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6 Research-Backed Strategies for Faster Sales Onboarding

by Bart Macdonald

Jul 31, 2017

Reducing sales onboarding time in order to ramp-up new hires quickly is one of the top goals of sales leaders. According to CSO Insights’ 2016 Sales Enablement Optimization Study, 45% of leaders surveyed listed time spent onboarding as a top concern: the faster a new sales team member can onboard, the faster they can start making sales.

But a faster process doesn’t mean better.

Here are six research-backed strategies to speed up your sales team’s onboarding program and simultaneously maintain – or even improve – its effectiveness.

  1. Embrace Pre-Boarding

It can be easy to forget about your new hire in the time period between when they sign the contract and their first day. But this phase, often referred to as pre-boarding, is a critical time for you to prepare for your new hires and for your new hires to start getting acquainted with their new team.

Google has discovered that when its HR team sends out a reminder email to managers the Sunday before a new hire starts to “nudge” them towards preparing 5 vitally important components to a new employee’s first day, they are able to accelerate the employees’ time-to-productivity by 25%. These five critical components are:

  • - Being ready to discuss the new hire’s role and responsibilities
  • - Identifying a peer buddy/mentor
  • - Preparing introductions to the team and other key figures in the company
  • - Scheduling time to check in once a month for the first six months
  • - Encouraging open dialogue throughout the onboarding process

Additionally, have all the technology your sales reps will need to do their job set up and ready to go when they arrive. This includes computing equipment, landline and/or mobile phone, email signature, CRM account access, and any other necessary software account access. Consider creating a cheat sheet so the new hire knows where and how to log into each one.

There are many ways to make a new employee’s day memorable. “You want to make sure that his first day is memorable in a positive way,” says Grote in an interview with Harvard Business Review. There are many ways to do this. But even the most elaborate first day traditions will fall flat if the basic preparations aren’t made.

  1. Provide Structure

Particularly in sales, a new hire needs to know job expectations from the start. As part of Texas Instruments’ new hire orientation, the managers sit down with their new employees and walk through the company’s performance appraisal. They use this as a tool to explain how the company views performance and how their work will be measured as well as what they will be held accountable for.

LinkedIn, which has become renowned for its commitment to new employees, builds on this by giving all new employees a new hire roadmap. This 90-day plan includes a week-by-week online guide that identifies what they need to learn in order to be more productive and successful during their first month and beyond, including role-specific skills, and intricacies of their role. LinkedIn customizes these roadmaps by department so that each learning plan applies directly to the new employee receiving his/hers.

  1. Let new hires tackle huge projects right away

Nick Persico, a sales executive with experience at large enterprises like Sysco as well as startups, compares sales training to riding a bike: “You didn’t learn how to ride a bike from your parents telling you about every aspect of how the bike worked. You just got on the bike, fell a bunch of times, and eventually figured it out. Treat new sales hires like they are learning to ride a bike.”

Numerous companies are catching on to this approach to get their sales new hires up to speed quickly. Netflix gives new hires the opportunity to be involved in large projects from the get-go. Quora also pushes new hires to tackle a manageable project by the end of their first week.

If a full-blown sales call isn’t appropriate for your business in the first couple days, consider integrating mentorship into the process and developing a shadowing program that integrates multiple “stand and deliver” certifications with simulated role play. Having your new reps sit in on everything from prospecting calls to demos to live presentations will give them a feel for what questions customers ask and what concerns they have, etc. The more people they can shadow, the quicker they can see what works and what doesn’t.

Daryl Spreiter, Senior Director of Sales Enablement at Salesforce, instituted a sales onboarding process where each new salesperson was asked to sit in on at least five sales calls and document what they observed and learned. They reported who they shadowed, which customer was called, what the purpose of the call was, and the lessons learned from the call. Through this disciplined process, Salesforce.org hired more sales executives and exceeded revenue goals in 2016. Apttus also saw results by instituting a “stand and deliver” onboarding process, decreasing time to first deal for all its sales professionals by more than 50%.

  1. Focus on Culture

A study of 264 new employees published in the Academy of Management Journal found that the first 90 days of employment is pivotal to building rapport with the company, management and coworkers. When support levels were high from the team and leaders, new hires often had more positive attitudes about their job and worked harder.

While the process of instilling your culture through onboarding is important for any new hire, it is particularly important for your sales reps since they will be the face of your brand to the world. If they are passionate about your company and it’s products/services, that will show to potential clients and customers.

Zappos feels so strongly about this that it offers employees $2,000 to leave if they don’t think they are the right fit by the end of its five-week course that teaches new hires everything they need to know about company culture and values. While only approximately one percent of new hires have historically taken the money, this shows just how Zappos values culture and fit. It sets the tone for new hires’ careers at the company. Amazon deemed this approach so effective that it adopted its own version, paying employees $5,000 to quite at the end of their onboarding process if they don’t think they are the right fit

  1. Customize Training & Leverage Continuing Education

As Michel Falcon, founder of Experience Academy, says, "Employee onboarding is the design of what your employees feel, see and hear after they have been hired. Often, companies confuse onboarding with training. While training does have a role within the onboarding it doesn’t represent the entire scope of the process."

One way to include training in the onboarding process without having it be the absolute focus is to develop resources that are readily available for your sales team when they start and even after the formal onboarding process is complete.

Without ongoing learning and reinforcement, 50 percent of learned content is not retained within five weeks. And within 90 days, that figure increases to 84 percent. Given that your new hires will learn at new paces and need to continue refreshing their memories as they get up to speed on the many intricacies of sales at your company, providing a rich library of content best practice documents (e.g., how to respond to common lead objections), cold call and voicemail scripts, and modifiable templates for sales emails and email subject lines will go a long way. The more you can do to help your sales reps internalize new information, the faster they will be able to ramp up at their job.

In your content library, also consider creating a comprehensive sales onboarding playbook that will provide sales team members with all the information they need to prepare for their job, like product and pricing guides, CRM guidelines, and sales process details. Whenever reps feel unsure or lost during their initial months, they can refer back to the playbook to get some clarity.

Coming full-circle to pre-boarding, some companies start this training process from the moment new hires sign their offer letters. David Rudnitsky and Jim Steele – Enterprise Sales leads at InsideSales crowd-sourced over 20 hours of video pre-work and team exercises that integrated deal wins, customer stories, executive interviews, product demonstrations, top-performer territory plans, and strategic account plans. New sales team members completed the pre-work and continued to work through this content library over the first few weeks on the job with huge results: every seller closed a deal in their first 30 days and generated tens of millions of self-sourced pipeline.

  1. Don’t forget to ask for feedback

As you seek to speed up the onboarding process, don’t forget the power of patience and asking for feedback. It will take time people to learn the ropes, and as Liz Tall, VP of People at Trello, says, “Implementing their feedback gives new team members ownership over the process and demonstrates that their input is valuable…With each new suggestion, we’re able to tweak the system, allowing for new hires to immediately feel like a valuable part of the team.”

Interested in accelerating the performance of your sales team? Download Sapling’s Essential Guide to Employee Onboarding Success or schedule a product demo below:blog_banner.png

Bart Macdonald

Bart is a Co-Founder and CEO of Sapling. He’s passionate about building software and training programs that prepare today’s HR leaders for the Future of Work. Prior to Sapling, Bart was an early employee at General Assembly in the education-technology space, and before that was an HR Consultant designing Onboarding and L&D programs for companies from 10 to 10,000 employees. He holds a degree in Human Resource Management from Macquarie University in Sydney, and is now a proud Californian resident.