We recently gathered sales enablement leaders in the Atlanta area for a roundtable on sales onboarding. There was a lot of great discussion and sharing of common challenges, innovative ideas and best practices.
We recently gathered sales enablement leaders in the Atlanta area for a roundtable on sales onboarding. There was a lot of great discussion and sharing of common challenges, innovative ideas and best practices. (If you are a SiriusDecisions client, we’d be happy to send you our notes captured during the session).
Here are some highlights:
Common Issues and Challenges
The biggest challenge we heard from participants is what we refer to as the onboarding paradox. At a time when selling has become more complex and requires more product knowledge (thanks to more-enabled buyers and increasing global competition), many sales organizations are investing less in onboarding their new hires. Reps used to spend weeks or months onsite getting trained before taking a territory. Today, they are lucky to get four or five days onsite. Most onboarding happens on the job through trial and error.
Much of the responsibility to onboard reps falls onto the shoulders of first-line sales managers who are not ready, willing or able to play the coaching role required to help new reps get up to speed.
The key to solving this challenge is finding the optimal onboarding formula. Invest too little in onboarding (essentially throwing the reps into their territory to sink or swim), and reps may get frustrated and leave before they are productive. Invest too much in onboarding (repeatedly bringing reps back to headquarters for training), and you end up wasting resources and actually hurting productivity.
Onboarding Best Practices to Meet These Challenges
The time you have your reps onsite (typically at headquarters for formal onboarding training) is too precious to spend on a weeklong data dump, where the reps are overwhelmed with information and product presentations (known as “death by PowerPoint”). Use the time onsite for practice and feedback. Get you reps up and doing – not being passive learners.
Prepare your reps for the onsite training by leveraging e-learning solutions that focus on knowledge transfer (e.g. company history, culture, elevator pitch, product knowledge). Reps should be assessed for basic comprehension and content mastery through online tests – and cannot attend the onsite training until all they complete all of the learning modules. E-learning presentations can include video welcome messages from key executives whom the reps might then meet during their time at headquarters.
The four or five days spent onsite for onboarding should provide reps with the chance to meet the folks that will be supporting them, get a sense of the company’s culture, understand internal processes, etc.
During the onsite visit, use a case study approach to assign reps to teams and ask them to manage a deal from inception to closure. Reps can begin by researching a prospect and looking to call to set up a first meeting, culminating with a final presentation to the key decisionmakers.
Reps should be up and practicing as often as possible and observed by the onboarding team and their peers. Focus on skills development (e.g. how to manage objections, close for action) even with seasoned reps, who can come with some bad sales habits. Rotate first-line managers to attend these sessions and act as coaches. Reps’ final presentations should be assessed by a panel that selects winning team selected based on the quality of its presentation, content mastery and ability to manage questions and objections.
Some participants at our roundtable said that they use a mentoring program (where new hires shadow a more senior rep) to augment the onsite training and coaching that reps receive from their managers. A best practice is providing guidance to the mentor (expectations, instructions on briefing and debriefing the rep after calls) and the new hire (provide them with a call tracking sheet to take notes on what they are observing). Recognize these mentors formally (e.g., at a national sales meeting) for their willingness to help and their contributions to the team.
First-line managers need to be trained and developed into sales coaches for new hires. Some participants said that they hold managers responsible for new hire development through the use of management by objectives.
Some participants said that in addition to using e-learning technology, they use a learning management system (LMS) to help build, deliver and track the on-boarding team. Having a LMS that is integrated into the SFA tool that reps use makes it easier to track rep performance against learning path completion.
Some participants are some early adopters of gamification technologies like Bunchball, Badgeville and Hoopla that allow organizations apply social gaming principles to key sales activities, such as holding a contest to reward the first rep who conducts a certain number of sales calls.