There’s A Science to Onboarding a New Salesperson
Onboarding is likely at the top of the “to-do” list as any business invests in sales enablement. The approach most take is a familiar recipe: a long list of “check the box” topics with mentions of personas and customer journey somewhere in the middle. And of course, a LOT of product training.
With these boxes checked off the list, new hires then get paired with a current rep for the time-honored tradition of shadowing. In too many cases, that senior rep is woefully unprepared. Typically, the qualification to lead the shadowing goes to the rep with less to do than anyone else on the team. A few days of similarly unhelpful shadowing later, onboarding is complete. Congratulations, welcome to the team!
In this common scenario, new hires exit onboarding fire-hosed with content and time wasted in bad shadowing. They’ve gained very little that will help their performance on the job.
It’s a sad story we see play out every day, even with some of the most elite sales organizations. Many sales leaders see onboarding as just another routine program. Their direction to enablement teams is simple: just get it done.
But designing and executing a truly effective onboarding requires a solid strategy. That strategy starts by answering some fundamental questions:
- What should new hires gain as part of onboarding? What is the definition of ‘good’ at the end of the process?
- What is the performance expectation for this role day one, post onboarding? How will performance be measured over the next 30, 60, 90 days or more?
- How confident are we that new hires will have the full resources and tools to be successful as they transition from new hire to experienced rep?
Sales enablement should take the lead in making sure all stakeholders are on the same page with the answers to these questions. Senior sales leadership, front-line managers, product, marketing, and others must share a common view of the goals and outcomes of onboarding.
Keys to Getting Onboarding Right
You took the time and invested the considerable resources to hire the right sales talent. But now, the real work begins. Executing a more impactful onboarding experience enables your new hires to ramp to productivity quickly. There are four characteristics that world-class onboarding programs share:
- Clarity around the need-to-know knowledge and behaviors. What must a new salesperson know before they can talk with a prospect? The best sales organizations clearly define and measure the need-to-know knowledge and behaviors. Will new hires need to know buyer personas and pains? Absolutely. Do they need to know these personas and pains week one in order to talk with a prospect? Absolutely not.
The need-to-knows would include the basic steps of the sales process and the most critical situational factors for common deals. What do they need to pay closest attention to as they size up new opportunities? And don’t forget the basics, including how to use the sales playbook (assuming they even have one!). Finally, the need-to-knows should include customer stories detailing how your product has impacted their business. This means much more than memorizing product features.
There’s a longer list of nice-to-know topics for new hires. And they become higher priority after a new hire’s first six months on the job. These skills and areas of knowledge include how to facilitate true business conversations and more strategic sales plays like champion selling and flanking. A deeper understanding of personas and competitive products complement need-to-know knowledge and behaviors once that foundation has been built.
- If they were hired to sell, let them sell! The process of learning sales must be practical. Textbook knowledge will only go so far. Fully embracing this view has important implications for onboarding.
Some of the best onboarding programs push new hires into the sales motion early. This might even mean selling week one on the job. To make this happen, your onboarding program should equip new hires with the key discovery questions. More importantly, make sure new reps understand the business issues faced by your buyers. And don’t forget the basic business acumen and language of your customers.
If hired for top-of-the-funnel activity, coach new hires on disqualifying leads and listening for specific cues to qualify a lead. If hired to move qualified leads through the funnel, they should have the sales experience to quickly build rapport and know when to engage technical resources.
Selling early – and getting quick wins – builds confidence in new hires. Early wins set the tone for the way they should work moving forward.
- Provide feedback, early and often. If from day one a new hire understands there is a predictable cadence of feedback, it becomes a welcome part of their job. Set the expectation for coaching and build the culture of feedback early. This means quickly following up with reps on the knowledge and behaviors they were exposed to in onboarding.
When feedback is unexpected or only occurs when course-correction is necessary, it becomes intimidating, uncomfortable, and unwelcome. Successful salespeople thrive on positive reinforcement. The most effective onboarding programs include consistent and frequent coaching conversations. These touchpoints provide the opportunity for the positive feedback that motivates new sellers to continue progressing. Competitive sellers will also appreciate a clear understanding of their performance gaps. These coaching sessions should focus on the one or two behaviors that can get them to the front of the pack.
- Treat onboarding as a process, rather than an event. Outside of week one, continue to skill-build with regular, bite-sized training. Confirm understanding of each new topic before adding another. Work through a complete process over a period of time, rather than focusing only on a one-week event.
While a more comprehensive approach to onboarding seems like common sense, execution can often fail. Less than 50% of companies say they truly offer a formal, end-to-end onboarding process. The pressures and distractions of the sales organization are many. And onboarding tasks often fall into the “important, but not urgent” category of time management.
The firehose approach to onboarding is alive and well in too many companies. The best onboarding programs have a complete map of everything they’re asking the new hire to learn. And the pace of those content topics and skills over a longer journey. Space out the delivery of your onboarding approach in a way that doesn’t overwhelm or confuse.
Shrinking Ramp Time
There’s a science to onboarding a new salesperson. Data proves that effective onboarding decreases a rep’s time-to-productivity by as much as nine months. Gaining nine months of sales productivity can make the difference in hitting quota and reducing turnover. Getting onboarding right – and keeping the measurement focus on improved ramp time – can be the most important win for sales enablement.
How could your onboarding program improve new hire time-to-productivity? Contact us to talk through practical ways to improve your onboarding program. Let us show you the next practices for enabling new hires to more quickly become revenue-generating sales assets.
The Brevet Group a sales consulting firm that provides sales enablement consulting & training
About The Author
Researcher, consultant, and sales leader, Brian uses a data-driven approach to drive sales effectiveness. His clients include leading sales organizations in financial services, technology, healthcare, and professional services. Using insight from academics and change management, Brian helps senior leaders and sales enablement teams understand and succeed in today’s more demanding market. His research has been published in Harvard Business Review and other outlets.