7 Signs Your Sales Onboarding Program is Ready for a Refresh

The  Sales Management Association (SMA) recently completed a study on sales onboarding that revealed only 38 percent of organizations consider their salesperson onboarding to be effective. That means a whopping 62 percent consider their salesperson onboarding ineffective!

At the risk of overusing the famous Albert Einstein quote, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results,” I hazard to say that if you are among the 62 percent, maybe it’s time to refresh your sales onboarding program.

The cost of hire alone is motivation enough to ensure that sales onboarding is effective and that new sales reps reach time to value quickly.

Then there’s the math of planning sales capacity.  If ramp time of new reps is typically 11 months or more, they are not at full productivity from day one.  The numbers certainly look better if there is a way to condense the time to value for new sales hires. For example, what would in-year revenue achievement look like if a new rep hired in January only took 8 months to ramp?

Here I’ve identified 7 key signs, any one of which indicates that it’s time to take a fresh look at your sales onboarding program to improve effectiveness, and ultimately make a measured contribution to achieving revenue goals:

You don’t actually have a formal sales onboarding program

You know who you are, and you are also not alone. The SMA research found that only slightly more than half of firms (55 percent) have a defined onboarding program for new hire salespeople, and only 6 in 10 salespeople are onboarded as part of a formal program. Why is an onboarding program important? Firms with effective onboarding have a new salesperson success rate of 65 percent after 24 months, compared with 49% for firms with ineffective onboarding.

You don’t use it regularly

You have an onboarding program, somewhere, but you’re too busy to make sure that it’s being used consistently. Don’t worry, you aren’t alone—the same SMA research found that 68 percent of firms do not consistently use onboarding when training new sales hires. And only 56 percent use onboarding that is “structured.” Consistency and structure are proven to increase onboarding program effectiveness by 40 percent. Designing a structured program using microlearning techniques fits easily into a new hire’s workday, making it easy to keep them engaged.

Your program isn’t truly owned by anyone

Possibly related to the second sign above, sales onboarding can be a hybrid of initiatives from multiple departments—HR, sales management, marketing, sales operations, product management and so on. If this is not well coordinated then it only slows ramp up time. We have seen the most success when sales onboarding is owned by a dedicated sales enablement function. Having a coordinated approach to onboarding and sales talent development that is cross-functional, multidisciplinary, and that can be linked to impact on sales goals will only accelerate time to productivity.

Your program doesn’t have defined goals

You’re probably thinking that the goals are obvious—time to value, first deal, quota attainment, etc. Unfortunately, these are all lagging indicators. Ensuring the success of your onboarding program requires having SMARTER goals: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bound, evaluated, and reviewed—and that also includes a mix of completion goals, near-term goals, and longer-term goals. If your program isn’t set up to help you reach SMARTER goals, it’s time for a refresh.

Your program isn’t customized by person or role

Every new hire brings a unique set of skills and knowledge to the job, but this is rarely factored into the DNA of sales onboarding programs. But it should. A one- size-fits-all approach will over train new sales hires where they are already adept and leave others behind where they need more support. The SMA found that customized onboarding improves success rates anywhere from 13-21 percent. In fact customization of onboarding content emerged as one of the top ‘best practices’ in the research.

Your sales turnover is too high

The average new sales hire spends an average of 9.7 weeks in training and development activities with an average productivity ramp of 11.2 months. That is an enormous investment that is wasted if your company experiences high turnover. Successful onboarding increases engagement and retention—something to think about when you are setting your new, SMARTER onboarding program goals.

Your sales onboarding program has an end date

How long does your sales onboarding program usually take—a two-week bootcamp? A three-month program?  And then an annual sales kick-off or sales meeting? Actually, the most successful sales onboarding programs are continuous, adaptive and customized over time. Think about the speed of change in customer needs, product development, competitive threats, and markets.  Not every salesperson can keep up and there is always something new to know or be skilled in to be successful. Then there are personal skills and behaviors. A new sales hire may have mastered discovery and negotiation but just can’t get their first close nailed. Sales KPIs will show this, and sales enablement programs that can shape new skills and behaviors can solve it.

Food for thought? I hope so. After all, the SMA research shows that the most significant impact of effective sales onboarding is higher success rates for a new salesperson. Sounds obvious right? And, who doesn’t want that?

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