Looking to hire SDRs? Then you’re probably looking to grow.
But you know that’s not as simple as throwing your new hire on the phones and hoping for the best. They need structure. They need guidance.
They need a plan that turns them into the growth-generating machines your business needs.
Because when they have that? They feel confident. They feel engaged. And most importantly, they’re hitting 100+% of their quota in just a few months. Which means smiles, high fives, and commission checks for them, and a revenue chart moving up and to the right for you.
Here at Vouris, we love making this happen. So today, I want to make it happen for you. In this guide, I’m going to share the onboarding plan I’ve created working with over 100 different sales development reps .
I’ll walk you through the essential pillars of my SDR onboarding philosophy. Then I’ll give you a template you can use to build your own SDR onboarding plan, before finishing with some guidance on how you can measure your plan’s success.
By the end of this post, you’ll be well-equipped with an onboarding approach that’ll help you build a savage, quota-crushing SDR team.
Here’s how it goes:
Chomping at the bit to get your sales team optimized? Let’s talk.
3 Essential Keys to Effective SDR Onboarding
There are 3 keys to efficient and effective SDR onboarding, which form the foundation of my onboarding plan:
- Get SDRs used to rejection as quickly as possible
- Limit their product training and knowledge. (You read that right. Too much product training is a no-no, and I’ll tell you why.)
- Follow-up on every lesson with active coaching.
These might not be the tips everyone would give, but I’ve learned these lessons through many years of leading, training, and coaching sales teams. And to be honest, they work really well for me.
Here’s how they go:
1. Get SDRs used to rejection (ASAP).
Failure is an SDR’s constant companion. They’re going to have to get comfortable dealing with failure, repeatedly.
If you have a trainee salesperson shadow your top SDR before getting on the phones, they’re going to develop expectations of success. They’re going to try all the tactics they just watched your top rep pulling, and think they can get the same results.
Problem is, they can’t. New SDRs need time to ramp up. They very rarely crush it right out the gate.
And if you set their expectations too high, the massive wave of rejection they’ll inevitably face when they first start dialing is going to be brutal. It’ll tank their confidence and get them off to a bad start, which can add months to their ramp time...
So to avoid this, you’ll want to inoculate your SDR’s against rejection as early as possible. Make them embrace it as a fundamental part of their day. Get them on the phone talking to actual leads before the end of their first week.
They will almost certainly fail. But that’s okay. It gets the first failure out of the way, and biases them towards action versus premeditation. Objection handling is one of the most important skills they'll develop, and the sooner, the better.
This approach can have a fun little bonus too. On the rare occasion that your trainee is able to book a meeting, make it a celebration for the entire team! Take everyone out for a happy hour, or simply gather the team to offer congratulations to the new rep. It’ll massively build their confidence and make them feel like a part of the team. It’ll be a morale boost for your whole team as well.
2. Focus on the problem, not the product.
This is probably going to be the most counterintuitive advice I give, but it’s hugely important…
DO NOT make product training a major focus when onboarding SDRs.
I know that sounds a little out-there, so let me explain why...
An SDR’s job is not to sell your product. It’s to pique the prospect’s interest. It’s to intrigue them enough that they’re willing to engage in a sales conversation. And the first step to doing that is understanding if the prospect is experiencing the problem your product solves.
To do that, your SDR needs to ask smart questions. They need to dig for pain. And once they’ve identified the prospect’s pain, they need to assure them that they have a solution that an expert can show them for just 15-30 minutes of their time.
The prospect doesn’t need to know much about your product. They don’t need to know about your features. The only thing they need to know is that you have a solution to the problem they’re facing.
Anything else is just noise. And because most prospects have never heard of your company and don’t like being interrupted by cold calls, the slightest bit of noise can kill your chances.
I’ve seen way too many SDRs struggle with this. In fact, almost all new salespeople experience a “sophomore slump” about 2-3 months after starting. As they become more comfortable with the product, they start working features into their sales calls, which usually always tanks their performance.
Prospects don’t book demos because of features, they book demos because you solve their problem.
So limit product training. Keep your reps focused on the problem.
3. Follow-up each lesson with active coaching.
You need to be an active participant in your SDRs’ training.
Everyone knows we learn best from making mistakes. Active coaching is about being truly hands-on with your new team members. Be present on the sales floor, listen to calls, and correct mistakes (and explain them) as they happen.
Here’s an example of active coaching:
I was coaching the SDR team of a software startup. Their SDRs needed to figure out up front if the prospect was using the system that was compatible with their software.
SDRs were supposed to ask “What data management software does your office use?”
Instead, this SDR asked: “Do you use data management software in your office?”
The woman replied: “Yes, we do.”
The SDR then asked, “Which one?”
The woman stopped, then said “I don’t think I’m allowed to divulge that information.”
I stopped the SDR after that call, and explained why it had been wrong to phrase the question like he had. He’d given her time to think about her answer. He’d made her question giving over that information.
The next call, he corrected himself. And his results improved immediately.
Offering this sort of ongoing support to your SDRs is crucial to their success. It’ll decrease their ramp time and build their confidence faster.
Now let’s check out how I apply these throughout my SDR onboarding plan:
The Onboarding Plan I Use to Quickly Ramp SDRs
My plan is built to get SDRs hitting full quota as quickly and confidently as possible. I’ve found that people learn best, and fastest, with a schedule that builds on each day’s experience.
That process starts with a high-energy first week.
The First Week
The first week of onboarding is an intense push to bring SDRs fully up to speed on your company’s sales mindset, industry positioning, and cold-calling strategy. By the end, you should be able to watch them implementing these.
What you need to cover:
- Company Overview: Who you (the business) are, what you do, why you do it, etc.
- Hardware Setup: Computers. Cubicles. You get the gist.
- HR To-Do’s: Cross all Ts. Dot all I’s.
- Industry Overview: Industry information that they need to understand your product + your company’s position in said industry.
- Mindset Training: This is the most important information you’ll cover on day 1. What their sales mindset should be. How that fits into the sales process. The position from which they’ll be selling, and the tone that you business takes with it’s messaging.
What they’ll achieve:
Day One involves a lot of foundation laying, but really, today is all about industry position and sales mindset. Your SDR needs to come away from the first day knowing exactly who your customer is and what problem your company/product solves. They should be able to summarize these accurately in a single sentence.
What you need to cover:
- Prospecting strategy: Time to reveal your sales playbook. Take them through the customer journey, the basic buyer personas and customer pain points, and how your sales and marketing tie into that.
- Cold Call Overview: This overview involves the “high level theory” of cold calling, and the components of a call. Have new sales reps listen to a couple of examples (from across the range of success). Explain the steps of a call, and the reasoning behind each line.
- Cold Call Shadowing: Have SDRs shadow a few of your cold-callers for part of the day. Be wary of having your SDRs do too much undirected shadowing. Observation is useful, but only when you know what you’re supposed to be focusing on. Give SDRs clear objectives to learn from whomever they shadow. Ex: “This is Jim. He’s got exceptional vocal tone and a super professional manner. Focus on these.”
What they’ll achieve:
Day Two is all about sales. This is the day where you explain, in detail, exactly how your company’s sales strategy works. It’s another information-heavy day, but more focused than Day One. They should come away from today fully ready for cold-call roleplaying, and excited to begin trying out the script.
What you need to cover:
- Cold Call Role Playing: Pretty simple: Role play cold-calling in teams or with the sales manager.
- Product Overview: This brief introduction to what you sell is the only product training your SDRs will get. They should learn what it does and what makes it so great, but they don’t need to know everything. Remember the 2nd rule of successful onboarding!
- Customer Interviews: I like to have SDRs talk with a couple of actual customers. This way, they get a sense of the people they’ll be contacting, and begin to see how your product solves their problems. Empathy is the root of sales.
What they’ll achieve:
Today, you are setting the SDRs up to talk to actual contacts on Day 4. They need to be comfortable with the script, and have a strong sense of how to talk to your target audience. They’ve done a lot of learning in the first few days, and now, they’ll begin to apply it.
What you need to cover:
- Cold-Call Roleplaying
- Start Cold Calling: Yup. Day 4. Brutal? Maybe. But it’s effective. Get a list of contacts that have gone cold, and let your incoming SDRs work from this list. It’ll be messy, but they’ll learn. And if they get an unexpected win, they’ll feel like a million bucks.
What they’ll achieve:
The most important thing on Day 4 is getting on the phones. Remember my first rule of successful onboarding: get SDRs used to rejection early? That’s where this first comes into play. It’s going to happen a lot. They have to experience failed calls before they build up too much hope and expectation, or pick up too many “fancy tricks” from the SDRs they shadow. Keep it simple. Get them on the phones.
Day 5 - Cold call role-playing, cold calls
By Day Five, your SDRs have done a ridiculous amount of learning, growing, and failing. This is what you want. They should feel like there is a lot of room to grow, but they should be able to see the path there. Ideally, you want your SDRs to come away from this first week mildly beaten down, and yet more confident about next week.
The Next Three Months
After the first week, you’ll move into a simple pattern of short, easy training sessions. Just schedule your SDRs for 1 hour of training at the end of the day, and your onboarding is already set up.
Month #1: Outbound Prospecting 101 - 3 days a week for 3 months
Outbound prospecting 101 should cover the fundamentals of your outbound prospecting strategy, and increase the general background knowledge of your SDRs. These training days should have in-depth tutorials and contain lots of relevant examples.
Month #2: Intermediate Prospecting - 2 days a week for 3 months
Intermediate Prospecting involves a step up from the basics, and helps your SDRs develop more polished and involved sales skills. This is a good time to teach things like buying signals, and more in-depth, creative forms of prospecting.
Month #3: Advanced Prospecting - 1 day a week for 3 months.
Advanced prospecting is pretty much what you’d expect after Prospecting 101 and Intermediate lessons. These are the subtle, more sophisticated, more psychological aspects of sales. Personality typing. Voice work. Etc. These are up to your specific sales mindset and philosophy. An SDR probably doesn’t need to know these in order to be hitting 100% quota.
How To Make Sure Your SDR Onboarding Is Working
Once you’ve put all this work into making a system that turns timid new hires into absolute monster SDRs, you’ll want to make sure it works.
I generally oversee ramp up by setting quota expectations, creating assignments, and tracking specific metrics. Here’s how:
Ensure SDRs are Hitting 100% of Their Quota Within 4 Months
A crucial part of onboarding is having clear expectations for benchmarks and milestones to hit. These vary from one organization to another, but I’ve found the following milestones work very well.
So basically, by the end of month 4, your SDRs should be hitting 100% of their quota. If it’s consistently taking new SDRs longer, there’s probably something that can be improved in your onboarding process.
Incentivize SDRs to Complete Training Assignments
Of course, just checking that people are hitting quota doesn’t ensure they’re actually implementing the skills you’ve been trying to teach. That’s why I use assignments.
This isn’t your average highschool homework, though. I package these assignments with a raise, usually about $5,000.
Accountability keeps everyone on track with training, and incentives keep these assignments from feeling like a chore. Win win.
Feel free to make up your own assignments. The point is to get proof that they are putting the techniques you taught into practice.
Onboarding Metrics to Track
Obviously, evaluating your onboarding is part qualitative (does it feel like everyone is settling in?), part quantitative (are their numbers improving as they grow?).
Here’s the quantitative part - because it’s always nice to know exactly how much progress your SDRs are making.
SDR onboarding is a sizable and involved process, so let’s break it down into the action steps:
- Understand the 3 Keys to Efficient SDR Onboarding
Get SDRs accustomed to rejection quickly. Don’t give them too much product training. Be an active coach. Take these lessons and apply them as you conduct your training.
- Implement “The 100%-In-4-Months Onboarding Plan”
A simple plan build for efficient ramp up. One week of intensive training, with four months of easy daily lessons and an emphasis on learning from experience.
- Make Sure Your Onboarding is Working
Watch the progress of your SDRs by setting clear milestones to hit, incentivizing them to implement your lessons, and tracking the essential metrics.
This is my go-to template for onboarding success. It isn’t the only way you can train SDRs, but it’s been insanely effective for onboarding over a hundred different reps - at all sorts of different companies.
Now it’s your go-to template for onboarding success. May it prove just as effective for you.
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