How to Figure Out What to Include in Sales Onboarding

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Are you struggling to figure out what to include in the onboarding training for your sales team? Have you assembled what feels like a Hodge Podge of materials that don’t really seem to hang together? Are you drowning in a pile of sticky notes, each listing a great idea, but you don’t quite know how to pull them all together into a comprehensive program? Does it feel like something is missing?

I recently spoke with a prospective client about this very dilemma. There is a secret to escaping this maze of complexity, though. Mirror the job! In other words, you want to make sure that your sales onboarding program reflects the sales rep job as closely as possible.


You can start by performing a job analysis that makes what sales reps do visible. Here is a seven-step process to perform this analysis.

  1. Gather a group of sales reps currently doing the job. Your group should include 8 to 12 people who are your top performers. These should be the people actually doing the work. Managing the work doesn’t count.
  2. Guide the group in brainstorming the job mission. The mission of the job is a single sentence that defines the reason the job exists.
  3. Brainstorm with the group about 10 key areas of responsibility that enable them to accomplish the mission of the job. All job tasks will fit under these key areas of responsibility. Write each area of responsibility on an average piece of printer paper. Then tape the pages in a vertical column on the wall.
  4. Guide the group in brainstorming at least six tasks for each area of responsibility. Make sure that each task begins with an action verb and describes a discrete, observable action. Write each task on an average piece of printer paper. Tape the pages to the wall in a horizontal row beside the related area of responsibility to create a massive job analysis chart.
  5. Help the group refine their work. Review the responsibility and tasks to make sure they make sense and support the mission. Reword, add, and delete as needed. Also, make sure that each task only appears once in the chart. You may discover that sales reps are doing work that does not support the mission of the job. This is the perfect opportunity to either eliminate or re-assign this work.
  6. Organize the tasks in each area of responsibility. Organization can be based on when a sales rep would be expected to do the task, such as 0 to 3 months, 3 to 6 months, 6 to 12 months, more than one year.
  7. Type the job analysis chart and send it to the participants and their managers. Have participants and their managers validate the chart you created to make sure that you captured the information correctly and to correct any errors of omission that may have occurred in the heat of the moment during the initial meeting.

Now you can easily “see” what sales reps do and when in their tenure they are expected to take on each task. What’s more, you can group and sequence tasks into specific training modules and units. For example, a module I designed on developing a prospect plan for recycling sales reps included four units:

  • Set Sourcing Goals 
  • Identify Potential Customers 
  • Perform a Territory/Market Analysis 
  • Develop a Plan of Attack.

Each unit was a task that I had pulled directly from the job analysis chart and then grouped together under the larger context of product knowledge. You may have to go through a few iterations before you feel that your organization scheme works both for units within modules and for modules within the overall program.
Next, identify any foundational knowledge and skills sales reps should have. In the case of my recycling sales reps, we also included three units in an introductory module: 

  • Company Overview 
  • Industry Overview 
  • Anti-Trust Compliance.

You should now have a curriculum map that shows the flow of modules and units from the beginning to the end of your sales onboarding program. This comprehensive curriculum map serves as the blueprint for your training development. It certainly sounds much better than a pile of sticky notes, doesn’t it?

About the Author
Diane Valenti, founder of Applied Performance Solutions, Inc., uses her instructional design ninja skills to help companies reduce their sales onboarding ramp time and help sales teams rapidly acquire product knowledge. She works with Fortune 500 and startup companies, alike. Get Diane’s checklist to learn if you are making these 10 incredibly common mistakes that slow sales onboarding.
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