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May 17, 2018

Sales Onboarding: What ‘Good’ (and Fast) Looks Like

There’s an old saying in software development: “You can have it fast, good or cheap. Pick two.”

When it comes to sales onboarding software, however, savvy managers can have all three (assuming we substitute cheaper for cheap) using “just-in-time” learning.

The Problem with Buying vs. Building 

In the old days, companies like Proctor & Gamble and Xerox hired new college grads, teaching them everything they needed to know about sales over the course of six months. Six months of purely sales training before they were expected to be competent!

Today, that kind of time is a luxury few companies can afford. In fact, a recent survey by SiriusDecisions found that 54% of organizations complete their formal full-time sales onboarding in three weeks or less.

When time is of the essence, companies may try to buy, rather than build, the necessary competencies. The same poll revealed that 19% of companies “only hire highly experienced individuals who have significant selling skills and industry knowledge in their resume.”

But there’s a problem with buying vs. building. You can’t hire every competency needed for the job. Even when you hire only reps with 10, 20 or 30 years of industry experience, none will be fully prepared to jump into their new role on Day 1.

Unfortunately, some companies assume that a few experienced hires + minimal sales onboarding will produce a force of fully formed sellers – people prepared to succeed on Day 1 and Day 100.

That’s not realistic.

Designing Your Sales Onboarding Program

First, identify every sales competency associated with success in your organization. Let’s say there are 20. The next step is setting priorities. Which of the 20 competencies needs to be certified before the rep starts interacting with prospects, and which can wait until the person has some field experience under their belt?

You set your competency priorities higher or lower depending on their criticality to job performance. Some will be classified as foundational, others as intermediate, and others as advanced. For example, knowing how to fill out the right paperwork is probably less important than a detailed knowledge of how the company’s solution can integrate into a buyer’s installed base of products.

For each individual, identify and prioritize the competencies that you’ve hired, and identify those that must be taught over the next 30, 90 or 120 days.

If you’re asked to shorten your formal onboarding program – not a rare occurrence – you can move some of the competency “pieces” forward or backward along the training horizon. Some could be moved forward to 14 days; others pushed back to 60 or 90 days.

In addition, you can (and should) reset competency priorities as new situations arise.

For example, if you’re a North America-based technology seller, you may not be familiar with the GDPR (the EU’s new data regulations). But if you suddenly get a prospect with significant European operations, you can immediately advance GDPR knowledge competency along the timeline. The sales enablement team can pull down content on the topic for the reps to learn on demand – if it’s not something that needs to be covered in a formal onboarding session.

Whatever you do, never forget that, eventually, you’ll need to train for all of the competencies. And even if you need to reduce the full-time onboarding from three weeks to two, you must still invest the same amount of resources to ensure that the ongoing learning and development responsibilities of sales enablement are properly executed.

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