Designing Effective Sales Onboarding Programs

Last week, I shared some of our latest research on the performance impact of onboarding programs. The main findings were:

  • Effective onboarding services can improve quota attainment by 16.2%
  • Effective onboarding programs can speed up the ramp-time to full productivity by 17.9%
  • Ineffective onboarding services increase your voluntary turnover rate from 7.9% up to 14.2%

 
Today, let’s discuss what needs to be done to make an onboarding program effective. And no, we won’t get straight into a collection of various training services you might want to package. We’ll start with this simple question:

What is most important for new hires to get them to full productivity as fast as possible?

This question has a lot to do with how your organization hires new sales talent. And that has to do with the precise knowledge of what sets top performers apart from all others. That’s not an easy question to answer, and it usually involves a well thought-through assessment approach. Let’s assume that you know the answer to  this question regarding skills, behaviors and expertise. Then, you  can go ahead and design an onboarding program for new hires.

Let’s discuss six key design principles for onboarding success:

  • Define and communicate a clear onboarding goal:Often, that’s not done at all. But if we don’t know where we want to go, we cannot develop a roadmap to get there. Given the huge investments that have already been made with recruiting and hiring efforts, it’s essential to define a clear goal. Sales leader should define what they want to achieve in terms of ramp-up time to full productivity, considering both your average sell cycles for existing and new business and your ambitions. This goal should also be communicated to the new hires upfront. When the new hires arrive, they should know what’s expected from them. So, their sales manager should make them familiar with the goals of the onboarding program how to achieve this goal: “This is what we expect from you, and this is how we will help you to get there.”
  • Effective onboarding takes a village, or at least the new hires’ sales managers:It’s absolutely OK to have sales enablement accountable and responsible for the design, the creation and implementation of the onboarding services. But enablement can only do so much. Sales managers play the most important role for their new hires, and they play an essential role when it comes to successful onboarding. Their coaching approach should be tailored to help their new hires get the best possible start. Without the sales managers’ regular coaching efforts, no onboarding program can create the expected results. So, when you design an onboarding program, make sure that you also include a coaching approach for your sales managers so that they can support the onboarding efforts as best as possible.
  • Knowledge comes in different forms and shapes:There is capability knowledge (what you sell) and situational knowledge (selling situation, buying scenario). You can transfer capability knowledge regarding your products and services, but be aware that this knowledge is not differentiating by itself. More importantly, you have to engage, equip and empower your new hires to connect this knowledge and the situational knowledge, which is different in every opportunity. Mapping the capability knowledge to the specific selling situation is one of the critical keys to success. And that involves value messaging and tailored content, and value messaging behaviors and skills that need to be developed as fast as possible. For your onboarding program, focus on the HOW to sell (and help them make the connection between your products and services and the value messaging approaches for targeted buyer roles and their business challenges) not on the WHAT to sell alone. That means fewer product knowledge downloads and more interactive sessions on HOW to apply the knowledge and its business value in different buyer interactions. And here again, sales coaching is the critical key to success.
  • No “one size fits all” approach. Instead, provide tailored approaches:New hires need a tailored onboarding program to meet their onboarding goals. As an example, if the role is focused on a certain industry, product segment or business division, make sure that they only get onboarding services that are relevant to them. In addition, tailor the approach regarding the relevant skills, behaviors and methodologies. As an example, if the recruiting process or assessment shows that there is already a lot of knowledge and skills available regarding your sales methodology, a refresher course is enough to teach them how it works in your organization. If there is a lack of certain skills, for instance, negotiating or business level conversations with a specific role, focus on those.
  • Integrate social selling in the onboarding program for all new hires:
    Social selling skills and behaviors that are part of the overall selling processes should be integrated in two ways. One is the personal social selling onboarding that begins with a professional LinkedIn profile (or the networks that are most relevant for your business). Two is that your new hires should learn your social selling steps that are, ideally, already integrated in your selling processes.
  • After all, less is more:Integrate what’s really essential to drive your onboarding goals, but not more. Often, onboarding programs are huge packages of eLearning courses, mostly around products, that leave the new hires alone when it comes to the necessary “how to sell” skills and behaviors. Even if the new hires are guided by their managers (which seems to be a rare practice!), they should spend their time only on what’s really relevant now. It’s much better to reinforce the really relevant parts instead of hammering home all the knowledge you have in the company

 
Effective enablement leaders understand the relevance of their onboarding programs for the overall recruiting and hiring success. That’s why they focus on what’s relevant, differentiating and critical for success based on top performer assessments.

Check out our 2018 Sales Enablement Study!

If you haven’t already, have a look at our new book Sales Enablement – A Master Framework to Engage, Equip and Empower a World-Class Sales Force. Lots of “how to” information to address the challenges mentioned here.

Questions for you:

  • What does your onboarding program look like?
  • What are your onboarding design principles?
  • Do you have measurable onboarding goals?
  • Is your onboarding program effective?

 

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