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All Aboard

All aboard

By Michael Saraf

Six practices to ensure proper on-boarding for salespeople and customer service personnel

Are your sales and customer service teams working as one cohesive unit, or are there disconnects? It is common to find these groups not working in sync. This is damaging to the overall commercial effort of any organization in that the customer is not seeing the full potential of your company’s value proposition. An effective on-boarding program for new-hire salespeople and customer service personnel can ensure that your front line people are delivering the same message to your customers, consistently and frequently. The implementation of such a program will shorten the ramp-up period for the individual, reduce costly turnover for your company and ensure long-term commercial success for both.

The sales group is often the face of your company. Your salespeople are who the customers see, and how they are seen is directly related to your company’s brand. The customer service group is often the voice of your company. Hardly ever seen by the customer, what your customer service group is saying is very impactful. When it comes to the commercial approach for most organizations, there are a lot of moving parts that require alignment. You hire people to fill these positions with the intention that they will help your company by representing it in a positive fashion. It is critical that you view these positions as investments for the future of your company, and it is important that the people filling them have a solid foundation from the outset.

You have invested a lot in your company. You have the right products for your customers and you have a strategy in place to grow your customer base. To do that, though, you need to have the right people delivering the message that you want delivered. Implement these six on-boarding practices to ensure that your new-hire salespeople and customer service personnel get ramped up to speed as quickly and effectively as possible. You chose to invest in them, so make sure you give them what they need to be successful for you.

1) Cross-Functional Introduction
A mistake that many companies make with new-hire salespeople and customer service personnel is that they hire them and turn them loose to fulfill the primary functions found in their job description without having a good understanding of how their role fits into the bigger picture.

New-hires are more effective if they have the opportunity to “ride along” with people from other departments. If the new-hire position is a salesperson, do not limit their training to just spending time with other salespeople. Make sure to schedule time for him/her to sit with people from customer service, accounts receivable, purchasing, marketing and shipping/receiving. These departments play a significant role in the overall customer experience, so it is important that the new-hire understands the roles of these departments and also what is important to each of them. If the new-hire position is customer service, schedule time for him/her to visit customers with a salesperson. Not only does this help the new-hire understand the role of the salesperson in practical situations, it also begins to build a relationship with a customer.

Another benefit of this cross-functional exposure is that it instills the sense of “internal customer” as well. That is lost on many companies, but those who appreciate its importance are far more effective in dealing with external customers.

2) The 30-second commercial
Your company represents many different brands from several manufacturers, but it is important to remember that your company also has a brand in the marketplace. Your brand should be considered as a personality, and when your customers see your company name, certain feelings are evoked.

Because you have created a certain image for your company, you will want your new-hires to understand that and communicate it in their interactions with their customers. Create a “30-second commercial” about your company for your new-hires to get comfortable with. It should be only three to four sentences long, and it should be akin to a mission statement in that it embodies the benefits of your company. It needs to answer these basic questions:

  • Who are you? (for potential customers)
  • Why should customers choose you? (this is for potential and
  • current customers)

Have your new-hires practice stating this to the point that they are completely comfortable with it and it no longer sounds rehearsed.

3) Points of Difference
You know who your competitors are. Many of them sell the exact same products that you do, and when value propositions are not communicated to the customer effectively, the result is usually “low price wins.” This is not sustainable for your business, and ultimately even the customer suffers because service levels fall off completely.

To counter this, it is critical that your new-hire salespeople and customer service personnel understand and be able to communicate to current and potential customers ALL of the benefits of dealing with your company. The generic product is “What’s In the Box” and everybody has that. Your on-boarding process needs to instill all of the components that your company surrounds the generic product with, including service. The features of the product are secondary to what customers really care about. People buy on emotion and they need to know the answer to “What’s in it for me?” Proper communication of your company’s “Points of Difference,” or the benefits that are unique to your company, answers that question and builds customer loyalty at the same time.

Features are important, but they are the supporting details to the bigger message. On-boarding needs to prioritize a “customer-centric” focus over a “product-centric” approach. The features of the individual products will be learned through training and practical experience. When your salespeople and customer service team can sell your company first, selling the products becomes much easier.

4) Establish Clear and Attainable Goals
New-hires in sales or customer service positions often assume that hitting a year-end sales number is the goal, but it should not be. Most new-hires take some time before they start to deliver sales growth on the investment that you have made. In fact, it is common for a sales territory to go backwards initially during the ramp-up period.

During your on-boarding process, make it clear that sales results are not the goal. The sales result is the consequence of the many smaller things that they have 100% control over, and those are the true goals. Make sure it is understood that, if they execute on what should be the basics, these smaller goals will be met and sales will result. Conversely, if they do not meet these smaller goals, sales will suffer.

Help your new-hire set their schedule initially. Help them establish a call routine. If your company uses a CRM, have them make a set amount of meaningful entries per week. All of these are examples of activities over which they have complete control, and while none guarantee sales immediately, all greatly enhance the chances of sales success at some point. Whatever attainable goals you set, it is important to review the new-hire’s progress frequently, especially during the on-boarding process. Mistakes will be made early on, so catching and correcting them is a healthy exercise in building the personal and professional relationships between you and your new-hire.

Considering the sales result (good or bad) as the consequence of hitting or missing on the smaller goals is a paradigm shift, but I have used this methodology with veteran sales teams I have managed, and the results show that it absolutely works.

5) Essential Characteristics for Success
The two most important characteristics that are common to the best salespeople are
RESPONSIVENESS and FOLLOW-UP, so you must instill these in your new-hire as being absolutely critical. Customers have issues that require attention, and they will not wait long for satisfaction. A good salesperson gets back to his/her customers quickly and with status updates. Even an update of “I don’t know the answer yet, but I am looking into it and I will have something for you by tomorrow” is meaningful because it shows the customer that the new-hire is being attentive.

Secondly, when your salesperson makes a promise to a customer, they must deliver on that promise. Failure to do so will certainly damage the salesperson’s reputation, but also the brand image of your company. As simple as these two characteristics sound, it is surprising that many salespeople do not possess these traits. Make sure you stress these fundamentals during the on-boarding process, and do not assume that they are understood as being important.

6) Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Check in with them frequently, even if they seem to be grasping your corporate strategy and are adapting well to their new surroundings. Commercially minded professionals need and want to feel engaged, and leaving them alone can send the wrong message.
Schedule checkpoint meetings with them every two weeks during their initial three months, and then monthly for the remainder of their first year. Prior to those meetings, let them know what you will be asking for, including updates on the attainable goals that you have established. Also, they have to be comfortable in letting you know what issues they are having, so emphasize that as well. Communication goes both ways, and it is critical for building a strong foundation.

None of the steps above include having your new-hire salesperson or customer service member become an expert on the products themselves in the first year. Product knowledge is absorbed by people in these positions over time, so use the on-boarding period to make sure that your new-hire is comfortable with the commercial strategy that you have designed and that they understand how their role fits into the overall picture.

Every so often, you will hear it stated that a certain product can “sell itself.” Whether or not that is true, what is less arguable is that a weak representative from your company can un-sell any of your products by not executing on the fundamentals. It happens all the time, and when it does it is far more damaging than just a single lost sale. A proper on-boarding process for salespeople and customer service personnel will help to eliminate that possibility from happening to you and your company.

Michael SarafMichael Saraf, president of Brand Performance, LLC, has more than 20 years of industrial sales and marketing experience, helping manufacturers and distributors strengthen their brands, build customer loyalty and capture market share. Visit to learn more.

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2014 issue of Industrial Supply magazine. Copyright 2014, Direct Business Media.

all aboard
Posted from: Michel Lafond, 7/8/14 at 8:10 AM CDT
Well explained. A must to understand for any company with a sales team.

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