The Case for Sales Onboarding and How to Do It Right

By Beth McGraw on Jan 17, 2017

The business case for good employee onboarding is nowhere more glaring than in the sales organization. Companies spend more to hire talent in sales than in any other part of the organization and also experience some of the highest turnover rates (25% to 30% annually1). When a seller leaves, the departure can cost a company between $75K to $300K each year, before considering lost revenue.1 After hiring a replacement, it takes an additional three to six months for a sales rep to become productive.

Benefits of Good Onboarding

Experts agree that a well-executed onboarding program can reduce risk, accelerate the path to productivity, and reduce attrition. CEB research on sales onboarding tells us that engaged employees are 9 times less likely to leave, and effective onboarding programs have the potential to increase employee performance by 15%. Boston Consulting Group’s study, Realizing the Value of People Management, identified onboarding as the second most important capability (after recruiting) amongst 22 HR capabilities that impact revenue growth and profit margins.2

The increasing business complexity and high demands we place on our sellers compound the problem. Today’s sellers are expected to:

  • Lead with insights, not just product knowledge, to persuade increasingly savvy buyers,
  • Navigate complicated portfolios of products and services, and
  • Influence others internally to help drive results in complex, matrixed organizations.

Onboarding: More Than A Checklist

Developing an inventory of all the necessary sales processes and tools a new hire needs to know is an important first step, but you can’t stop there. The most progressive organizations know that a checklist is not onboarding. Rather, onboarding is an experience and a vital opportunity to introduce your new hire to your sales culture and set them up for long-term success.

Establishing desired outcomes and milestones for your onboarding program is crucial. We define onboarding success across the following five C’s:

  • Clarity: Clear on role and responsibilities, goals for the year, and key objectives
  • Connected: Access to tools, peers, and leadership
  • Comprehension: Knowledge of products and services, sales methodology, and activities
  • Confidence: Application of products, sales methodology, activities, and tools
  • Contributing: Able member of the sales team and contributes with knowledge, skills, and insights

Design your onboarding program to support these milestones and take into account that the journey may not always be linear or without setbacks.

Crawl, Walk, Run

Many of our clients look at their sales onboarding implementation in terms of crawl-walk-run. We like the idea that you can test and learn over a period of time as you work towards an end-state vision versus a big-bang approach. Defining these phases within your onboarding program will help you to frame your implementation:

  • Crawl: Some may view it as a significant win to develop a sales onboarding checklist. This is a great place to start, but don’t stop there.
  • Walk: As early as possible, consider the seller experience and key milestones you need them to hit to be successful. We already listed some of them above.
  • Run: With a longer implementation runway, many consider technology-enabled sales onboarding as the final wrapper to a comprehensive program with the consumer experience in mind.

We recommend remaining sensitive to the overwhelming nature of those first three to six months. When designing your sales onboarding program, consider it your charter to not only help the new hires learn as much as possible, but also to ensure they are focused on the most relevant content to their role, team, and region. Inundating them with too much content can backfire and erode the benefits of your onboarding program design.

What You Get When You Get It Right

  • Improved job performance: Employee performance can be improved with effective onboarding programs by 11.5%
  • Higher employee retention: Department of Labor states that employee retention can be greatly improved with effective onboarding programs
  • Greater revenue growth and profit margin: The most progressive organizations see 2.5x revenue growth and 1.9x profit margin over the least progressive organizations when they structure onboarding for new hires

A robust, targeted sales onboarding program is an opportunity for tremendous cost savings, better employee engagement, and faster ramp to revenue. Stay tuned for our Sales Onboarding Checklist to help validate that your onboarding program is hitting the mark.

HBR, The Best Ways to Hire Salespeople, Frank V. Cespedes and Daniel Weinfurter, November 2, 2015.

BCG Perspectives, Realizing the Value of People Management, 2012

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Beth McGraw

Written by Beth McGraw

Beth McGraw lives and breathes organizational effectiveness. Having worked on org transformations across industries for companies like AT&T, United Airlines, MillerCoors, Walgreens and Citrix Systems, Beth brings a holistic and strategic approach to organization effectiveness. She employs proven change methodologies and innovative research to assist Symmetrics Group clients in achieving desired outcomes.

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