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The Three Most Common Mistakes in Onboarding Sales Employees... And How to Avoid Them

Good salespeople are not as common as sand on the beach. However, the onboarding of new sales employees is often treated negligently. And that is doubly annoying and costly: On the one hand, a poorly onboarded employee cannot fully tap into their potential, and on the other hand, poor onboarding fuels turnover.

Sales departments in particular are often affected by above-average turnover. Companies lose hundreds of thousands this way every year. Our annual sales study - the Digital Sales Monitor - has shown that replacing an open position costs an average of more than 15k, and in addition, there are revenue losses of 100-500k per lost employee in sales.

The good news is: Good onboarding is not rocket science and can significantly reduce the risk of turnover. In this article, I shed light on the three most common mistakes in onboarding sales employees based on our experiences from +700 startup projects and present solutions to avoid them.

Common Mistake 1️: Lack of clear objectives

A critical mistake in onboarding is not setting clear goals for the respective position and not defining how the company can support the employee in achieving those goals.

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Therefore, you should clearly define the goals (e.g., sales targets) with a time frame related to onboarding, the probation period, and the employee's first and second year. Starting from the target goal, the goals should be broken down into the first and second year, and then further into six-monthly, quarterly, or even monthly goals. Additionally, the goals need to be accompanied by benchmarks to enable comparability.

However, it is not enough to simply establish goals for the employee. It must also be clearly described how the company can support the employee in achieving those goals. Because with the straightforward planning of goals over two years, the employee also develops expectations towards the company. Our study "Digital Sales Monitor 2022," conducted last year, shows that one of the most common reasons for turnover in sales is unequal expectations, which can be significantly reduced by addressing this issue.

(In the Digital Sales Monitor 2022, the focus is on the question "How digitized are German sales departments?" If you don't want to miss out on exciting insights into the potential for company growth and revenue, or trends in changes within existing sales departments, follow this link.)

Common Mistake 2️: Lack of product onboarding

Another mistake is focusing onboarding solely on sales and neglecting the product.

A brief and superficial onboarding of a few weeks or days is not enough to provide the employee with the necessary product understanding. In sales, trust is key, which is why onboarding structures need to be long-term and go hand in hand with employee enablement and development. Therefore, during the first two weeks, onboarding should have a very high intensity, followed by a three-month phase with continued high intensity and a second three-month phase with slightly lower intensity.

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It is also important to establish cross-departmental onboarding structures that provide new employees with insights into the operational business, product workshops, and shadowing opportunities. This way, they not only gain a deep understanding of the product and its value but also understand the unique selling proposition (USP) of the company.

Common Mistake 3️: Lack of understanding of target audiences and buying personas (BPs)

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A third mistake in onboarding is not building a detailed understanding of target audiences and buying personas. It is not enough to simply write down information; clear training is needed. Employees should understand why specific BPs are targeted and how the product solves their problems. By gaining a better understanding of the emotional side of the target audiences, employees can sell the product more effectively.

How to do better?

In summary, a well-structured and well-thought-out onboarding program for new salespeople is crucial for strong performance, high satisfaction, and low turnover. As new employees in sales are exposed to a variety of new stimuli from day one, they need to rely on good structures and a strong supportive network in their new work environment. This reduces stress and increases job satisfaction for new team members.

Does all of this sound quite demanding and complicated? We have a solution that revolutionizes onboarding:

Our secret weapon for structured onboarding 📚

A Revenue Playbook (RP) can serve as a single point of truth and foundation for onboarding, as it consolidates all the information that the new employee needs at the beginning into a single document. The RP includes all structures, processes, KPIs, product descriptions, BP and target descriptions, as well as SOP descriptions. For onboarding, the RP should be specially prepared, for example, through learning videos or digital workshops, to ensure optimal employee activation. You can learn more about the Revenue Playbook and its structure here.

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Michael Jäger
Managing Partner