Onboarding Process: How to plan a successful onboarding

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Sales Reps Onboarding Process: Understand, Do, and Deliver 

By the time you have begun onboarding your new sales rep. You’ve probably begun thinking about what they need to understand, in order for them to do their job and deliver results. It’s crucial you structure what the new sales rep is supposed to focus on, and which activities they need to complete. 

Over the coming weeks, we will be writing about onboarding, its elements, statistics, and our own view on how you can set a foundation. Both in terms of structure and thoughts for future hires. Our last blog post was about preboarding and now it’s time to highlight the “understand, do, and deliver”–phase. 

The onboarding phases: 

  1. Structure 
  1. Preboarding 
  1. Understand, Do, Deliver 
  1. Follow-up 

In our first blog post about onboarding, we covered the basic structure. After reading that post, you’ve hopefully identified where your onboarding should begin. For them to quickly transition from being “new and confused” to “productive and profitable”. However, this concept does not mean that you should remove or postpone all company information. It’s about prioritizing the right information, at the right time to achieve just-in-time learning. 

Expectations and metrics during the onboarding process

It’s important to talk about short- and long-term expectations early in the onboarding process. This makes it easier for new sales reps to adjust their performance to meet those expectations. It doesn’t matter if you pay your sales reps an individual commission, or if they’re paid a team bonus – selling is about performance. With performance, you also need a clear goal and detailed steps on how to reach that goal.  

To prove our point, here are a couple of sports analogies: 

  1. Let’s say you are a soccer coach. Do you think it would be effective to tell your players “Hey if you feel like scoring, go ahead and score” if you want to win the game? It’s obvious that you need to score goals if you want to win the game. But how each team chooses to approach their games are very different. Having a strategy and a clear path to reach your goals is crucial. 

 

  1. Just as it’s not effective to say, “score goals if you feel like it”. It’s not very effective to give a new floorball player a stick and direct them to score goals. They need to understand the reason behind different plays and what to do when the other team gets a penalty etc. Your new player needs to understand different plays but also how their performance fits into the big-picture goals. Details of specific plays are important but not crucial to their understanding of the big picture. 

 

Enough with the sports analogies. When you’re talking to your new sales rep about expectations, do it early since they most likely are eager to perform. Make sure you divide the onboarding process into different themes, to avoid putting unnecessary stress on yourself and your new sales rep. The different themes will help you align on what to focus on and which activities to complete. We typically talk about: 

  1. Understand 
  1. Do 
  1. Deliver 

Time-to-productivity for sales reps 

There’s no correct answer to how long an onboarding process should be. But there are some statistics that show how long it takes for a new sales rep to become productive. According to Rain Group, it takes an average of 3 months before a new sales rep is ready to talk to clients. Then it takes an additional 6 months (9 months in total) before they reach peak productivity.  

When do top performers usually become the sales rep with the most sales?  

Rain Group says it usually takes 15 months before a new sales rep has a chance at achieving top-performer status. Obviously, there are many things that could make these time periods longer or shorter. Nonetheless, it clearly shows that onboarding is a big investment in both time and money.  

With that said, we’re going to assume the basic onboarding period is 6 months.   

First onboarding theme: Understand  

The first of these six months is most likely focused on understanding. It doesn’t matter if you’ve recruited a senior or junior sales rep. It’s important that every new sales rep gets the opportunity to be new at their job. They need to be given a chance to understand what they are going to do, who they are selling to, and how they are supposed to do it. There should be practical elements during this theme and it’s important to follow up on relevant metrics. 

Below are some examples of activities that are good to work on initially: 

  • Co-listening: sit with more experienced colleagues to learn what sales dialogues sound like. 
  • Co-visits: join experienced colleagues and invite colleagues to your own sales meetings. 
  • Internal interviews: interview experts in different areas of the business to get broader perspectives. 
  • Talk to existing clients: to learn what they appreciate most about your solution or partnership. 
  • Individual learning: set aside time for viewing or reading onboarding materials and getting comfortable with the new environment. 

As you can see, these activities are not focused on monetary outcomes, but on improving the new sales reps’ understanding. The activities above are often paired with sales role-playing when the new sales rep is more familiar with how client communications usually look like. 

Second onboarding theme: Do  

When your sales rep has entered months 2–3 it’s time for them to put their new-found knowledge into practice. This doesn’t mean you should remove all previously mentioned activities. What you should do is begin shifting their metrics from these activities and instead track more outcome-based activities.  This could perhaps be their first sales meeting without a colleague present, their first client call, or other dialogues with clients. You also need to keep practicing and use sales training throughout. There’s a big difference between thinking about how you will conduct a sales meeting and role-playing a sales meeting with colleagues.  

As I wrote about in a previous article, you need to prioritize what information is important to introduce and when. At this point in the onboarding process, it might be a good idea to introduce the less prioritized information. Such as how to use different non-crucial systems, where to log your receipts, in-depth knowledge of your CRM, advanced concepts in your sales methodology, etc. 

Third onboarding theme: Deliver 

We are now in months 4–6 and it’s perfectly reasonable to begin looking at expectations linked to results. Except within’ companies with long sales cycles. To repeat, knowledge activities should not be removed entirely, but they should be weighed less or look different. Co-visits for example, are an important part of self-improvement. Your new sales reps’ focus will likely shift from learning how to conduct client meetings to refining specific areas in their technique. 

Begin looking at the metrics and KPIs you have for the position, even though they should still be scaled down a bit. The goal is not supposed to be easy, and at the same time, the goals shouldn’t be impossible to achieve.   

Conclusions 

In summary, our advice is to incorporate themes into your onboarding. These themes are supposed to guide your new sales reps’ activities during their onboarding. It will also create clear expectations, which reduces stress for you as a manager and your new hire. If you as a sales manager expect new sales reps to deliver the same results as experienced colleagues within a couple of months. You will most likely end up stressed, confused, and disappointed. Give yourself and your new sales reps the optimal conditions to succeed with a structured onboarding. 

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Simon Blanche