Sales Onboarding: 8 Best Practices to Reduce Sales Ramp Time

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What is Sales Onboarding?

Sales onboarding is the traditional way sales reps are trained to do their jobs. It typically involves new reps shadowing more experienced reps, studying customer analytics, listening to sales calls, and training on closing deals. Onboarding is routinely conducted through traditional teaching methods, such as presentations, webinars, and classroom training.

Despite the valuable information embedded within it, sales onboarding also evokes the dreaded learning curve.

We learn from information, but it can become a burden, not a benefit, unless it is organized and available to the right people in a format where they can make decisions. Sadly, this frustration can become part of a company’s culture, holding back sales teams and impacting the entire organization.

“Learning experiences are like journeys. The journey starts where the learning is now, and ends when the learner is successful. The end of the journey isn’t knowing more, it’s doing more.” - JULIE DIRKSEN, LEARNING STRATEGY AND DESIGN CONSULTANT.

Sales onboarding processes vary across and within industries, but whatever your business your organization may be in avoiding lengthy learning curves and sales disruptions will be key. An effective sales onboarding process that minimizes disruptions while continually reevaluating training and sales methodologies will ultimately provide ongoing business value.

Why Do Sales Onboarding Programs Fail?

Effectively, “the way your employees feel is the way your customers will feel. And if your employees don’t feel valued, neither will your customers.” (Sybil F. Stershic, Marketing and Organizational Advisor). It may seem obvious, but how well you onboard your sales reps will determine their success and also your company’s success. If your sales onboarding plan only takes into account an introduction to tools and doesn’t plan for long-term learning, then your efforts will most likely be in vain.

Because sales training often consists of presenting material in marathon, all-day chunks, managers expect sales reps to require several months to learn their jobs. This long ramp time creates high turnover and associated expense and loss of revenue. And, with the rise of remote work, the disadvantages of standard training methods are exacerbated.

Successful sales onboarding should be comprehensive but not complicated. If there is too much material, it quickly becomes ineffective, with diminished returns.

Classroom training and job shadowing are two traditional onboarding methods. With classrooms, employees gather in one space for presentations and possible group work, while job shadowing involves a new sales hire spending a day-in-the-life with more experienced reps to better learn their duties.

Like classroom training, webinars deliver extensive information in large chunks—only online. For those who struggle with auditory learning, both methods represent hurdles when it comes to retaining information.

Group training typically involves employees getting together to role play mock scenarios. Although this approach is more hands-on and offers slightly improved opportunities for retention, creating the content and bringing employees together can become a complicated part of the onboarding strategy, particularly when managing remote teams with multiple schedules.

Traditional sales onboarding programs  fail for three principal reasons:

  • Too much know, too little know-how: With the emphasis on academic knowledge, and not enough focus on practical on-the-job activities and performance expectations, it is difficult to measure the progress of what knowledge each salesperson is retaining and exercising.  
  • Integration deficiencies: Front-loading onboarding early in a sales rep’s tenure separates training from on-the-job activities. This failure to integrate onboarding into actually doing the job means that information may have been prematurely learned; by the time it is actually needed on the floor with customers, it is already stale and forgotten.
  • Separate and apart, far and away: The sales onboarding program is “locked in a box”, making recorded webinars and learning management system (LMS) courses inaccessible during the workflow. This makes information difficult and cumbersome to access in the moments where it is needed most: namely, preparing for and engaging in customer conversations.

Ready to start your sales onboarding effort?  Scroll down to see our 8 best practices.

Sales Onboarding Process

84% of sales training is forgotten in the first three months. - G2

The dreaded learning curve doesn’t have to dominate your salG2, Sales Enablement Statistics es onboarding program. Digital enablement platforms like Spekit reduce the onboarding friction by presenting material in small, easily digested bits. Better yet, the best training platforms implement training right where sales reps work, in real time.

Spekit’s digital enablement platform turns a confusing onboarding roadmap into a set of easy-to-follow directions. With Spekit, it’s possible to:

  • Enhance company culture
  • Reduce turnover
  • Save time for managers and trainers
  • Increase employee engagement
  • Teach employees how to be effective in their day-to-day roles

By making the switch to Spekit’s sales enablement platform, decision makers can address knowledge gaps and overcome the obstacles to company success.

Digital enablement software replaces aging learning management systems and merges digital adoption with sales enablement to provide an effective onboarding experience.

Unlike standardized onboarding processes, contextual learning resembles a GPS: training appears where reps are working, no matter their physical location and during each phase of the sales process. Much like modern driving directions, this training follows reps across apps, and delivers in-app help throughout the sales cycle.

This new style of learning eliminates the “swivel-chair” approach, where new sales reps are forced to stop and ask a colleague for directions, interrupting the workflow for both parties.

Digital enablement platforms can also help sales managers and trainers quickly tweak their training content when knowledge and skills gaps surface or change management occurs. It’s easy to immediately communicate updates through the entire system, allowing employees to see change alerts as they work.

Contextual training can be specific, delivering information about a specific customer or sales lead when and where sales reps need it to complete the task at hand.

Benefits of an Effective Sales Onboarding Process

In today’s highly dynamic sales environment, we can no longer approach the sales onboarding process as something for new hires.

Instead, we need to think of it as a central and continuous GPS tool that helps sales reps navigate their time and functions within a company. Once new reps know their jobs inside-out, there is enhanced opportunity for improved

Companies with great sales onboarding processes see:

  • Higher percentage of reps hitting quota–  A great sales onboarding process can give reps the tools and just-in-time knowledge they need to do their jobs effectively and efficiently.
  • Shorter ramp times-  Sales reps become productive faster, allowing their companies to hit revenue targets faster and more consistently.
  • Less turnover– Reps with positive onboarding experiences are less likely to leave for other companies.
  • Greater rep satisfaction– Reps that start on the right foot, with the skills and knowledge to do their jobs, will be happier and more invested.

Learning should be fun, easy, and provide multiple opportunities to retain information.

“To me, gamification is finding the way to invent the behaviors that you want your team to have.” - DAVE MCDERMOTT, DIRECTOR OF SALES ENABLEMENT, KELLY SERVICES

Sales reps need training reinforcement, with reminders and digestible pieces of content at their fingertips. If you’re looking to create a better sales onboarding process, chat with us today to get started on your journey!

8 Sales Onboarding Best Practices

“An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly is the ultimate competitive advantage.” - JACK WELCH, FORMER GENERAL ELECTRIC CEO

For sales onboarding programs to be effective, they need to be tied to performance expectations, integrated with on-the-job activities, and accessible within the workflow. Follow these steps to ensure success with building your onboarding program:

1. Measure baseline performance

Before embarking on building an onboarding program, measure the time it takes for each role to ramp up in proficiency. Notably,

  • How long are new account executives (AE) taking to achieve quota today? How long does it take for Stage 1 to convert to Stage 2 for new reps?
  • How long does it take for a business development representative (BDR) to get their first appointment?
  • How long does it take for an AE to make their first sale?

Having these metrics is essential for evaluating the effects of your new onboarding program on the business. The more accurately and thoroughly you measure your baselines, the more you can pinpoint what to tweak as the program gets up and running, and the more you can see how your program is impacting revenue— a key metric for revenue leaders.

2. Focus on performance expectations

Effective onboarding programs start with performance expectations:

  • What is the salesperson expected to do on the job? And what does progress look like for them?

If you are starting from scratch, first identify the measurable outcomes you want each person to achieve on their path to success. Each outcome should be considered a major milestone towards the ultimate goal, which is achieving their activity or revenue quota.

For example, a sales or business development rep might be expected to have successfully scheduled five qualified appointments in a specific time period. Or, an AE might be expected to have conducted eight demos, four of which advance to the next stage in the sales process.

3. Determine timing

Once you have determined expected outcomes, organize them into phases. A common phasing that companies use is a 30-60-90 day plan; however, depending on the business and the typical sales cycle, you may need to shorten or lengthen the onboarding process.

The general rule is to couple the onboarding program with the average sales cycle, so new hires are learning while they are doing the job and engaging with customers.

For instance, you can break a 30-day sales cycle into three ten-day phases. Each phase drives towards one or more outcomes, each of which becomes a milestone in the overall onboarding journey.

Each company varies in terms of cycle time, complexity, and desired outcomes, so tailor the timeframes to reflect how business is done and what you want your new hire to have accomplished during their onboarding period.

4. List activities for each outcome

The next step is to identify the activities needed to accomplish each outcome. Often multiple steps must happen behind the scenes in order to bring something to fruition or to achieve a milestone. Identify those sub-steps.

Work with top performers and managers to pinpoint and capture these key steps. Experienced reps will appreciate the chance to be included in the process and can help champion the onboarding program when it is complete.

5. Organize these activities in a logical sequence

For some outcomes, the order of activities should be straightforward and naturally emerge in the sales process. For others, the list of activities might be a “brain dump”, so further time needs to be spent on sequencing. Remember, the focus is on activities, not information at this point.

Some companies prefer to use Word or Google Docs to capture outcomes and then list the activities that fall under each, while others prefer Excel or Google Sheets to capture the information.

6. Identify knowledge needed to perform these activities

For many activities, there will be some prerequisite knowledge needed. For example, if you want your SDR or BDR to prospect to qualify and schedule an appointment, they need to know what roles to reach out to and what would be top of mind when they do this.

So in this case, that SDR or BDR would need to learn about the personas their company normally sells to or who typically uses the product.  

7. Assign checkpoints for each

Each milestone in the onboarding journey should have a performance checkpoint to ensure that the new hire is on track and is progressing as expected. This could take a number of different forms, such as:

  • Demo certification
  • Value story practice with feedback
  • Call listening and coaching
  • Pipeline reviews
  • Role play

When you implement your onboarding program, you will want to measure progress against each milestone, to determine whether a new hire may need additional support.

The information you have captured up to this point is the foundation of your onboarding program blueprint. You will want to ensure you have involved some key stakeholders.

8. Build your program

Now it is time to build your program. Consider each item on your blueprint as a chunk of content to develop. If you can leverage existing content or point to existing resources, this will save you updating two different pieces of content.

You might consider building your program in phases. You may not have the time or resources to build it all at once!

In that case, start with the highest priority outcome that will give you the greatest lift; build the content for the activities and knowledge to achieve that outcome, and expand from there.

As you are building your program, consider these items that are frequently included in sales onboarding learning paths:

  • Value messaging
  • Personas
  • Playbooks (what to do at each stage)
  • Scripts
  • Successful call/demo reviews
  • Roles and responsibilities/swimlanes
  • Meeting your mentor
  • Meeting with top performers
  • Regular progress check-ins with managers
  • Sales and pipeline reports
  • Tools orientation (CRM, Sales Engagement, Sales Enablement)
  • Product information
  • How to demo
  • Pricing/Quoting
  • Proposals
  • Handoff to Customer Success

Insert each item above in the appropriate place based on the outcomes you have identified, the activities involved, and the knowledge needed to perform each activity.

 Get our 30-60-90 sales onboarding checklist to start building your program.

Sales Onboarding Next Steps

This is where you will be glad that you established some baseline numbers! Once a new-hire sales cohort has completed your onboarding program, go back to your original baseline metrics and re-measure to evaluate the effectiveness of your onboarding. Keep measuring and monitoring with each new cohort.

Effectively, moving from the focus from “what to know” to “what to do” will make it easier to tie your new sales hires’ learning to sales results. Given the just-in-time, performance-focused, and integrated approach you are taking and the support and structure your new revenue teams have,  your program will have a significant impact on bottom-line revenue!