In today’s tumultuous job market, finding and retaining top talent is an ongoing priority for most companies. That’s especially true in sales: average turnover among sales reps is almost triple that of other occupations. Tragically, the seeds of disaffection are often planted at the very beginning of a rep’s tenure in the organization. That’s why a commitment to accelerate sales onboarding is critical for businesses that want to avoid losing good salespeople just as they’re becoming productive.
How AI Helps Companies Accelerate Sales Onboarding
According to TechHQ, it’s during onboarding that “new employees decide to stay engaged or become disengaged.” So, companies should view their onboarding program as a golden opportunity to not only welcome new sales hires and integrate them into the organization, but also to set them up for future success by ensuring that they have the knowledge, skills, and behavioral habits that will enable them to accomplish their goals on the job.
But effectively onboarding new sales reps can be a long and intricate process. A survey of 423 sales leaders revealed that in their experience it takes an average of three months of training for a new salesperson to be ready to interact with customers, nine months for them to become competent as sellers, and 15 months to become top sellers.
The good news, according to the Harvard Business Review, is that having a strong sales onboarding process can shorten these timeframes by as much as 50%. And that can make a huge difference for your entire organization.
But how can you implement a great onboarding program when (if your company is like most) both your sales and HR organizations are already stretched thin? The advanced AI platforms now available are already serving many companies as force multipliers, helping them to accomplish objectives that previously seemed beyond their reach.
The Growing Use of AI to Maximize Efficiency and Productivity
AI has been making inroads into business operations for some time now, and the advent of advanced platforms such as ChatGPT has accelerated the trend. This bonafide AI superstar gained over a million users within a week of its launch in November of 2022, and within two months boasted more than 100 million users. In a recent survey of almost 12,000 business professionals, nearly half (43%) said they’re using AI tools, including ChatGPT, on the job.
Even before ChatGPT, companies in many industries were already incorporating AI into their workflows. Workers are using AI assistants to automate job procedures, reducing the time they spend on mundane, repetitive tasks such as taking notes, setting up accounts, filling out forms, or composing emails.
But in many cases, AI is having an even more fundamental impact on organizations. The Washington Post lists some examples:
- Banks are using AI to improve backend operations, cybersecurity, and customer service.
- In retail, AI adjusts pricing, schedules workers, and makes online product recommendations to customers.
- Healthcare organizations use AI for everything from medical records to diagnosing diseases. A good example is a recent clinical study concerning the detection of lymph node cancer cells. While human pathologists had a 7.5% error rate in identifying such cells, the combination of humans and an AI diagnostic assistant achieved an error rate of just 0.5%.
All this is just the beginning. One analysis predicts that in the U.S., the accelerating use of AI will result in an overall 35% increase in productivity by 2035.
And the impact of AI on sales organizations may be even greater: according to Forbes as much as 40% of the work performed by sales reps during the selling process can be automated using currently available AI solutions.
The Key to Helping Sellers Reach Their Potential
Getting new sales hires up to speed has traditionally been a difficult process. That’s because effectively equipping sellers for their roles requires far more than just providing them with product or industry information—or even teaching them effective sales techniques.
Both research and experience demonstrate that the most critical factor in new sales reps becoming successful is mastering the soft skills that determine how they interact with customers during selling encounters.
What are soft skills? HubSpot defines them this way:
“Soft skills are the combination of people skills, social skills, communication skills, emotional intelligence, and personality traits that make it easy to get along and work harmoniously with other people.”
Soft skills are critically important because they shape the way sellers actually behave when interacting with customers. So, the key to preparing new sales hires for success is helping them to develop new behavioral habits based on soft skills that promote positive customer relationships.
How AI Can Accelerate Sales Onboarding
Research has established that the best way to bring about behavioral change is through one-on-one coaching. And the best way of implementing that coaching is for a more experienced seller, typically the sales manager, to observe a rep’s behavior during live or simulated sales calls and provide immediate feedback to help that person develop new behavioral habits.
How do you provide such coaching? According to a recent SalesForce article,
“Successful sales coaching requires daily interaction with your team, ongoing training, and regular feedback.”
But most busy sales managers simply don’t have the time to observe each of their team members in selling situations and provide the kind of immediate, objective, and constructive feedback that leads to positive behavioral change. But an advanced AI-based sales coaching solution can do exactly that, and do it at scale across your entire organization.
The AI can review video or audio recordings of reps conducting real or simulated sales calls, assess their behaviors during the interaction, and provide objective feedback to help the seller improve. With that instant feedback, reps can compare how they handled the selling situation to the ways more experienced and successful salespeople have handled similar scenarios, and make immediate adjustments to their behavior.
An AI sales coach allows reps to practice new behaviors, get on-the-spot feedback concerning how they did, make adjustments, then go back through the process as many times as they wish until the new skill is mastered. And they can do so in private—just them and the AI—without feeling intimidated by having a sales manager looking over their shoulder and observing every stumble or failure.
Of course, an AI isn’t human, and it can’t supply the personal touch that’s so necessary for a fulfilling on-the-job experience. AI platforms will never fully replace human coaches. The sales manager must still guide and oversee the coaching process and remain personally involved with trainees as they interact with the AI coaching assistant.
But what an AI coach can do is give undivided attention to each individual. The sales manager can have the AI set up a series of realistically simulated sales call experiences that are optimized for each trainee’s individual needs and learning style.
As the rep practices new behaviors, the AI provides objective assessments that are based on precise numerical calculations rather than on the subjective perceptions of a human observer who might be influenced by personal preferences or perhaps is distracted or simply in a bad mood that day.
Because the AI coach is available whenever and wherever a sales rep wants to use it, it effectively puts the trainee in charge of his or her own development. The sales manager can simply review progress and provide guidance and encouragement at stated checkpoints.
Implementing AI Sales Onboarding
Let’s take a quick look at some steps you might take to accelerate sales onboarding in your organization.
- Develop a behavioral baseline by using an AI sales training platform to create a quantified assessment of where each rep stands at the beginning of the process. You can’t recognize (and cheer!) progress if you don’t know where the rep started from. Do this also for established, top-performing members of your organization so that new reps have a standard of excellence to compare themselves to.
- Establish goals for the skills, hard and soft, that you want each rep to acquire.
- Set up an improvement plan for each rep based on that person’s needs and learning style.
- Create AI simulations in which trainees interact with realistic customer avatars that ask the questions your rep might encounter during a real sales call.
- Have the AI produce quantified, numerical assessments of how the rep did with specific behaviors during simulated sales calls. If possible, you might also upload recordings of actual sales calls and have the AI provide assessments for those.
- Incorporate a 10 to 15-minute practice time into each rep’s daily schedule. To the extent possible allow reps to practice at times of their own choosing. Use gamification to make practice sessions fun.
- Track progress using the in-depth metrics produced by the AI. Be sure to provide encouragement along the way and celebrate achievements as they happen.
Take the First Step to Accelerate Your Sales Onboarding
If you’re intrigued by the prospect of using AI to accelerate sales onboarding in your organization, start with the Quantified Simulator. It uses advanced AI to analyze recordings (or even live feeds) of your reps’ real or simulated sales calls. From these, it produces precise numerical assessments of each rep’s visual and vocal delivery and messaging content. Quantified simulations are based on scenarios you set up using your own customer and product information, as well as specific questions you want the simulated customer (represented by a realistic avatar) to ask during the sales call. To see how AI can help your company accelerate its sales onboarding, contact us today to schedule a demo.