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Reducing the Learning Curve: Rapid Onboarding Critical to Sales Performance

by David Brock on January 15th, 2009

Guest Post By Jeffrey Stanley, Director of Sales Excellence, AT&T Mobility

All sales managers know the problem…we’ve spent months recruiting, interviewing and hiring the right person. The great hire has started, all of a sudden management is complaining: Why aren’t they producing sales?

Or even worse, we know that we’ve made a great hire, sent them to training and assigned them a strong territory. However, after 3 or 4 months they get frustrated and leave. Not only do we have to take the time to go through the process all over again, but we have the tremendous expense and more importantly, the opportunity costs. We experience months with no coverage and lowered productivity in a critical sales territory…more months of recovering, re-building relationships, and restoring sales momentum.

It’s a nightmare every sales manager lives and in our experience, there are two root causes to this problem. The first is poor hiring; the second is that organizations do not have an adequate onboarding process.

Much has been written on hiring. However, having a focused, disciplined onboarding process is critical to success and retention. Onboarding for many companies is: “here’s your Blackberry and PC, here are your log-in’s and the bathroom is down the hall on the right”. New hires then receive some amount of product training, their territory assignment, quota and the following question…what’s your forecast for next month? And the result:

– Very long ramp times to productivity—meaning you are losing lots of business;
– Frustrated new hires, resulting in higher attrition;
– Return to go…do not collect $200…Do Not Make Your Numbers!

A proactive onboarding process rapidly assimilates new hires into the organization, makes them comfortable with their role, and gets them productive much more quickly. Sales Onboarding initiatives have demonstrated upwards of 40% improvement in productivity and an ROI within 2.5-3 months.

Regardless of whether your company has an extensive new hire development program, there are some best practices that will help with new hire onboarding, productivity and reduced attrition:

1. New hire onboarding needs to be well thought out and effectively communicated. Document “administrative” onboarding activities (id, systems access, laptop, mobile device, contact lists etc…) and timelines associated with each. Arrange for administrative onboarding items as soon as SLA’s will allow. The more transparent this part of the process, the more quickly a new hire can feel comfortable with the new position and focus in on their development. This helps set the tone in your relationship as a coach and advocate with the new hire.

2. Clearly communicate your expectation of the new hire, as well as the onboarding process. Define skill requirements, sales systems, processes, activities, resources and associated timelines within new hire lifecycle. Determine how this relates to the ramp to full-quota and what is the plan to get there?

3. Utilize the diverse resources that are available to you including: HR, formal training programs, web resources, subject matter experts and multiple levels of leadership. Expose the new hire to company resources, strategic partners and senior executives to better enable their understanding of the “big picture” and provide a model for success in the new organization.

4. Engage the new hire in his or her development. Use an internal assessment if available. If not, get their input as to the level of expertise in certain skill areas. But beware of biased self assessments…validate with observable coaching.

5. Assign a mentor to help a new hire navigate and prioritize their way through the company.

6. Conduct regular 1on1’s with your new hires. Be honest in your assessment of their progress and openly address any issues and concerns. Consistently review activity, sales funnel, performance metrics and expectations vs. results.

7. Start formal and informal training early in the new hire’s lifecycle. Don’t send your seller off to new hire training 5 or 6 months after they have started. At that point they are most likely (hopefully) too engrained in deals and customer engagements to truly benefit from new hire training. Along the same lines, drive your training organization to develop a curriculum that is appropriate to your sellers and your sales process.

8. Develop an understanding of what is and isn’t covered in the new hire curriculum and to what degree. Reinforce and inspect where necessary and work with your new hire to create an individual development plan to reinforce and complement formal training.

9. Make territory planning and reviews a high-priority with the new hire. This ensures an understanding of their module and agreement on the prospecting strategy. It also will help eliminate excuses of inequitable territory assignment should there be sub-par performance.

10. Make onboarding one of your top priorities. If you feel like other sales and operational imperatives make this an impossibility, then perhaps you should consider creating an “Onboarding Sales Manager” who would assume management and developmental responsibility for new hires in their first 4-6 months; ensuring a focus on the fundamental skills, practices, processes and systems necessary for a new hire’s success.

Don’t leave the onboarding of your new hire’s to chance. Manage the entire process proactively and you will reduce the time to productivity and maximize retention.

Jeff Stanley has 20 years sales and management experience focused on telecommunications and outsourcing. Questions and comments can be directed to

From → Execution, Leadership

  1. Jill Myrick permalink

    This is an area of passion for me. Nice article!

  2. Dave Brock's Blog permalink

    Jill, thanks for the comment. Like you, I think this is an area sales managers overlook too often. I think many don’t understand the real impact of not doing this well.

    We see organizations that have turnover of sales people with one year of less in the organization sometimes greater than 50%. Think of the expense side costs in recruiting, training, etd. Think of the revenue side costs in lost opportunities. Think of the “softer” costs in morale within the organization, management time, and customer satisfaction.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment, Jeff has a great perspective on these issues!

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