hire starts with you? I have managed 75 high performing Salespeople on a trading floor in the City of London and dozens more remotely. That is my proof of concept (it was a Plc; my team performance was a matter of public record and verifiable). If you are a technical guru building a startup and you are not a natural Salesperson, ask your business partners for help and support as part of their core recruitment offering to you.


On-boarding for Sales success should be part of your business’ DNA – it is how we do things round here. It requires discipline and commitment from Sales leaders and management to ensure it is completed by all new Salespeople, regardless of their experience and performance levels. It can be hard to do because Sales is vital to the health and future of the firm and Salespeople are always time poor and playing catch-up. Regard the time spent nurturing a new Sales hire as a tangible investment in your P&L, just like training. Do not come to regard it as a necessary nuisance or intrusion preventing you from doing something more important. THIS is as important as anything else in your calendar. What you invest in properly On-boarding and welcoming a new Sales specialist will pay dividends in getting them to their first deal more quickly and shining a light on a hire who may be a mistake, saving some money, time and resources further down the road.


A couple of closing thoughts –


Don’t make hiring for Salespeople an ad hoc exercise, a bloody nuisance that you just need to grind through, with your only hiring plan on the back of fag packet. It is time intensive but not as time intensive as picking up the pieces when another failed Sales Rep walks out the door. A good in-house or agency recruiter saves your time by filtering the also-rans out of the process e.g. our STEF interviewing framework.


Do not fall in love too quickly with potential Sales hires. Of course, they are charming! Of course, they are “just like me”. They are selling to you! Use your interview road map and plan and stick to them. Do not over interview but do make the preferred candidate work for it. Make them show resilience and desire through the process. Do not cut corners. It will bite you on the bottom at a later date. I guarantee it. Be slow to hire and quick to fire.


CRM Use from Day 1: non-compliance. A couple of informal warnings, perhaps a written reminder of their contract of employment and ‘best practice’? Still not co-operating and not filling the CRM and sales pipeline with data you have paid them to harvest? Get rid of them – no mercy. This is symptomatic of other ego-issues in a Salesperson. Take the hit and move them on.


Sales is hard. It is not for everyone. That is why some Sales jobs pay such high packages. Hiring Salespeople can be thankless. People lie, they say one thing and do another, they play games and they can change their minds, they don’t show up for interview and so on. The personality types sometimes attracted to sales can display these negative traits in spades. It is not you; it is them and human nature.


If you map and document  your processes, collect data to formalize what good at interview looks like, get insight into which industries or competitors your high performers came from, if you train them, mentor them and On-board them properly, I promise that you will reduce staff turnover in your Sales team, improve morale and esprit des corps and, of course, improve your overall sales performance.

I work for Identify HR. We recruit experienced Technical, Developer, Functional and Sales & Marketing hires for Enterprise Software and SaaS firms, as well as niche vendors and consulting firms. And, of course, well-funded startups.

You can reach me at kenny@i-dentify-solutions.com or 07743978179. You can connect with me on LinkedIn at Kenny McAllisterFollow me on Twitter at @kennyrecruiter.