The Key to Onboarding and Retaining Top Sales Talent

By Chris Beall, CEO, ConnectAndSell
Different colored silhouettes of people around a red magnet.

Call it what you will – The Great Resignation, The Big Quit, The Great Talent Reshuffle – your sales organization (and possibly your career) is facing a new threat. While every category of talent has become harder to recruit and retain, top sales talent has the most opportunities to work for whoever they want, selling whatever they prefer, under whatever terms they choose.

As Helen Fanucci, Microsoft transformation leader and host of the Love Your Team podcast, says, “Your top talent can walk out the door without taking a single step.”

So, when you do hire a new rep, you want it to stick. Here is an engaging and long-lasting way to do that.

The Costs of Replacement

But first, let’s look at rep replacement cost.

The dollar cost of replacing a top sales rep is sobering. While most analysis focuses on the beefy costs of recruiting (which often run north of $75,000), the big dollars are hiding in the opportunity cost.

Top talent is where you get the overachievement of quota that covers the inevitable underachievement of the bottom one-third of your team. And top talent tends to leave very early in your fiscal year for one simple reason: to maximize their earnings opportunity when they go to where the grass looks greener – perhaps selling for your fiercest competitor.

When you add up the revenue lost while you are recruiting, onboarding, and ramping a new rep, the true cost is approximately equal to that rep’s total quota.

Savvy operators have always recognized the costs and risks associated with top sales talent walking out the door, and they make judicious accommodations in compensation, territory assignment, generous expense accounts, and annual recognition trips.

However, in the new reality – where anyone can work for anyone they choose, without regard for geography or, frankly, detailed product knowledge – these traditional measures aren’t enough. Big signing bonuses, work flexibility, and hot products to be sold for even hotter companies all stoke the fires of the war for talent, turning up the temperature on managers to retain their best.

Keeping Your Best New Reps

But what about the other end of the talent pipeline? When you do get a promising future star to join your team, is there anything you can do to not only shorten their onboarding and ramp time to full productivity, but to reduce the chance they will leave your team just when you have come to rely on their contribution?

It turns out there is, and it involves why human beings work with each other at all. The standard model used by too many employers is based on a transactional relationship. We pay you. You produce for us. This model – called “coin operated” – has been popular for many decades. But now we operate in a world full of alternatives. Other employers might offer more work flexibility, better tools, and a higher sense of purpose and value.

Cold calling sounds like exactly the opposite of what might be included in an attractive package to be dangled in front of a great sales candidate. And it is. But consider this: When a new sales rep joins your team, what do they need to learn?

The usual answer is “our product,” and the usual onboarding program is lots of training on product features, the value your product provides, use cases, pricing and packaging, and talk tracks for each relevant market segment. At some point, your new rep is ready to hold discovery meetings, give or coordinate demos, and work on deals. Hopefully, they get some early wins and ramp to quota. This process usually takes months, and, until they close their first deal, it is very hard to know how they are coming along – much less whether they will stay or go once they are ramped.

Now, let’s do a thought experiment. In addition to all that product and process training, what would happen if we exposed every new team member directly to the voices of our prospects? Not via mere recordings or dry email exchanges, but via live, human conversations. We would love to have our freshly hired rep make an emotional connection to how our products and our team help customers. If our new rep were to have enough conversations per day with prospective customers – conversations with a purpose – we should be able to accelerate the process of getting onboard not just with the product, but with our mission and the value we provide. In other words, when our new rep has live, purposeful prospecting conversations, they quickly adapt from “outsider learning about our value” to “sales professional providing value” – the value of exploring the possibility of taking a next exploratory step.

When to Start

So, if we think conversations with prospective customers powerfully bind our new rep to our company, products, and mission, when should we start? Is their first day too early?

It turns out that Day One is just right. Here’s a simple program that consistently yields a committed, confident team member:

  1. Teach your new hire a simple cold conversation script that, when delivered effectively, will generate both immediate trust and sufficient curiosity to schedule appointments with qualified prospects.
  2. Provide your new rep with access to a parallel assisted dialing (PAD) solution, with target prospecting lists loaded so they can focus on having targeted conversations, dialing, navigating phone systems, and leaving voicemails.
  3. Hold a one-hour coached calling session each day during their onboarding, setting appointments for themselves.

This simple program will immediately transform and accelerate your onboarding process – yielding new reps who are confident in the value of your solutions, confident in their ability to have real conversations with real prospects, and committed to your company and mission for one simple reason: They have been actively selling it, under just the right amount of pressure and with just the right amount of help, from Day One.

During a two-month onboarding process, your new rep will talk with more than 200 relevant decision makers – providing context for all that product and market knowledge they are simultaneously gaining through classes and content. They will truly hit the ground running, fully engaged and visibly productive, from Day One.

And when recruiters come with their tempting offers? You will sleep a little bit better knowing that your team’s commitment to your mission, company, and customers was established in the deepest way possible: by the simple, repeatable process of building trust with the human voice.

Chris Beall is CEO at ConnectAndSell.