Why You’re Doing SDR Onboarding Wrong (Part 1)

Brock Benefiel

A guide to avoid the common mistakes and capitalize on opportunities with your new reps written by Brock Benefiel. Brock is a Digital Marketing Consultant, Tech Writer, and Author of the upcoming book Flyover Startups.

Because they are often the least experienced group working in a tech company (or working at all), SDRs are some of the hardest employees to train. And in the short-term, they are some of the least valuable employees to train and will only be a cost burden on your company in the early days.

“The average new sales rep at a SaaS company takes 5.3 months to reach full productivity,” Steli Efti writes. “That’s almost half a year where your business is actually losing money per rep.”

Yikes, right? But unless you’re entirely new to sales development, you know SDRs work as a long-term investment if given the right environment and proper management. If you can afford the necessary months to pass before they become meeting-setting machines, you’ll eventually develop a crop of SDRs that kickstart huge deals and fill a much-needed talent pipeline that your company will rely on for future hires.

So will the amount of onboarding and ongoing training still seem inefficient and sometimes a waste? Absolutely. But it will also pay off big in the end. Its importance is critical. Remember, it’ll always be more costly to have high SDRs churn rates than it will be to allow time for SDRs to train. If you train well, you’ll have set the SDR on the right track and develop a knowledge base that can be returned to the next crop of reps and lessen the burden on your executive team to train in the future. Proper onboarding will reduce the time to full productivity. It’s the best way to do it.

But too often onboarding mistakes are made and training opportunities are squandered. Don’t fall victim to these silly slip ups. Examine these top errors founders make when bringing on new reps instead and learn how to avoid all of it with effective training strategies:

#1 – You push them too quickly into the deep end

This is the easiest mistake to make. You want to get your SDRs calling and emailing quickly so they get professional experience but there is just so much they need to know before they can effectively prospect.

Here is just a sample of what they need from you in order to better understand your customer:

  • Customer profiles – Who are you selling to in your total addressable market (TAM)? How do these companies specifically benefit from your product offering?
  • Customer personas – Who are your SDRs going to reach out to? What is their job title and responsibility and how does this product specifically make their life easier and solve a big issue they face?
  • Influencer profiles – Who else is important at the company? Who are the additional stakeholders they should consider and what might their role be in the buying process?

Here is just a sample of what they need from you in order to better understand your company:

  • Team structure – How is sales broken down? Are SDRs reporting to marketing or sales? Who will they need to report to and who else will they work with?
  • Sales strategy – Are you inside or outside sales company? Are accounts owned by geography or by individual companies?
  • Key metrics – What are the KPIs SDRs will have to hit?

Then, you’ll want them to understand the market as well. Be able to answer these questions:

  • Who are your competitors?
  • How is their product offering different?
  • What should be their answer when a prospect asks “why should we pick you over X company?”

After that, you will want to demo your product to each SDR and allow them to use it. You also want your new hires to sit down with an individual from each department – engineers, product managers, marketers, salespeople, etc. – to understand the role each play in the company, how everyone plays a role in software development and sales and how each find individual value in your product offering. These conversations provide a deeper understanding of how the product works, why its valued and creates a forum for SDRs to have their first long-form discussions about the company and make them feel more comfortable once they must have these conversations with prospects. Let them first understand what it’s like to be sold and allow them to experience the product education. Have them mark the questions they have in the process so they know to anticipate the same inquiries when they’re the ones who are explaining the product.

If you’re not at least providing them this baseline understanding of your company, their customers and their role, you can’t expect them to set meetings. Push them in without this initial training and they will inevitably sink.

#2 – You’re going to give them too much information

No matter how good you are at training employees, you are bound to overload your new SDR hires with information. Expect them to retain just a fraction of what they’re initially taught. Instead of hoping they’ll be able to consume the firehose of information, rely on ongoing training to make up for what they’ll inevitably miss. “Create a training manual that’s part sales script, part objection management document,” Steli Efti writes. “Your sales training manual allows you to build a more scalable strategy for onboarding new sales hires, by getting everyone to speak the same language from day one.”

There is also only so much information you want SDRs to learn before they actually deal with customers and experience the real nuances of the role. In the ramp up period to full efficiency, you want a back and forth to occur between the ongoing education SDRs need and the real life experience they require to get a feel for the customer communication.

Your reference materials will SDRs something to study when they encounter more specific obstacles with potential customers. According to Efti, here are some aspects you want to include:

  • 10-15 customer FAQs
  • 10-15 common objections
  • Short answers to each question or objection

Your SDRs should study the questions and answers. You should test them on it. Find out what concepts are more difficult to comprehend and go over it again. The more repetition in answering the same questions the shorter the response time will be. The faster the response time the more natural a rep will seem on the phone. The more natural they feel the more they will listen and begin to discover how to address the unique concerns of a customer and set meetings.

If instead you overload them with lectures and manuals that don’t allow them actual practice, you will paralyze your SDRs once they’re tested. Use these proper strategies and you will actually provide experience.

#3 – You don’t put the same amount of resources into onboarding that you do hiring

It’s easy to pay lip service to the importance of onboarding, make an onboarding hire and assume it will work as an isolated activity as part of the new employee process. Check yourself instead: are you devoting the same amount of employees, time and money toward onboarding as you are hiring? Is training and developing talent as crucial as identifying it and reeling it in? It needs to be.

Think of it this way: you wouldn’t devote all your resources to SDRs and AEs to find good clients only to underdeliver on customer success and watch an unnecessary and expensive client churn. You wouldn’t avoid upselling a client that needs a better offering, so why would you stop from developing a mid-level performer into achieving more? If you find yourself instead with a balance of how SDR talent is acquired and developed, you’ll earn greater retention and see faster results.

Other articles Brock has written about SDRs:

Why SDRs fail

How to set up a system for SDR success

The importance of SDRs

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