Sales Onboarding: Keys to Success

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Onboarding continues to be a high priority for B2B sales functions, especially those experiencing high growth or going through sales-transformation efforts.

Organizations remain under constant pressure to bring reps to established competency levels quickly to realize full productivity as soon after hire as possible.

A recent survey by B2B research and advisory firm SiriusDecisions gauged B2B sales enablement professionals on their sales onboarding programs. Respondents came from 45 industries, with the heaviest representation in IT, business services and advanced manufacturing; and from organizations of various sizes, with 43 percent of respondents from organizations that have more than $750 million in annual revenue.

Read through our gallery to find out what respondents had to say in terms of effective sales onboarding. Click here to read the full report.

Follow contributing editor @EdwardGately on Twitter.

Datapipe's Robb Allen
High-Performing vs. Low-Performing Organizations

When interpreting the study results, high-performing organizations were defined as those reporting that 80 percent or more of their full-time sales reps achieved quota in the last fiscal year. High-performing organizations made up 62 percent of all respondents.

Blue Jeans, Carousel
The Importance of Effective Onboarding

When survey respondents were asked to identify the most significant barriers to achieving sales growth objectives, seven of the 10 most popular responses were directly related to reps’ selling skills – from handling customer objections and negotiation skills, to buyer discovery questioning skills, prospecting skills and general knowledge gaps. During the first weeks and months of a rep’s tenure, the sales enablement team has the best opportunity to minimize the negative impact of these barriers to the individual seller and the greater organization.

Following best practices for effective, formalized onboarding and certification, as demonstrated by high-performing organizations that support rep-level and enterprise-wide success, remains a top priority for sales enablement teams, according to SiriusDecisions.

Business Continuity
Classroom Training the Most Popular Delivery Method?

The most frequently deployed method, classroom training, is used by 73 percent of high-performing and low-performing organizations, which harkens back to an earlier, pre-digital era. Its resurgence may surprise some observers given the ubiquity of online, mobile and self-paced content consumption available today.

While traditional classroom-based sales training is expensive, volume permits more efficient onboarding of multiple individuals at once, and large-scale onboarding can include everything from reviewing benefits and free coffee policies, to conducting product demonstrations and skills development in fewer training sessions. Also, team-oriented training can be a good forum for sharing ideas and striving for communal success, while motivating sellers who onboarded together to ultimately compete with each other.

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Onboarding Training Delivery Methods

High-performing organizations deploy all 12 sales onboarding delivery methods 6 percent more often than low-performing organizations.

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Training Methods: High-Performing vs. Low-Performing Organizations

High-performing organizations’ focus more on individualized, self-paced learning: in-field observation of others (18 percent higher), sales aids (11 percent higher), video observation (10 percent higher) and on-the-job informal learning (8 percent higher). This approach gives sales enablement functions the ability to blend traditional classroom training with customized options and provides sellers with the opportunity to learn through whichever method is most effective for them. Low-performing organizations deploy a few training delivery methods more than high-performing organizations – most notably self-paced, formal e-learning.

Respondents also were asked which onboarding delivery methods they don’t use currently that they plan to deploy within the next 12 months. The most popular response – in-field observation of others, at 30 percent – represents further validation of the need to add personal, real-time learning to onboarding training options, according to SiriusDecisions.

Avaya's Mike Kuch
How Much Onboarding Is the Right Amount?

Sales enablement leaders frequently are under pressure to onboard sales reps faster. This typically comes from sales and executive leaders anxious about filling uncovered or undercovered territories as quickly as possible.

Successful B2B sales onboarding, however, cannot be effective and fast unless the organization is willing to spend money to hire “very experienced reps – and even these reps need to know how to sell for the specific organization, so minimum thresholds of education will always exist,” according to SiriusDecisions.

Respondents’ ability to respond to this time pressure is illustrated by the dramatic difference between high-performing and low-performing sales organizations, with the latter nearly twice as likely to limit formal, full-time onboarding to five or fewer days; more than one-third of low-performing organizations fall into this limited training bandwidth.

No Room for Flexibility

Survey results showed that one out of eight low-performing organizations limits sales onboarding to two or fewer days. Even if the role, skills, products and training content are highly simplistic – indicating that training does not need to be very substantive – such a schedule provides no wiggle room for absenteeism, technology glitches or other common workplace delays. This abbreviated onboarding period also limits management’s exposure to attendees and the opportunity to determine if any new hires might not be a good fit.

When the entire organization expects every seller to graduate into his or her territory within a week or less, the sales enablement team’s opportunity to meet service-level agreements for imparting sales competencies to new hires is minimized. High-performing organizations are 28 percent more likely than low-performing organizations to require pass-fail testing on what new reps have learned.

How Much Training: High-Performing vs. Low-Performing Organizations

High-performing organizations deliver an average of 13.3 classroom days of full-time sales onboarding – 9 percent more than the 12.3 average delivered by low-performing organizations – and are more than twice as likely to provide ongoing learning, a crucial component of delivering team-wide quota success, according to the survey.

Minimizing the onboarding horizon limits reps’ opportunity to practice newly learned skills and gain feedback through the certification process, which diminishes their ability to use these skills in the field, according to SiriusDecisions.

MicroCorp One on One Open Spectrum
How Much Field Observation Is Enough?

Virtually all survey respondents reported that their organizations require first-line sales managers, field sales coaches or the sales enablement team to formally observe new reps’ field activity in real-life, buyer-facing scenarios. This oversight is directly linked to achieving full sales certification, and should provide the following benefits to the organization, sellers and buyers: objectivity in certification; confidence among sellers; and goodwill with buyers.

A significant gap exists between the average number of field observations required to certify sales reps reported by high-performing organizations and low-performing organizations. High-performing sales organizations require an average of 13.3 field observations, compared with 5.8 among low-performing organizations. This disparity illustrates the importance of reinforcing early sales onboarding learning and mid-stage role-play activities with ample field-based validation to confirm rep readiness for independent activity in the field.

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