Integrating SDRs and ISRs can significantly enhance revenues, but companies that achieve success invest time and resources into a robust training and onboarding program.
The use of Sales Development Representatives (SDRs) and Inside Sales Representatives (ISRs) has become increasingly common among growth-focused B2B companies. These more junior sales resources can be effective at helping keep pace with high-volume, automated marketing techniques while managing the costs of high-touch, expensive sales outreach. (You can read about one company’s success with SDRs in How Small Companies are Using Sales Development to Break into Big Markets by Bob Donnelly, CRO of Kemberton, another LLR portfolio company.)
While leveraging this type of sales coverage model can help widen the funnel and accelerate the pipeline, the initiative can’t succeed without a thorough training and onboarding process. First, SDRs and ISRs are often less experienced (many have no prior sales experience), so they need more structured support and guidance to become productive. Second, they are often at the beginning of their careers and eager for opportunities to learn and grow. If you don’t provide them, you’ll face high turnover, and the best recruits will be the first to move on.
As the former Chief Revenue Officer of one of LLR’s exited portfolio companies and now CEO of another portfolio company where I am building up sales development again, these are some of the training best practices I use to set sales teams up for success.
Best practices for training sales teams:
Use blended learning, role-playing and “real-playing”
The training and onboarding process needs to cover a lot of ground, including information about the company itself, its internal systems, industries served, products sold, and the sales methodologies and processes that sales teams need to understand and use.
This needs to be done systematically, so that each training phase builds on the last. The first phase should cover remedial company and systems knowledge. Next comes product knowledge, which may involve product demos and an introduction to the product’s sales messaging. The last phase brings all this information together and shows the ways in which salespeople bring it to life when they interact with buyers.
Research shows that the blended learning model, including some combination of online and in-person learning, is the most effective way for people to learn.
Ideally, the program will combine an online component, classroom learning and hands-on experience, including role-playing and “real-playing,” where new salespeople get an opportunity to test their skills and knowledge in real-world situations under the watchful eye of a more senior salesperson.
Recruits should have a chance to practice in the classroom, then move on to shadowing an experienced salesperson, and finally try out their skills with a trainer or mentor. As the recruit gains experience, the participation ratio between the experienced and new salesperson will shift until the trainee is performing various tasks, such as sales calls, with little assistance from his or her trainer. Many portfolio companies also make use of “whisper mode” technologies that enable a senior salesperson to coach the trainee during a live call without being audible to the client. In the final training stages, a senior salesperson will simply check in on the call recordings from time to time.
Allocate a dedicated resource to training and onboarding
In an ideal situation, your company will have a dedicated sales trainer or corporate trainer to lead and project-manage the training experience. This is a labor-intensive job that involves developing and organizing training and orientation materials as well as teaching duties. And if it’s done right, it requires continual maintenance to keep the training fresh and relevant.
The important thing is to support a culture of continuous learning and to model that culture to your SDR and ISR teams.
If the budget won’t accommodate a dedicated trainer, you can appoint a sales leader or someone in sales operations to take responsibility for training and onboarding. This can also be a great stretch assignment for a salesperson with the skills and ambition needed to grow into a sales management position.
Build a culture of continuous learning
Training is not a one-and-done activity. Once your new recruits have gone through their initial onboarding and training, they’ll need ongoing support and supervision. Rookies are still finding their way and gaining experience, so it’s important to reinforce the learning, weed out any bad habits and answer their questions as they transition from a learning environment to the workplace. Inevitably, situations that weren’t covered in the textbook will come up, and new salespeople need dedicated time to get together with their cohort, trainers or mentors. This gives them the opportunity to share experiences, talk through challenges, learn from one another, and absorb and apply what they’ve learned.
Ultimately, this focus on continued learning should extend to the entire sales team—not just the rookies. I make it a practice to set aside time in the calendar every week for training, and I make sure everyone blocks that time off. Sometimes it’s a formal training session. Other times, it’s a more informal sharing of best practices or success stories from peers. The important thing is to support a culture of continuous learning and to model that culture to your SDR and ISR teams.
Set benchmarks and measure results
Training and onboarding have significant costs associated with them, so being able to determine whether your efforts are improving revenues is essential.
The ultimate goals of your SDR training and onboarding activities are to speed up productivity for your new recruits, enhance retention and support their long-term success. There is a ramp-up lifecycle for any new person, but if your training and onboarding process is successful, that ramp-up will be shorter and you’ll see results sooner.
Measuring impact should be done through objective and subjective means. To begin with, you’ll want to set productivity benchmarks that SDR recruits need to hit at various intervals. Consider these questions:
- What should your SDRs be doing at the one-week mark? At 30 days, 60 days and 90 days?
- How many calls should they be making, how many of those calls should result in sales conversations?
- What should the conversion ratio be from conversations to appointments, appointments to demos and demos to deals?
The metrics will vary depending on the sales cycle or the person’s role, but in every case, there will be clear indicators of productivity and performance.
The ultimate goals of your SDR training and onboarding activities are to speed up productivity for your new recruits, enhance retention and support their long-term success.
The subjective element can be measured through observation and coaching by your sales leadership. On a regular cadence, these sales leaders need to sit down with your new salespeople and watch them make calls, perform demos, present proposals and close deals. To get the most out of the process, they’ll come equipped with a scorecard that they can use to measure your salespeople against using both subjective and objective input. (For more on scorecards, read “Why Scorecards Help You Identify, Assess and Hire the Right Talent” by Kristen Chang, LLR’s Managing Director, Human Capital.)
Here’s the bottom line.
Integrating SDRs and ISRs into your sales process can significantly enhance revenues, but the companies that achieve success are those that invest time and resources into building a robust training and onboarding program. Make sure you give your sales staff the support they need to become valued team members by integrating a full range of in-class, digital and hands-on learning approaches, setting realistic benchmarks and providing ongoing feedback and learning opportunities.