7 Sales Onboarding Best Practices

As many as 62% of companies consider themselves to be ineffective at onboarding their new sales hires -- is yours one of them?

According to research by the Sales Management Association, it takes an average of 10 weeks of training to ramp up new sales hires. And after that, it takes 11.2 months for them to actually become productive and start giving some ROI.

Couple that with the fact that the average cost to replace an “average” sales rep is $97,960 and you can see the major disconnect. Plus, companies that have good onboarding procedures improve quota attainment by 6.7% and reduce turnover.

Finally, add in that 49% of top-performing sales reps identity sales onboarding as “very to extremely important”, and things become clear: onboarding is inefficient, the costs related are high, and your best sales hires (who are on the front lines) consider it highly important.

Which means that improving your onboarding is critical.

Goals of a Good Onboarding Process

So with that said, what does good onboarding look like? What does it accomplish? Well, good onboarding...

  • Builds relationships -- Both with coworkers and managers.
  • Acclimates the new hire to the workplace
  • Develops job-specific skills -- Both the day-to-day details of what will be required of them, and the company’s overall go-to-market strategy.
  • Helps them learn about the company -- History, culture, values, etc.
  • Helps them hit established quotas -- Percent quota at 30, 60, and 90 days; number of closed deals at 30, 60, and 90 days; number of opportunities in the pipeline; etc.

Good onboarding isn’t accomplished in a single day, week, or month. But drawing it out doesn’t help either.

2 Mistakes That Happen

There are a few ways that the onboarding process can become inefficient, and they usually fall under one of two extremes: either new hires are pushed into the “deep end” of calling prospects too soon, before they’re ready; or, they get loaded up on training materials, documents, and tests that drag out the onboarding process far longer than necessary.

Given how much money and time is invested in each sales hire, you can’t afford to damage the efficiency of your team this way; balance is key. When you onboard, you need to provide practical, real-world scenarios that teach them about sales.

Start by acting these out in a controlled environment where you can coach them and help them succeed.

Give them the tools they’ll need, then send them out to make sales for your company.

7 Best Practices for Onboarding

1. Make it formal

Before you even start hiring, you need to formalize your onboarding process. What do the new hires need to know? What skills do they need to do the job well? Think details here: your specific company’s sales cycle, customers, and verticals.

Once you know what baseline knowledge and skills your new hires need to have, rank them by importance. Then, establish timelines. It matters less how you do this -- whether week-by-week, or 30-60-90-day breakouts -- and more that you do it at all. Determine a sequence for the new hires’ knowledge and skills acquisition.

Don’t front-load everything -- people forget the majority of what they just learned within 24 hours. Space it out. Finally, figure out how you’re going to deliver the training: instructor-led classroom? Self-paced online modules? Combinations usually work best.

2. Onboarding starts before “congrats, you’re hired!”

Onboarding actually starts well before you’ve even interviewed and hired a promising candidate. The first impression of your company actually begins the moment they arrive on your website to apply for a job. If you reach that understanding now, what follows comes naturally.

  • Build an informative website that communicates organization values clearly to job candidates -- they should be able to walk away with a good baseline knowledge of what your company is about.
  • During the hiring process, stay in close contact. Long periods of silence can be frustrating and lead candidates to go elsewhere. If there are going to be any surprise delays, keep everyone in the loop.
  • When candidates arrive on-site for interviews, introduce them to multiple employees. You want them to leave wanting to work at your company -- not just any organization that’s offering a job. After the candidate leaves, have each of the employees they interacted with send a quick “nice to meet you” email to the candidate.
  • Before day 1, the hiring manager should give the new hire a call. One study reported that less than half of new hires received a phone call from the hiring manager during onboarding. That’s a missed opportunity for helping the hire feel more connected to the team.

3. Give the opportunity to go in-depth on your product

The better your new sales representatives know your product, the better they’ll be able to sell it. They’ll understand what it is, how it’s different from your competitors, and why your customers work with you.

Try these out to help your new hires learn about your product in detail:

  • Give them time to explore the product and its features on their own. They’ll figure out how to learn in a way that works best for them.
  • Have engineering and/or product development present training modules that inform the new hire about why the product is designed the way it is and any changes coming down the pipeline.
  • Provide customer testimonials to your new hires. If you can, create opportunities for your new hires to speak with your best customers. That way, your new reps can find out who your customers are and why they choose your product over a competitor’s.
  • Have new hires meet with marketing. Marketing knows the product’s unique selling points and can communicate these with new hires. Plus, sales and marketing should work well together -- early contact paves the way for strong relationships between the two.
  • If the hire is new to the industry, give them resources that will allow them to get up to speed on industry trends. A “crash course” training module can help.
  • Consider making a training manual: part sales script, part objection-management document.

4. Make the ramp-up an appropriate length

We mentioned the average onboarding takes 10 weeks, but full productivity takes on average almost a year to achieve. Pushing new hires through faster than they’re ready for is a bad idea, but so is dragging it out.

Jumping back to #1 in this list, use a data-driven process to determine what milestones you expect new hires to be at during each part of the onboarding process. Keep a few things in mind:

  • Examine data from previous hires. How long did it take them to meet full quota, and how did they get there? Look at both high-performers and average reps.
  • How long is your sales cycle? Take it into account. Large deals taking 9-12 months to close have a different ramping period than transactional deals. A good rule of thumb: your ramp-up period should be about as long as your sales cycle + 90 days.
  • Meet with sales reps regularly to assess their performance. If they’re having trouble meeting milestones, provide guidance. Hires that continue to perform poorly despite guidance may need to be terminated.
  • Consider offering flexible compensation plans during onboarding -- if they’re worried about selling to pay rent, then they won’t be focused on learning.
  • Increase the new hire’s quota over time. That way, when they reach full quota, they’ll be ready for it.

5. Include shadowing

Have your new hires shadow experienced team members and watch how they do their job: how they manage deals, send emails, follow up, qualify, prospect, and close. You want them to see how your company conducts sales.

Use shadowing to let new hires draw their own conclusions and analyze what your top team members  are doing. There are a lot of ways to do sales. The goal of shadowing is not to tell the new hire how to do things -- it’s to get them thinking about how they would do it.

6. Create a mentorship program

Using formal mentorship is a great way to engage new hires with your organization. Giving new hires a senior mentor shows them you care about their long-term career development. A mentor can be an invaluable resource as new reps learn how things work.

A few things to think about:

  • Match mentors with new hires based on personality, communication style, and goals.
  • Once you’ve setup the initial meeting between a mentor and mentee, go hands-off. Let the relationship develop naturally between the two.
  • Offer guidance and training to mentors to help them better fill the role.
  • Check in periodically to see how the mentorship is going. If things aren’t working well, consider reassigning the mentor and mentee.

7. Use technology to your advantage

Nobody has ever claimed that onboarding is fun. It can be exhausting and tedious. Take advantage of technology to add some interest into the process. Especially as Millennials take over the workforce, and Gen Z starts entering it, many new employees will appreciate the opportunity to use new tech.

But not only does using technology help invigorate the onboarding process, a study found that firms that use it successfully were 57% more effective at sales training. Try incorporating videos into training modules; use gamification; and ask hires to use your scheduling and agenda tools, as well as software like your CRM platform.

Final thoughts

This is but a brief list of best practices. As your company evolves, continually assess how your onboarding program is doing and update it as necessary. Collect feedback with surveys, and use the data you receive to find areas for improvement.

Start employing these tips, consistently evaluate and improve, and you’ll be on your way toward beating the statistics.


About the author: James Meincke is the Director of Marketing at CloserIQ. Previously, he worked as a Recruiter at ManpowerGroup and a Freelance Social Media Strategist. He’s a University of Wisconsin Journalism & Strategic Communication Grad.

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