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8 Proven Strategies for Successful SDR Onboarding

Sales development reps - if you don’t train them properly, sales won’t happen!

It’s a tough role - there’s lots to learn, high expectations and plenty of challenges to get to grips with, and all within a limited time frame. Support and guidance in this process make the difference between effective, driven, knowledgeable SDRs and well… the opposite. 

With all that in mind, what is the optimal SDR onboarding process?

Introducing Rachel Goldstone, Cognism’s Director of Sales Development UK; she’s responsible for SDR onboarding, helping them to start smashing targets early.

We wanted to learn more about her training and onboarding process - and this is what she said! 👇

1. Deliver bespoke training in the first week

Day One for an SDR is much like Day One for any new joiner in a company.

It’s the welcome day, where SDRs receive their tech and make introductions. It’s also the day Rachel sets expectations and arranges their training schedule.

Rachel had this to say about an SDR’s first day:

“I don’t want to make the first day too overwhelming, so I start off with some basics about how you can become a good SDR. Then I take them out for lunch so they can get involved with the team.”

After this first day, Rachel starts the week’s SDR onboarding timetable:

“The next training phase is cold calling. Here I give them tips and teach them some techniques. Specifically things like objection handling and lines of questioning.”

“Other important training in this first week is getting up to speed on our products and customer personas. More importantly, which products relate to which personas.” 

Rachel runs these training sessions:

  • How to identify good fit accounts.
  • How to populate accounts.
  • How to manage your workflow.
  • Pitch practice.
  • Cold call roleplay.

2. Follow an SDR onboarding timetable

Rachel arranged the following timetable for SDR onboarding at Cognism 👇

  1. Day One - the basics of being a good SDR and team introductions.
  2. Day Two - tips for the core activities, including cold calling, email sequencing and sales admin.
  3. Day Three - a deep dive into the sales tech stack and how to use the tools correctly.
  4. Day Four - how to effectively qualify sales leads and handle objections.
  5. Day Five - giving the SDRs product knowledge so they’re able to speak confidently about Cognism’s offering.

In general, Rachel tries to make SDR onboarding less theoretical, and more revolved around providing practical, hands-on advice.

She said:

“Following a timetable helped us to speed up our onboarding process for new SDRs.”

3. Share helpful resources

Rachel provides new SDRs with a number of useful resources, including handbooks, guides and lists. The newbies can refer to these items if they have questions.

These resources include things like:

  • Common sales qualification questions to ask prospects.
  • How to explain why you’re calling.
  • Call introductions and hooks they can use.
  • Common sales objections and how to respond to them.
  • General company information that prospects might wish to know.

Rachel said:

“They also have access to every call recording and every product demo, so if they ever want to learn from how a more experienced SDR or AE does things, they can.”

4. Onboard SDRs in-office

During SDR onboarding, and all the way up to new starters passing their probation at three months, Rachel asks for SDRs to be in the office every day.

Why?

Because during this steep learning curve, sales reps can benefit from peer-to-peer learning and the ability to easily ask questions.

Plus, as Rachel discovered during the pandemic lockdowns and WFH orders, onboarding was significantly slower. As a consequence, some SDRs had their probations extended to six months.

Rachel explained:

“Generally, things are just a lot slower when SDRs work from home. Even simple questions require jumping on a call; when you’re in the office, you can ask one of your peers.”

“And when you’re working from home, you’re not listening to other peoples’ calls. You can’t learn from the other SDRs around you. You’re not constantly interacting with your peers, learning what’s working and what’s not working.”

“I think it’s important for team building too. I find people are generally happier in their roles when they’re in the office.”

5. Set appropriate KPIs

Rather than measuring SDRs on their meetings booked, Cognism SDRs have a target for meetings attended.

This ensures that the leads coming through to AEs are properly qualified. It incentivises SDRs to focus on the right sales goals versus organising low-yield meetings. 

This target is ramped up during the onboarding process, starting with a quota of six meetings attended in their first month before jumping up to 12. 

“We have a three-month runway during an SDR’s probation, and we want to see them hit their full target of 12 at least once in that time.”

“The expectation is that each month, you’re getting more and more meetings attended.”

“Some people are hitting their target in the first month, but usually, we expect everyone to be at target by month three.”

6. Offer excellent progression opportunities

The SDR role naturally lends itself towards progression; at Cognism, SDRs can quickly move through the ranks from commercial to mid-market and finally up to enterprise.

Rachel said:

“We’re hiring new SDRs all the time. If there’s a space higher up, for example, if someone becomes an AE, then there’s a space for a new SDR to go into the enterprise team.”

Meaning that in as little as three months, once they’ve passed their probation, SDRs could be promoted to more senior positions.

Knowing this is a great incentive for new SDRs to perform and prove themselves to be ready for progression.

7. Provide ongoing training

Even after passing probation at three months, all Cognism sales reps get three hours of training per week.

Why do we do this? 

The goal is to keep them updated with the latest market changes. 

These training sessions can cover a variety of areas, including:

  • Effectively structuring your day and workflow.
  • Deeper dives into objection handling.
  • New call reviews.

Rachel added:

“On a more individual basis, I check in with people, do one-on-one call reviews, and other more ad hoc training throughout the week, depending on what people need help with.”

“The key to getting an SDR up to speed is activity. Lots of practice. Making loads of calls, doing lots of call reviews. Providing them with constructive feedback.” 

Team structure is also important here - as Cognism’s commercial SDR team grew, it became too big for one person to manage. So it was split into smaller pods, each managed by a senior team member.

This structure ensures that SDR Managers have more time to help their SDRs and provide more personalised assistance.

Rachel said:

“Smaller teams give you more individual hands-on time with each person.”

8. Encourage consistency

Consistency is a crucial ingredient for SDR success, especially for those just starting their journey in a new business.

Rachel explained:

“If you’re not used to having a number on your head, that does take some getting used to.”

“And especially when you can reach your target one month, but it resets to zero the next. It’s about helping them find consistency and keeping their activity up each month.”

Rachel’s solution? Incentivise SDRs to reach their quota - fast. She told us:

“I incentivise my SDRs to hit quota as early as they can. Then anything beyond their target number receives higher commission. I also teach them how to set up their pipeline for the following month.”

This motivates SDRs and encourages them to consistently perform at their best. 

SDR onboarding: top tips

Rachel gave us a final bunch of tips for successful SDR onboarding 👇

  • Ensure workflow organisation is integrated into their first week.
  • Organise cold call role play as often as possible, whether it’s one-on-one, in groups or with the whole team.
  • Keep reinforcing the same key messages - inevitably, new starters won’t remember everything you tell them in their first week.
  • Keep in mind that some people learn differently - having different forms of training helps to cover all bases.

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