5 Steps to Sales Onboarding Success

By Joni Santos on May 12, 2017

How can you design an effective onboarding program for sellers that accelerates their time to productivity, while reducing employee turnover? In our recent blog post, the Case for Sales Onboarding, we highlighted the sobering data around seller turnover, departure costs, recruiting costs, lost revenue, and new seller ramp time. We also emphasized the importance of establishing desired outcomes and milestones for a seller onboarding program, defining success according to five C’s: Clarity, Connections, Comprehension, Confidence, and Contribution. 

As each ‘C’ builds upon the last, you can implement them as you would follow steps in a process, recognizing that the journey may not always be clean and linear. In this post, we expand on how to apply the 5 C's of Sales Onboarding Success.


Step 1: Establish CLARITY

It is challenging for sales people to focus on success when the definition and steps to achievement are vague. To get everyone focused on day 1, develop a reference tool that clearly articulates:

  • Roles & responsibilities: Ensure that you thoroughly address what’s expected of the seller on a daily/weekly/monthly/quarterly basis. It is also useful to include differentiated roles on the team, as well as contact details for when your seller has questions or needs guidance.
  • Sales success measures: Define the goals and key metrics that will be used to measure the seller’s success. Be sure to include a clear description of what victory looks like and how often the measures are applied.
  • Onboarding process: Include a timeline that indicates how long each phase of the onboarding process is expected to take, who will be involved in each phase, and FAQs for the overall process.
  • Manager/Seller interactions: Set expectations on the regular cadence/rhythm by which you or a front line manager will plan, inspect, and discuss the seller’s book of business, key accounts and opportunities, and pipeline. Also, be clear and open about the ad hoc interactions that will allow you to support (but not interfere) in resolving issues or capitalizing on time-sensitive opportunities.

It’s important to review the reference tool in detail with each new hire to immediately answer questions that may arise and to avoid misinterpretation of expectations; this review can be completed in a one-to-one or one-to-many meeting, depending on the situation.

Make sure the guide is accessible to new sellers for future reference as you move to Step 2. 

Step 2: Make CONNECTIONS

Once your new hire has clarity around role and expectations, your next job is to foster relationships both within and beyond the sales team to accelerate their time to productivity. A network will help employees relate and adapt as their role in the organization takes shape. Help them build connections with:

  • Leaders: Intra- and inter-departmental leaders make excellent mentors, providing sage advice and demonstrating behaviors that are awarded in the organization. Schedule brief meetings to introduce the new-hire to each relevant leader (the level of formality will depend on the leader).
  • Cross-functional peers: Establishing connections across other functional areas (e.g., Product, Service, Sales Op/Enablement, Marketing, and Legal) will create a more efficient working environment, taking the guesswork out of navigating the entire organization. In addition, bouncing ideas off of cross-functional peers fosters a holistic approach to problem solving that is ultimately better for the organization. Schedule these introductions in small, informal gatherings for coffee or lunch where the atmosphere is collaborative.
  • Team members: Team members must work together like a well-oiled machine to be most productive. Encourage these relationships through regularly scheduled team calls/meetings and help to facilitate relationships through events, such as socials and team-building activities.
  • Seasoned sellers: Implement shadow days for the new hires to work alongside seasoned sellers. This will allow the new sellers to witness firsthand what “good looks like” and possibly develop a mentor/mentee relationship that will continue to pay dividends during the new hire’s tenure with the company.
  • Other new hires: Building camaraderie amongst other new-hires is a critical connector and one that is often overlooked during onboarding. Providing a forum for new-hires to share ideas and ask questions of each other allows the newest team members to build relationships with peers “in the same boat.” Consider hosting a social event during orientation, as well as monthly Lunch-and-Learns to bring everyone back together on an ongoing basis.

It’s a good idea to provide the new sellers with a VIP list of people they should meet and why each person is important to their success. Facilitate this process by sending an introductory email to the VIP list, alerting them of the new hire.

Making connections is not a one-and-done event. Depending on the size of the organization, this step can – and should – take quite a bit of time, but you are ready for Step 3 once you’ve made initial recommendations and established a cadence, or rhythm, for ongoing team meetings and new-hire get-togethers. 

Step 3: Ensure COMPREHENSION

Avoid overwhelming your new-hire with the full breadth of information available and instead prioritize content across:

  • Products & services: Define the most important products & services that the new-hire must understand to effectively do the job. Develop a plan to train the new-hire on these critical areas, perhaps via weekly meetings/calls or bi-weekly training sessions. It’s a good idea to establish a regular training cadence and stick with it until all products and services have been covered.
  • Sales process and methodology: Train new sellers on your sales process and methodology as soon as possible in Step 3 to ensure that the new hire follows a consistent approach and is armed with the right sales tools at each stage. Use the opportunity to discuss how the process aligns with your customer’s buying process, how and when other organizational resources get involved, how to leverage enabling technologies (e.g., CRM), and the tools and approaches your best sellers use to manage their territory, accounts, and opportunities. It may be necessary to send the new hire to an outside training course, if the methodology is licensed through a 3rd party; however, if you are able to deliver the training personally, ensure that you have extra training materials for the new hire’s future reference.
  • Sales tools: It is important to not only understand what sales tools to use and when, but to also understand how to use the tools to drive more success. All relevant sales tools should be made available to the new-hire, and regularly scheduled coaching calls are mandatory to pressure-test the employee’s acumen.
  • Sales activities: Define the sales activities that are most important to employ; consider prioritizing them against specific time periods, and gradually increase the amount of sales activities under the new-hire’s belt along the way. Use the regularly scheduled coaching calls and leverage your CRM, to verify successful completion of these sales activities; triage any missteps with additional coaching and/or job shadowing. 

This phase is undoubtedly the most time-consuming of the 5 Steps and requires a rigorous training schedule, as well as multiple checkpoints along the way to ensure absorption of the material. You are ready for Step 4 when the new-hire is able to effectively articulate the details and value proposition of the products and services, as well as demonstrate understanding of the sales methodology, tools, and related activities. 

Step 4: Instill CONFIDENCE

After a period of time, your new hire will seek to practice in a safe environment and apply their new knowledge. Establish these opportunities formally as part of the onboarding program:

  • Participate in sales calls: A new-hire should begin participating in sales calls to practice the application of products & services, the sales methodology, activities, and tools in selling situations. Provide a schedule to the new-hire, increasing the required number of sales calls each day until competency develops. Remember to observe the new-hire on these calls and provide real-time coaching. (For more on coaching, check out this recent blog post)
  • Shadow sales peers and leaders: Shadowing can occur both in the office and in the field; in the office, new-hires should observe the peer/leader making calls, setting appointments, and using the CRM, while field shadowing allows a new-hire to observe face-to-face interactions.
  • Co-lead customer conversations: Over time, the new-hire can take a more active role in meetings, answering customer questions and eventually leading conversations. Provide direct feedback after each interaction, but do not provide the feedback in front of the customer.
  • Reinforce desired behaviors: It is critical for a manager to coach on desired behaviors, recognizing/applauding even small wins and correcting inappropriate behaviors Coaching should occur in one-on-one settings, and action plans agreed on together

The length of this step will vary from rep to rep, depending on how quickly the new-hire demonstrates competency. You are ready for Step 5 when the new-hire is able to effectively lead sales calls and customer conversations. If you notice that a new-hire seems stuck in this phase, you may need to re-evaluate the fit for the position.

Step 5: Encourage CONTRIBUTION

Being an effective contributor can mean something different from person to person, even within the same sales organization. It is important that you define what it means for your new employee early on and continue to reinforce these concepts throughout the process. With the implementation of your well-designed onboarding program, the new hire should be a contributing member of the sales team in this step and should demonstrate:

  • Knowledge: This not only includes the external knowledge taught during onboarding, but also an internal understanding of personal capabilities that will propel the new hire to success. Salespeople should demonstrate that they have insights about the company, customers, the market, and themselves. In addition, they should be able to apply these insights, as well as seek new insights, to continue to grow their business.
  • Skills: Through the onboarding process, your new hire will develop skills to be a better salesperson and more effective team member. Ensure that regularly scheduled coaching sessions are in place to monitor this skillset and make adjustments along the way.
  • Goals: Ensure that you and your new salesperson have defined and agreed upon goals to measure success (refer to the sales success measures you defined in Step 1: Clarity). Be clear about the signs and metrics you as a leader will look for to measure productivity, as well as the timeline in which you expect this productivity to occur. Have a remediation plan in place in case these goals are not met.

Remember that even though the official onboarding process may be complete, an ongoing sales training program will be necessary to further develop skills and keep them fresh amidst changing customer or market demands.

Symmetrics Group would like to thank Beth McGraw for her input to this article.

The Laws of Attraction and Attrition

Joni Santos

Written by Joni Santos

Joni Santos thrives on connecting with clients on a level deeper than your typical consultant to develop customized business solutions that drive measurable results. With her diverse background in corporate marketing, field sales, training/development and consulting, as well as having worked in and for companies from start-ups to the Fortune 50, Joni brings a unique and well-rounded perspective to each sales effectiveness initiative. Best known for her team-player attitude, eye for detail and propensity for planning, Joni drives the delivery of high-impact client programs that are on time, on budget and on point.

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