Labcast: Lee Salz on Common Mistakes Made When Onboarding Salespeople

Kristin McLeod by

In this week’s Labcast, leading sales management strategist and talent management expert Lee Salz joins me to talk about some of the common mistakes managers make when onboarding sales people.

Lee also provides his definition of onboarding and offers some great tips to help make the process as effective as possible.

Labcast 67_ Lee Salz on Common Mistakes Made When Onboarding Sales People

Kevin: Hello again, and welcome to this edition of Labcast. I’m Kevin Cain, and today I’m joined by Lee Salz. Lee is a leading sales management strategist and talent management expert who specializes in helping companies build scalable, high performance sales organizations by hiring the right salespeople, effectively onboarding them, aligning their sales activities with business objectives through process metrics and compensation. Lee’s an award winning author of several books and the founder and CEO of Sales Architect, The Revenue Accelerator and Business Expert Webinars. Thanks so much for joining us today, Lee. How’s it going?

Lee: It’s coming great. Thanks for having me here, Kevin.

Kevin: We’re happy to have you. So what we want to talk today is the common flaws that people make when onboarding  salespeople. So my first question is, I’ve heard the term onboarding used in several different ways, and I wanted to know how you define it.

Lee: Yeah, you’re right. It is defined in many ways. Some look at the very narrow scope of onboarding to mean completing new hire paperwork, getting an office assigned, getting them a laptop, those kinds of things, and there are others that look at the spectrum of the initial contact with a candidate, all the way through when they’re fully tenured in the role. My definition, and this will be our discussion focus here today, is that first day that the salesperson arrives through the time period when he or she is fully proficient in the sales role for the company.

See, you don’t hire great salespeople. You hire salespeople with the potential to be great in the sales role for the company. And that’s a very different philosophy if you look at those two expressions together.

Kevin: Right. That makes sense. And so it sounds like a pretty understandable concept, yet a lot of executives don’t get it. Why is that?

Lee: Yeah, they really don’t, and that’s why I’m so excited that we’re talking, because I’m on this crusade to drive visibility to the issues surrounding not having an effective onboarding experience for salespeople. Let me put it in this context. Imagine a sales leader woke up in the morning, had this brilliant idea to grow revenue, would go to the CEO and say, “Here’s my idea. It’s going to be great, and it’s only going to cost $25,000 to implement it.” How many hurdles would that sales leader have to jump through to get that $25,000 to spend in most companies? A lot, right?

Kevin: Mm-hmm.

Lee: Now if that sales leader were to turn around and say, “By the way, I’m hiring a new member of our inside sales team, and the salary is $25,000,” no one would blink an eye at it. So there’s this difference in these dollars where, in reality, they’re the same. They’re both an investment in revenue. So what companies don’t get is that you’re not hiring great salespeople, as I was mentioning before, this stand alone entity that shows up on your doorstep and produces without any involvement of the team, but rather, it’s a joint initiative between the salesperson and the employer. If you accept the premise that this is an investment in revenue when you add head count to the team, then the entire perspective shifts.

But the reason why executives don’t get it is they think they can hire great salespeople, which means, “What do we need onboarding for? They should just show up and sell.” “Oh. It’s been 90 days. You haven’t sold? You’re gone.” And of course, it’s the salesperson’s fault as to why that happened. In reality, oftentimes, there wasn’t this bridge program where that salesperson, who shows up on day one, what they really show up with is a portfolio of skills. At the other end of the spectrum is proficiency in the role. Onboarding is the bridge that connects their skill set with proficiency. So if you don’t have an onboarding program in place, right away that investment that you’re making when you bring head count.

Kevin: And what are some of the common mistakes you see executives making when they’re pursuing this approach to onboarding?

Lee: We’ll talk through this, and executives start to see this big picture and say, “Boy, this makes a lot of sense for us because we can reduce the amount of time it takes for our salespeople to get up to speed, reduce the failure rate associated with salespeople just never getting it, if you will, in our environment.” So they get very, very excited. They say, “Okay. Let’s jump in and start creating content.” You can do that. But my question is this, “How will you know when you’re done? How will you know that the content that you put in the program is going to help the salesperson to succeed?” In other words, we have the cart before the horse here, because you can add content forever, and, quite frankly, that content could do nothing to help that salesperson succeed.

So one of the common mistakes is starting with putting content together, where what they should start with is the finish line. So if I were to describe you, Kevin, as having successfully completed our onboarding program, well, the executive team now has expectations of you, because you’ve successfully completed our onboarding program. Well, what are those expectations? What is it that we expect that you now know, can do, and can use on behalf of the company? And when I say “know,” I mean information, like product knowledge. By “do,” I mean some type of action, like conducting a sales call. By use, I mean some type of a system or tool, such as a CRM or some type of back office system. Once we identify all of the expectations that we have of salespeople who’ve successfully completed onboarding, then the idea is to create content that leads to those expectations being met.

Kevin: Sure. So I think that makes a lot of sense. But are there any other common mistakes that people make when onboarding salespeople?

Lee: Yeah, another big one is having an onboarding program. Now that seems to contradict everything we’ve just talked about in  the last few minutes. The issue isn’t the word “onboarding.” The issue is the word “an,” meaning thinking of this in the singular sense. See, you may hire people from within your industry, from outside your industry, transfer someone to the sales department, hire someone just out of school. Those are four unique backgrounds. Now your expectation portfolio, at the finish line, that  doesn’t change, but the path to see that those expectations are met needs to vary, given the background of the individuals that you’ve just added to the team.

Kevin: And I’m guessing that’s not the only missteps that they make. Are there any others?

Lee: Well, another big one, let’s come back to my earlier point about this being an investment in revenue. So you get this concept, “Okay. We’re going to put them through our onboarding program or educational development program, if you will. Now we send them off to sell, and what so many miss is the evaluation step. See, the onboarding program, that’s the most that companies are willing to do to get the salespeople up to speed, and at the conclusion of onboarding, that’s really about it. They may have some tutorials along the way, or what have you, but the real foundation that’s going to be provided for the salesperson is that onboarding program. And so, if you don’t have that evaluation step, meaning, “Okay, we provided all of this education to you that correlates with our expectations. So we now expect that you’ll know some things, and be able to do some things, and be able to use some things.”

So the evaluation step means having a written exam and some practicals. So, for example, you’d have a written exam around all of the information type things, that “know” category we talked about before. So, how well do they understand the industry and your marketing direction and all of those kinds of things. By “do,” could you imagine how embarrassing it is for a company where you put someone through onboarding and say, “Yeah. I think he’s ready to go.” And he goes off to call a CFO and completely embarrasses himself, and bigger picture, embarrasses the brand. Well, why does that have to happen? Have a practical in your company.

So, if the expectation is that Kevin will be able to conduct a needs analysis discussion with a CFO at the end of onboarding, well, before we send him out to a real CFO, let’s put a practical together in our own organization, a safe environment, if you will, to see if that individual is prepared to go do that. And by having that step in place, you want it for two things. One is you get some visibility as to where that salesperson is relative to proficiency, which is really important, and number two, you have an opportunity, if that person still can’t do the job, if you will, still can’t conduct that sales call and decide, “You know what? Maybe we should stop the investment right now.” Because, like I said before, the onboarding program, that’s the most that the company is willing to invest in that new salesperson. If we are past that point and they still can’t pass a written exam, they can’t conduct the sales call, they can’t conduct the corporate presentation, well that’s an opportunity that the company has to stop throwing dollars away, rather than wait and see what happens and in a B2B environment, we could talking two to three years down the road when they go, “Gee. This guy’s just not going to sell for us.”

So there’s this wonderful opportunity that companies have, a milestone point, if you will, in this relationship to say, “Okay. At the end of onboarding, we’re going to have this proficiency period where you take a written exam and you’re going to conduct a sales call in our environment, you’re going to deliver a corporate presentation,” and that determines what the future’s going to be for that individual.

Kevin: Well, these have been some really great insights, Lee. I think our listeners are really going to appreciate learning so much about the onboarding sales process. Before I let you go, I know you’ve got a new e-Book out called “Sales Person Onboarding Best Practices.” Can you our listeners a little about it and where they can get a copy?

Lee: Yeah, sure. First of all, they can get a copy on my website, which is  What the book presents first is the business case for salesperson onboarding, why executives should even be thinking about this with everything else that’s on their plate, and then there’s a step-by-step methodology to put this in place in your organization. The entire process soup to nuts, including that whole practical step that I was mentioning before, score sheets, the whole nine yards. And for a limited time, the e-Book is absolutely free. They just go on the website and there’s a link to download it.

Kevin: That’s great. Lee, thanks again for joining us today. This has been really interesting.

Lee: Kevin, thanks so much for having me.

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