The InsightSquared sales team has more than doubled in size the past year, and as the VP of Sales, I’m obsessed with setting every new sales rep on the path to success. In order to do that, each rep we hire goes through a carefully-built sales training program designed to ramp new reps quickly, but thoroughly.

However, fully ramping a brand new sales rep is incredibly challenging for every sales organization — from the Fortune 500 to SMBs. There are hundreds of books written on the subject, and sales training organizations that focus completely on executing this one job effectively. The best sales organizations spend months training new reps intensively and take time to prepare new employees as much as possible. Unfortunately, not every company can afford to spend 6 months training new sales reps, and sometimes, the quality of your onboarding process can suffer.

To produce a great sales rep, training programs should be a combination of high-level learning and practical tactics. As a sales leader, it’s up to you to build a sales training process that ramps new reps fast, and arms them to succeed. Here are a few of the key ingredients:

A Powerful Sales Playbook

The very first step in creating a solid training program is building out a comprehensive sales playbook. You want reps to have all the information they need to prepare for their job. Whenever reps feel unsure or lost during training, they should be able to refer back to the playbook to get some clarity. Your playbook should include:

  • Sales Organization and Responsibilities
  • Buyer Personas and Talk Tracks
  • Product and Pricing Guides
  • Sales Process Details
  • CRM Guidelines
  • …and more

The playbook should really be split into two broad sections: tactical operations and high-level concepts. For example, operations tells you how to open an opportunity in Salesforce, how you convert a lead to an opportunity, and when you move opportunities to the next stage in the sales funnel. Then, the high-level sales methodology should include the personas you sell to, what those prospects are interested in, and how reps should engage with them. Reps need training in both the sales context and the practical mechanics of doing their job.

Reaching “Unconscious Competence”

A playbook is hugely important, but you can’t put every single bit of information into it and assume your job is done. If it is too comprehensive, sales playbooks become as big as an encyclopedia and get tucked away in the rep’s desk. Handing new reps a dense playbook and asking them to read it is not good enough — you have to really educate them. Training should include a combination of written materials, in-person teaching and oral and written testing. The goal is for reps to absorb the information fully, so it becomes reflexive and automatic — to the point of unconscious competence.

As a sales leader, you should assign specific reading to your reps and then test their skills and memory. You should test new reps on the mechanics of the job: how do you do x, y, and z in Salesforce, for example. Once they’ve learned the basic concepts, you can do sales role play and other live training exercises to enforce this information. Test them on things such as::

  • Giving a sales pitch
  • Handling a sales objection
  • Negotiating a deal
  • …and more.

As everyone knows, practice makes perfect. Salespeople need to put concepts into practice before they truly understand them. The faster you can get new sales reps to unconscious competence in their selling abilities, the more productive your reps will become.

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Reviewing Performance Metrics

If you combine the right balance of written documentation and in-person training, you should start to see new sales reps ramp quickly. However, that doesn’t mean your job is done. Every sales leader must track the metrics and see whether the training program is getting real results in the coming months. You should use specific sales performance metrics to highlight areas for improvement and allow managers to formulate a sales coaching plan for each individual rep. For example, look at:

  • Activity levels
  • Conversion ratios
  • Pipeline generation

Compare individual reps who have gone through your recent sales training process to your top performers, and see how they stack up. Then, track how each rep is doing in comparison to their peers who have equal opportunities to sell. It’s inevitable that results will vary from salesperson to salesperson, but if you’re ramped reps are consistently doing well compared to the average, it’s a good sign that your training program is effective.

Lastly, make sure you devote as much time as your business allows to ramping new sales reps. More training is always better, and you should push the limits of what your business can take in order to build a successful and prepared sales team. With the right training, your newest reps will start closing more and better deals, faster.

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