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What Is Sales Onboarding?

Your staff is more likely to see immediate success when you effectively manage the way you bring new members into the organization. Sales onboarding describes the policies and procedures your company utilizes when welcoming and training new sales team members. An effective sales onboarding program will teach new hires the skills and values they need to thrive within your company. 

The sales onboarding process does cover sales tactics, but the scope also extends to areas such as industry insight, regulatory guidelines and even company information. 

 

Why Is Sales Onboarding Important?

Sales onboarding prepares new team members to contribute to your company’s goals immediately. The more useful information and experience you can provide during the onboarding process, the better sales team members will perform when they begin engaging with customers and leads. Sales onboarding leads to a few specific benefits:

Reduce Ramp Times

Most companies under-invest in onboarding programs and focus too much on product training for new hires. This often leads to longer ramp times, meaning the time it takes for a new hire to reach full productivity. As such, ramp times can be two to five times longer compared to best practice. Longer ramp times result in serious hits to productivity, costing companies millions of dollars.

Effective onboarding programs are possible, and they are highly beneficial. A successful onboarding program can reduce new hire attrition by 15% and increase new hire productivity (e.g., achievement to goal) by 40% in the first year.

Accomplish Goals 

Companies thrive when members at every level establish concrete goals and strive to achieve them. Committing to your company’s onboarding process will help new employees and existing leadership reach their respective objectives.. Leaders can use the onboarding process to communicate the goals that new hires should work toward, then provide actionable guidance that helps them succeed. In turn, leaders meet their overall sales objectives by ensuring every team member is an active participant in the company’s mission. 

Elevate Company Reputation

Your sales team members regularly interface with current and prospective customers, so it’s vital that they represent your organization well. The onboarding process is an opportunity to instill your values into new hires so that every interaction they have shows your brand in a positive light. This way, the public is more likely to spread favorable information about your company through word of mouth and online engagement. 

Improve Sales and Hiring Processes 

An onboarding program can help your leadership gain useful information regarding the skills new hires usually possess and which skills need time to develop. Each new employee’s performance during the onboarding process will unveil data that leadership can use to improve sales and training processes. Additionally, leadership will also see common denominators linking the most successful new sales team members, helping them narrow future candidate fields. 

 

Creating an Effective Onboarding Program

An effective onboarding framework has three parts, each supported by a proven methodology to customize and implement the onboarding program: 

  1. Program principles and goals: The parameters for success that Revenue and Sales Leadership, Sales Operations, Sales Enablement or Sales Training teams establish. 
  2. Program strategy: The content, structure and measurements that will guide and gauge success. 
  3. Program execution engine: The people, process, tools, governance and integration with other Sales Enablement programs.

 

Program Principles and Goals

Defining onboarding program outcomes is critical. Often owned by Sales Operations, Sales Enablement or Sales Training, these outcomes reflect what key stakeholders expect from reps at the end of an onboarding program (e.g., at six months on the job) and along the way. 

Guiding principles should also be established early to ensure the program design work aligns with the leadership‘s vision. 

In a recent client example, Alexander Group helped Sales Enablement facilitate planning and brainstorming sessions with senior sales leadership to align on a 120-day-to-ramp goal. The goal established a set of 120-day milestones essential for long-term success and sufficient to meet financial objectives. The milestones covered important factors like completing training to reaching pipeline targets. These points fell along the path toward financial objectives and self-sustainability. 

As a result, the entire program was fully supported by senior leaders and the program was adopted ahead of its implementation timeline.

 

Program Strategy

There are three strategic options all onboarding programs must addresscontent, structure and measurement.

Content 

Content is the “what” of an onboarding programwhat content do reps need to master to be successful? This includes classic product training but goes well beyond this to include sales methodology and what we call internal “Navigation”:

  • Navigation: Navigating an organization can be a daunting task for a new hire. A program needs to emphasize how to “get things done,” including how business processes and tools work, who manages them and how to get in touch with various people in the company.
  • Product & Business: To shorten ramp time, new hires need to know what they are selling, who they are selling to and why their products/services are better than anyone else’s (and where the competition might have an edge). New hires should have a mix of online, one-on-one and instructor-led training courses to support their growth.
  • Revenue and Sales Motions: Most organizations have a training methodology that ties into sales enablement tools, such as a CRM tool, and is supplemented by additional support and onboarding tools specific to their role. New hires need to understand and align to this approach.

Structure

Structure is “how” the content will be best deployed to minimize ramp time. In other words, each piece of content requires a structured set of learning stages in order to get to mastery. These stages are:

  • Knowledge: Structured combination of online, experiential and live instructor-led training to deliver the knowledge in practical, easy-to-understand terminology that a new hire can use with customers.
  • Practice: To build confidence, new hires need safe opportunities to try the knowledge outthese include role plays, coached ride-alongs and call shadowing and the opportunity to get real-time feedback.
  • Field Execution: Finally, new hires should be assessed in the field on their ability to execute in real customer interactions. This process must be standardized in the form of an objective assessment tool so new hires can proactively seek experiences that lead to successful performance.

Measurement

Measurement is the “how much” piece of an onboarding programhow much content should a new hire master and by when? There are two components:

  • Milestones: The onboarding program needs a set of clearly defined milestones. Milestones are leading indicators of longterm successin other words, if a new hire achieves milestones in the predefined time (typically three to six months), they are likely to achieve their yearone sales targets. Milestones typically come in three flavorseducation (e.g., courses, training sessions), activities (e.g., field rides, presentations) and “financial” metrics (e.g., average close rate, new deals in the pipeline).
  • Key Performance Indicators (KPIs): Leadership should not have to wait three to six months to know if their new hires are on trackthus, onboarding KPIs are a must-have. KPIs are stepping stones to milestone achievement. KPIs are clear, objective and measurable, which allows the program owner to report on progress and help ensure new hires stay on track.

 

Program Execution Engine

Having a Program Execution Engine allows you to successfully implement, sustain and optimize onboarding while aligning with other sales enablement programs within an organization. Creating and maintaining a Program Execution engine is possible with these five steps:

Establish Clear Roles and Responsibilities 

Onboarding is often left to first-line managers with little to no accountability to the rest of the organization, resulting in uneven onboarding experiences and higher rep churn. Instead, clearly define roles and responsibilities for reps and their entire onboarding team, such as their manager, sales operations, sales training and HR. Assign “buddies” or fellow tenured reps to each new hire who can show them the ropes of the organization and reinforce good behaviors and proper processes. A recent Alexander Group client found the use of “buddies” shortened ramp time by an average of 45 days.

Build Supporting and Sustaining Processes 

A consistent, documented and measurable process is essential for program success. Leading organizations develop and maintain sales onboarding playbooks for both new hires and managers.  Playbooks include a complete 90-day ramp-up plan with a development roadmap and checklists, articulated roles and responsibilities and organizational reference guides (e.g., contact lists, internal/external site links and process guides).

Utilize Onboarding-Related Tools 

Automation via learning management systems (LMS) can be a key enabler of a successful onboarding program. Leading organizations partner with HR to ensure new hires and their managers understand how online learning resources are assigned and tracked and how this content ties to the overall onboarding program. 

In a recent client engagement, we worked with the Salesforce.com administration team to launch and integrate Salesforce Chatter into the onboarding program. This integration enabled new hires to interact with other new hires and support teams, share new ideas and use an easy-to-access location for all reference materials and sales collateral.

Establish Governance Structures 

Every program requires oversight and ownership to be sustainable, and sales onboarding is no different. Assign an owner to the program who will be responsible for monitoring, measuring and updating the program. But don’t stop there—establish a governance structure involving key stakeholders to meet regularly and serve as an approval body for all key onboarding program decisions. Finally, determine the right program scorecard and participant survey cadence to ensure program feedback is regularly received and assessed.

Integrate Sales Onboarding With Other Programs 

New-hire onboarding, while important, is only the beginning of a new hire’s journey at an organization. There are general onboarding programs led by HR, annual sales meetings and new product-launch initiatives, all of which must be taken into consideration when customizing the onboarding program and timeline for each new hire. 

Another important process to consider is account and territory assignmentshand-offs and mid-year adjustments, if not done in collaboration with a new hire’s onboarding plan, can lead to increased customer frustration and lost business. 

Finally, leading organizations also consider the “talent development” big picturefor example, how onboarding feeds into future sales leadership development and how it fits within the typical programs within a revenue or sales operations organization that can impact a new hire’s success.

 

Solidify Your Sales Onboarding Strategy With Alexander Group

Often the sales onboarding program is an under-leveraged, overlooked asset for revenue and sales leaders looking to increase productivity, in both high-growth environments with rapid hiring goals and slow-growth environments where productivity is at a premium. Fortunately, a properly designed and carefully executed sales onboarding program can reap great rewards.

Want a new perspective on how to expand or upgrade your sales onboarding program? Contact us.

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