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The 6 Elements of an Effective Sales Onboarding Program

Sales Onboarding Process

Implementing a ‘pre-hire program’, being consistent, establishing a mentoring program, defining success, and creating a sales playbook reduces ramp time and sets new hires up for continued success.

No matter the size of an organization, hiring the right people and developing them so that they can achieve their true potential are arguably the most critical activities a business leader must undertake – after all you are only as good as the people you hire (thanks Ray Kroc). As a long time sales leader in Oracle, and now as a business owner, I have invested hundreds of hours in creating and executing recruiting strategies to attract and hire top talent. Unfortunately, I see new and experienced sales leaders alike make a common mistake when hiring. They neglect the need to implement and maintain a structured and rigorous onboarding program.

The true success of each new employee is largely determined by how well they are engaged and developed both in the short and long term, and an onboarding process provides the foundation in which this can be achieved. Unfortunately it is quite often the case that new sales professionals are not provided the platform or resources to be as successful as their potential suggests. Most often this is due to a lack of a structured engagement model and inconsistencies in commitment levels across the sales organization. However, with a defined training and onboarding strategy, including commitment from all lines of business, a great onboarding process can be implemented that decreases ramp time and enhances productivity.

The 2015 Inside Sales for SaaS report published by the Bridge Group, highlights that the average ramp time for new hires has increased over the last few years from 4.2 months to 5.3 months. When you consider that the research also notes the average tenure of individuals with 1-2 years prior experience is 26 months, 5 months ramp time is too long. The goal for sales leaders and front line managers is to enable and ramp new hires in the shortest period of time to ensure more consistent productivity and higher revenue generating activities.

To increase new rep productivity and decrease ramp up time, here are six key things that sales leaders need to know when developing their sales onboarding process.

1. Start the Onboarding Process Before Their First Day:

Once a candidate has passed through the interview and assessment process and has accepted your offer of employment, this can be the perfect time to start the onboarding process through a ‘pre-hire program’. A pre-hire program sets the stage for the rest of the onboarding regime by keeping the candidate engaged and motivated right up to ‘ day 1’ of their new career. Think customer experience for employees.

The pre-hire program is an opportunity to further highlight your company’s mission and value proposition for the new rep. This can be achieved through customer testimonials, pre-recorded earnings or all hands calls and office visits. The pre-hire phase can also be a great opportunity to introduce a new team member to a mentor, gamification platform or a private social group on LinkedIn to share ideas, ask questions, or get to know their new peers if there are multiple new hires starting at the same time. Since these are not full-time team members just yet, hiring managers have to respect the new team member’s time and not inundate them with too much information.

Here’s helpful a list of proven sales onboarding tools.

2. Be Consistent:

“Has this experience been consistent with my expectations?” is a question new employees ask themselves throughout the career journey: from interview, to offer acceptance, to the first weeks on the team. One of the most effective ways to meet a new employee’s expectations occurs when your onboarding process is structured and consistent.

Consistency can be achieved through several vehicles, but starts with the business units that will interact with the new employee, and having them agree upon the onboarding process and how success will be measured. Once this is achieved, welcoming the new hire and setting expectations is key. One of the most effective and easiest ways my teams have used include providing the new team member with a welcome package that includes branded gifts and a welcome letter outlining what to expect in the coming days/weeks/months. In addition to providing the new salesperson with welcome package, we paired them with a proven mentor who personally welcomed the new hire and introduced them to the rest of their new team and key stakeholders on the salesforce. These are just a few activities that need to be completed to ensure consistency and leave new hires feeling excited about closing their first deal.

3. Establish a Formal Mentoring Program:

Instituting a formal mentor/protégé program is a great way to accelerate a new hire’s growth within any new role that they assume. In addition to welcoming the new hire on day 1, the mentor has a critical role to play in accelerating a new hire’s professional development. World-class sales organizations integrate the mentor into the formal onboarding process and use their expertise to help determine specific objectives that the new hire is expected within the first 30, 60, and 90 days, in addition to having them explain why the objectives need to be achieved.

The mentor’s job is to review and verify the new hire’s understanding of their objectives, and should meet with the hire’s direct manager either weekly or bi-weekly to ensure the new hire is transitioning well into the role. It is best practice to have the most tenured or successful member of the team be the designated mentor, but it is important to note how long it has been since they have been exposed to the current hiring process. Results might be better if the mentor is a recent hire who has excelled and is fully aware of the onboarding process that the new hire is about to experience.

“World-class sales organizations integrate the mentor into the formal onboarding process and use their expertise to help determine specific objectives that the new hire is expected within the first 30, 60, and 90 days, in addition to having them explain why the objectives need to be achieved.”

4. Define Success:

Define success criteria and share it early with the new hire. This will provide them further clarity and understanding of their role within the team and the broader organization. If there are situations where a new team member is unsure if they are performing well or meeting expectations, this will only lead to disengagement or lack of focus on the most important business metrics. It is essential that sales leaders ensure new hires have a sound understanding of the full sales cycle, including how marketing and sales/business development score leads, and the criteria that is used to evaluate a qualified opportunity. One of the biggest aspects that sales managers overlook when defining what success looks like to a new hire is how customer success is defined for specific products or services. New reps and BDRs need a high-level and detailed explanation of what success looks like at each level of the sales cycle, and this comes in the form of a ‘sales playbook’.

“One of the biggest aspects that sales managers overlook when defining what success looks like to a new hire is how customer success is defined for specific products or services.”

5. Create a Sales Playbook:

A sales playbook defines the attributes of ideal prospects and existing customers and provides the new team member with specific product knowledge, selling approaches and key selling activities that the organization’s top salespeople use to win accounts and how the new hire can replicate that success within their own territory.

An effective sales playbook provides a detailed understanding of each customer persona along with specific talking points that are proven to engage prospects in meaningful conversations about pain points and product/service solutions. Combined, this information and knowledge will allow the new team member to qualify/disqualify opportunities more efficiently and prioritize prospects that are willing and able to take action on a business challenge. Furthermore, a consistent, repeatable, and scalable sales approach produces greater forecast accuracy and provides new hires the tools required to penetrate accounts as quickly and effectively as possible during the initial ramp time.

6. Resource Management:

As technically savvy Millennials and Generation Zers will soon make up the majority of today’s workforce, sales technology and productivity tools will be cornerstones in every salesperson’s sales toolbox (they already should be). And with hundreds of technological options available for salespeople to engage more efficiently with prospects, the desire by many sales managers is to stack their teams and new hires with all of the latest innovations. Sales leaders need to approach these new technologies with caution though, since more tools does not necessarily equate success. Effective sales managers assess and prioritize tools and technologies that have the most impact and narrow their team’s focus to these only. Three tools which need to be present in a sales force’s technology stack are: CRM, email automation, and business development.

Capitalize on your new employee’s energy and enthusiasm to make their number.

Every new hire that joins your organization brings an undeniable amount of energy, enthusiasm, and an appetite to learn. By implementing a consistent approach to sales onboarding that happens from the moment the offer is accepted, the ability to engage, develop, grow, and retain top performers is increased ten-fold.


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Eliot Burdett

CEO at Peak Sales Recruiting

Before Peak, Eliot spent more than 20 years building and leading companies, where he took the lead in recruiting and managing high performance sales teams. He co-founded Ventrada Systems (mobile applications) and GlobalX (e-commerce software). He was also Vice President of Sales for PointShot Wireless. Eliot received his B. Comm. from Carleton University and has been honored as a Top 40 Under 40 Award winner. He co-authored Sales Recruiting 2.0, How to Find Top Performing Sales People, Fast and provides regular insights on sales team management and hiring on the Peak Sales Recruiting Blog.