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March 9, 2016

5 Ways to Make Onboarding Sales Reps More Effective

Attracting the right candidates for sales positions takes skill and persistence, but keeping your new hires happy and engaged can be even more challenging. In an area where it’s notoriously difficult to retain A-players, it’s essential that new sales hires get started off on the right foot in order to reduce turnover and increase productivity. A study conducted by PWC tells us that nearly one in three newly hired employees leaves the company voluntarily or involuntarily before the end of their first year. And the cost of employee turnover is significant, estimated at 50 to 150 percent of the annual salary for the job. So how does a company make sure the new hires they worked so hard to attract will stay around long enough to be valuable to the company?

  1. Onboarding is more than orientation. Some employers may confuse these two things. Orientation is generally limited to the review of policies and employment terms, completing paperwork and accessing tools. On the other hand, onboarding is a much more in-depth and helpful approach because it introduces the new employee to cultural elements of the role and company, introduces them to the other departments and how they are connected, gets them socially connected to their new colleagues and encourages them to ask questions and explore the new territory, all while being delivered materials that will be helpful in their job performance. For sales, onboarding is all about equipping each new rep with the tools and information they need to start selling. New reps need easy access to key information, which includes product and company information, competitor information, objection handling as well as specific information about the industries being targeted. That level of information can’t be delivered in a few short days of orientation. It has to be delivered over a period of time and made available to the reps in a format and delivery channel that makes it easy to refresh as needed and easy to access wherever that rep is – in the office, on the road or on a plane.
  2. Use technology to make onboarding easier and more engaging. Onboarding new employees can be very time consuming if there aren’t systems in place to offer consistency and completeness of information. Using technology platforms, where new sales hires can access training materials, information on products and competitors, and more details about proven selling techniques, will help them to get up to speed in a consistent and streamlined way.  Today’s technologies also allow sales people to collaborate on materials and share feedback with peers relating to real-world sales scenarios. In sales, where much of the information needed to be effective is highly dynamic, the information needs to be disseminated quickly both for new hires and to existing team members to keep them updated and provide competitive advantage.
  3. Don’t stop onboarding after the first day, week or month. It takes more than a day to get to know everything a rep needs to start selling, so avoid overwhelming your new hires with a firehose of information.  By spreading out your onboarding process over time, new reps can become active in the process quickly and then access relevant information as needed, versus trying to retain it all in some sort of boot camp like training. There’s also ongoing reinforcement and coaching that’s critical in enabling reps to perform with consistency in front of customers. With the right use of technology and process, onboarding actually becomes a continuos process where sales reps can always remain informed by accessing relevant information as they need it.
  4. Leverage video. Video is a powerful tool to help onboard new reps, especially if it can be accessed anywhere and at any time. Because most people are visual learners, video is a critical medium to convey information and a much more effective way to help people absorb and retain information than through other formats such as presentations or written material. The videos may include product and market information to help them sell, but there are also teams using video technology to teach best practices to new reps by allowing them to hone their pitch while getting coaching and feedback directly from managers and top performers. As the workforce becomes comprised with more millennials, a demographic that is comfortable with technology and used to consuming video content, this powerful medium will become even more pervasive.
  5. Use consistent metrics to measure and improve the performance of your onboarding program. In order to evaluate your sales onboarding program and continuously improve, measurement, using consistent metrics, is key. In some organizations, metrics such as time-to-first-sale and time-to-first-month-at-quota might be most relevant. For organizations with longer sales cycles, breaking the buyer journey into smaller stages that have a strong correlation to sales success will be more effective. For example, if certain milestones in the journey, such as a deep technical dive or delivering proposed pricing are strong predictors of sales outcomes for your organization, benchmarking new hires against those markers will help evaluate the employee and the onboarding program earlier than waiting for 12-18 month sales cycles to complete. Of course, closed business is the best measurement of sales success, but the risk of waiting out long sales cycles without evaluation could prove costly.

The PWC study tells us that it costs a company between 30 and 40 percent of an annual salary to fill a position with the right person and “Looking at all industries, the average cost of voluntary turnover for exempt employees is approximately $106,000.” Investing in new hires in the form of engaging and informative onboarding programs and ongoing training is key to reducing the high cost of turnover. It’s simply too great a risk to count on a firehose approach to get a new employee up to speed before sending them out into the field to represent your company.



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