Sales onboarding is one of the most integral aspects to building a stellar sales team, but new research from the Sales Management Association reveals many sales onboarding programs are far from effective.
Research shows it takes about 11 months to get a sales person up to speed, and 24 months for them to be truly successful in the role. The longer it takes, the more sales you could be missing out on, or even worse, the more new hires you could lose in that time. That is costly.
So if time is of the essence, what are proven onboarding strategies to close this onboarding time gap and fast track new sales hires to success?
Pinpoint areas of expertise and weakness early.
Each individual member of a sales team will have areas where they excel, and areas where they could benefit from additional training and coaching. So why do so many organizations use a cookie cutter approach to sales onboarding, usually front loaded with a sea of unstructured information — and then expect new hires to recall it at the time they need it? And how do they know what each sales rep has absorbed if their sales proficiency cannot be tested and measured?
Administering proficiency tests early to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each team member will give a strong starting point to creating an efficient onboarding program, one that can be customized for each rep as they settle in. Having each employee focus on targeted areas of improvement, instead of wasting time reviewing information they may already know, can accelerate the time to value and lift the productivity of your whole team.
Give information in smaller chunks rather than all at once.
We’ve all seen the firehose approach to onboarding—hours and hours of training up front, only to never revisit it again as new sales hires are released into the wild to fend for themselves. It’s proven new information is often forgotten quickly if only presented once and in isolation of effective reinforcement following the initial training.
Using a microlearning approach that delivers content to learners in bite-sized, scenario-based challenges repeatedly over a period of time is proven to stimulate the cognitive processes that allow learners to commit this information to memory. Further, best practice microlearning is also grounded in engagement, such as incorporating game mechanics, socialization and peer benchmarking into the delivery. After all, most sales people are competitive by nature.
It all sounds quite geeky, but best practice microlearning helps to remember critical information when it is needed, and to shape behaviors that high performers display.
Follow the Goldilocks approach
Not too much, not too little, just right. It’s important to find the balance in the amount of information provided in a sales onboarding program. Too much and team members can become overwhelmed, and too little will lead to boredom and lack of interest, and possibly inconsistent practices as people make up their own way to do things. By shaping onboarding as a continuous process, there can be a focus on quality, not quantity, with the most important information or training rolled out when it is needed most. This can rid you of the pressure to dump it on all at once.
For example, new sales hires may not need to understand the full sales process and associated exit and entry points in the first few weeks but they will need to start building a pipeline. This means mastering personas, proposition, prospecting and perhaps discovery. They may not need detailed enablement on negotiation and close for weeks or months into their tenure so why push this all on in detail earlier than needed?
The ones I hear a lot about are the prolific use of training videos and death by PowerPoint during early onboarding stages, again using a one-size-fits-all approach. There is value in standardizing initial training so everyone gets off on the same path. However, followed up with a program that tests individual proficiency on the onboarding content delivers the insights needed to craft more personalized onboarding path from there. This may be further training or even guided coaching actions for managers to focus on during one-to-ones. And, this in itself can be continuous throughout the rep’s tenure to keep honing necessary skills. The result? Quicker ramp time and faster time to value.
So, challenge yourself to find the sweet spot of knowledge transfer and just-in-time enablement to help new hires achieve excellence through every step of the sales process. If done right, you can watch your pipeline stage conversion rates improve and have more chance of reaching your number.