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ATD Blog

5 Creative Ways to Improve Your Sales Onboarding Program

Monday, July 22, 2019

Onboarding can often make or break a new sales hire’s time at the company. Research shows that a negative onboarding experience is correlated with lower rep productivity and retention. In fact, companies that believe their sales onboarding needs “major redesign” had voluntary turnover rates that were 80 percent higher than the study average (CSO Insights). On top of that, the same study found onboarding programs that need improvement or redesign have 16 percent lower quota attainment than programs that meet or exceed expectations.

Fortunately, there are several ways companies can improve their sales onboarding programs—some of which may surprise you with their simplicity. A few key changes can make a world of difference for newly hired reps. Here are five imaginative ways you can make the onboarding experience smoother in your sales organization.

1. Assess Readiness at Multiple Levels

Many companies use knowledge-checks (such as quizzes and tests) to gauge whether reps have a basic understanding of sales training material. But in these cases, does the company really know whether its sellers can apply what they’ve learned in front of a buyer?

By adding two more levels of assessments to your onboarding program, you can ensure reps have not only absorbed training material but also can relay it back and—most importantly—use it within the context of their roles.

Simulation: Pilots use flight simulators before they ever set foot in a plane. Likewise, salespeople should have the chance to practice in a “safe” learning environment before engaging buyers. You can incorporate simulation into your onboarding assessments by using traditional tactics such as manager- or coach-led role-play exercises. You can also use video coaching tools that prompt reps to “stand and deliver” what they’ve learned on video, then send the recording to a manager or peer for feedback.

Observation: You may know whether reps can deliver what they learned in a practice environment, but can they perform when it’s “game time”? Observation can involve managers reviewing reps’ email conversations, listening to phone conversations and recordings, or conducting a ride-along in the field.

2. Make Your Sales Onboarding Agile

Sales reps have a lot to learn during their first few months on the job—product and market information, key messaging, the sales methodology, and much more. For companies with an informal or unstructured onboarding approach, new hires can be left wondering how to prioritize their learning.

That’s why an Agile approach to sales onboarding can be more effective than traditional methods. Based on Agile software development principles, this strategy breaks down the often months-long onboarding process into a series of “sprints” during which new reps focus on building competency in key sales activities.

For instance, the program could outline a two-week sprint where new reps prepare for their first prospecting call. During those two weeks, the rep will complete training courses, coaching activities, and a certification demonstrating their readiness to make a prospecting call. After passing the assessment, sellers can apply these new skills during their first call and begin preparing for the next key activity in the sales cycle.


3. Get Your A-Players Involved

Establishing a formal mentorship program is a great way to help new sales hires succeed in your organization. In fact, research from ATD shows that 91 percent of sales reps believe peer learning helps them succeed.

Pairing new hires with veteran reps as part of a buddy system can help salespeople learn what “good” looks like and navigate the company internally. New reps can lean on these more tenured reps by shadowing them on calls, asking questions, and being introduced to key people in the organization.

Consider creating a short checklist of specific tasks for when the new hire will shadow the tenured rep. For example, the new hire could be asked to listen to three of the tenured rep’s customer calls in their first 30 days. The mentor can give a prebrief and debrief that adds context to each call and provides useful takeaways.

4. Start the Onboarding Process Earlier

To get new sales reps producing faster, give them a head start by making prelearning content available before day one (once their paperwork clears).

This 101-level content package should be short and sweet (ideally taking 10 minutes or fewer to fully complete) and cover the need-to-know details around your products and solutions, value proposition, target industries, and buyer personas. Using resources such as recent news articles, market research, or customer case studies, you can use prelearning to provide high-level context around general market challenges.

Legally, you cannot compel new hires to complete prelearning before their start date, but you can emphasize that it will prepare them for day one!


5. Customize Onboarding by Role

Your sales onboarding program does not need to be one-size-fits-all where every rep follows the same learning path. Depending on how your organization is structured, tailoring onboarding learning paths to specific roles can be a great way to improve efficiency.

Your sales reps are interacting on the front lines with buyers, but it’s equally important to support other customer-facing hires because they are also responsible for learning and communicating key messages.

For example, sales engineers may need more in-depth product and demo training as well as practice opportunities. Sales development reps will require more focus on delivering elevator pitches and making prospecting calls. Channel partners need a way to quickly understand your value proposition and differentiate your products from others they sell.

For each group, your training needs center around the skills that help them perform key activities at a high level.

The Path to Better Sales Onboarding

If sales onboarding is a challenge in your organization, remember that you’re not alone: the Sales Management Association found 62 percent of companies believe they are ineffective at ramping new sales hires. It’s a near-universal issue for today's sales organizations.

But if you’re committed to improving your new hire training, these ideas can help ensure a consistent and positive onboarding experience for every seller you hire—one that sets the stage for many productive years with your company.

About the Author

Alec Shirkey is content marketing manager for Brainshark.

1 Comment
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Great article, onboarding is an important aspect of the hiring procedure and is impacted by many factors, including company culture, the size of a firm, the position of the employee, etc. There is a way to create the best onboarding experience for an employee with the help of the 4 C’s - compliance, connection, culture, and clarification. Read more about it on our blog:
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