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December 2019
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TD Magazine

Sink or Swim

Sales onboarding is more beneficial when following best practices.

When your company hires new salespeople, do you toss them into the deep end and see who swims, or do you provide them with support in the form of a sales-specific onboarding program separate from general organizational onboarding? An upcoming report from ATD Research finds that a majority of organizations do the latter: More than 60 percent have sales onboarding programs.

Among those companies, faster time to productivity for new salespeople was sales onboarding’s most commonly cited benefit. However, the extent to which companies realize that benefit may depend heavily on program quality. Sales Onboarding: Launching Productivity shows that sales onboarding alone does not reap benefits. Rather, the report indicates that following certain sales onboarding practices increases an organization’s likelihood of being a top performer, with both a sales force that performs better than the typical company in their industry and a median salesperson who meets or exceeds her sales goals.

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Another report, CSO Insights’ 2018 Sales Talent Study, further illustrates the importance of quality for sales onboarding programs. Among that study’s 321 respondents, those who reported that their organizations had a strong onboarding program for salespeople typically needed two less months to get a new sales rep up to full productivity than those that did not. Assuming an average quota of $2 million a year, the CSO report estimates that this two-month gap could make a difference of $50,000 to $100,000 per new salesperson.

So, what can employers do to improve their sales onboarding programs? According to Sales Onboarding, extend the length of sales onboarding programs. The report found that when organizations offer sales onboarding programs that last six months or longer, they are significantly more likely to be top performers. However, only a small number of companies follow that practice.

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Investing many training resources is “a risk that a lot of organizations don’t take,” says Dan Norris, director of training at heavy equipment and engine dealer HOLT CAT, in an interview for the report. In his experience, the risk pays off. “A lot of companies that don’t do that investment up front create a risk of unethical or poor business decisions later on,” he explains.

In another interview for the report, Stephen Rath Morgan, former head of global learning and talent development for Xerox, advises that “you shouldn’t just pull people out of work for a one-and-done event.” To him, a mature sales onboarding program should include “preboarding activities, a formal induction, and then work-integrated learning activities that continue through a rep’s first year on the job.”

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About the Author

Alex Moore is a junior research analyst for the Association for Talent Development. Alex returned to ATD in 2019 after spending a year living and working in Chile. Prior to moving abroad, Alex was a writer/editor for ATD working on TD magazine, a research coordinator at ATD, and a customer care advocate at ATD. He graduated from Virginia Tech in 2015 with a B.A. in English.

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