The First Steps to Successful Sales Onboarding

The First Steps to Successful Sales Onboarding
April 22, 2016

Sales reps stepping into the office for their first day on the job expect to be greeted with paperwork, orientations, training, presentations – the standard activities that acclimate someone to a new company. 

Onboarding, however, should not start on Day 1, but long before. This means defining and understanding when your new hires will be properly ready to go – and making sure you’re hiring the right people.  

Onboarding Task 1: Identify what "ramped up" means

Every sales force has to begin their onboarding process by having an established plan, says Ray Makela, managing direction of the Sales Readiness Group. This is critical because sales reps are a revenue stream. Just like a new product being put to market, there is a return on investment that needs to be associated with every new member of your sales force.

“What’s the period look like to get new hires up to speed, get them productive and get them at a level that will sustain the investment that we’ve made?” Makela asks. The key is doing this both quickly and efficiently – but also in a way that sets up each rep for long-term success.

How do we define “productive?” What does it mean to be “ready?”

Long before a sales rep submits his resume, sales organizations need to set clear benchmarks for the onboarding process: realistic, documented expectations that align with specific timeframes.

On average, salespeople take about 3-6 months to fully “ramp up,” according to 50% of respondents in an informal poll taken during a recent Sales Readiness Group’s webinar. But it looks like too few get there within that time frame - CSO Insights research shows 64% of reps take a minimum of 7 months to ramp up.

The challenge, and perhaps the reason for the discrepancy of figures above, is that organizations don’t have a clear definition of what it means to be “ramped up.”

To determine and ultimately accelerate your current ramp up time:

  1. Start with historical data to determine how long it’s taken an average sales rep to fully ramp up.
  2. Establish benchmarks, and then determine exactly what a sales rep needs to know in order to achieve each specific onboarding milestone.

Remember: Sales reps do not need to learn everything at once. 

“People cram so much stuff into such a short amount of time that no human could possibly ever absorb it. And then we wonder why it takes people so long to ramp up,” says Mike Kunkle, Brainshark’s senior director of enablement. “If you define your terms, milestones, and what content needs to be taught when, you can have a much bigger impact.”

Onboarding Task 2: Hire the right people

Curious. Resilient. Empathic. Emotionally intelligent. Gritty.

These were the words used to describe the ideal salesperson during the SRG webinar’s informal survey. These adjectives are a far cry from the “used car salesman” or the “relentless Mad Men-era businessman” that might be an initial stereotype of those in sales.

The best salesperson isn’t always going to be the loudest or most outgoing person in the room. Certain star qualities that drive sales can often be overlooked in the interview process, which is why hiring the right people is a critical step in accelerating the onboarding process. The right people will get results faster.

Related Article: Finding the Empathetic Salesperson: Nature + Nurture

"Define three things you’re really looking for, and use a behavior-based interview model,” Makela suggests. “You can really get to the next level deeper than screening a resume or asking hypotheticals or ‘what if’ questions. You really want to dig in and see how they’ve demonstrated those qualities and behaviors in the past, and how that is going to apply to the position you’re recruiting for.”

When the right rep is in the right role and given clearly defined onboarding expectations, he or she will be best positioned to learn from training – the third essential step in successful onboarding.   

Ready for the next steps in onboarding? Check out our on-demand presentation of Accelerating the Ramp-Up Time of New Sales Reps”.