If you’re in sales management, you probably know quite a bit about onboarding. After all, replacing a sales rep carries a hefty price tag of around $115,000. This makes ironing out your hiring and onboarding pretty important, because $115,000 adds up really fast, especially when you’re hiring one new rep after the other.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. With the right planning, you can create onboarding that boosts new hire productivity and decreases ramp times.

Finding the right focus

Before we get started, let’s take a step back and make a quick clarification. We’re talking about onboarding new employees — not product training.

It’s often tempting to focus on product training first. After all, sales reps need to know about the products before they can start selling. But skipping over onboarding for processes, company culture, and employee responsibility is a dangerous way to introduce confusion to your ranks.

And when employees are confused, they lose motivation and selling confidence. This leads to dissatisfaction and increased employee turnover costs. To get out of this dangerous cycle, let’s get started by laying out three essential building blocks for your own onboarding plan.

1. Set onboarding goals and expectations

Your all-important first step is to define the goals of your onboarding program. Why? Because everyone needs a plan. Find the key stakeholders for the onboarding and discover their expectations. Talk to senior reps and find out what they missed during onboarding. Always keep asking questions.

What do you want new employees to know when they’re getting onboarded? What key facts and processes will give them the motivation and knowledge they need to work confidently with others on their team?

Find these goals and work them into your onboarding program. This gives your new reps a roadmap for what’s ahead. It gives them goals, a vision, and a mission. They’re not walking into a fog — they’re following clear road signs with clear expectations. This gets your reps all on the same page and eliminates confusion and uncertainty.

2. Develop your onboarding strategy

Three strategic pieces — content, structure, and measurement — make up this second building block and are necessary for all onboarding programs.

Content

Think of content as the “what” of onboarding. In other words, this is everything that needs to be accomplished for onboarding to be successful. Embedded into the content are the nuts and bolts of the onboarding process, including:

  • Navigation (how to get things done)
  • Products and business (audiences, product benefits, competitive advantages)
  • Sales (the specific sales methodology of your company)

Do research, dig deep, and find what you need to include. This will take a careful, in-depth look at what is and isn’t necessary for new reps to need. It might be less than you think, or it might be more.

Structure

This is the “how” of content deployment. Mastery of each piece of content must proceed through three steps — knowledge, practice, and execution in the field. This is where coaching, role-play, and peer review can decrease ramp time considerably.

Finding a good platform where your reps can connect and share learning and information is a great way to build comradery, simplify communications, and increase teamwork.

Measurement

This is the “how much” piece of an onboarding program — how much content should a new hire master and by when? Milestones and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are the two components of measurement.

  • Milestones: indicators of long-term success
  • KPIs: stepping stones to reach those long-term goals

Determining measurements can also be an organic process decided by new sales reps and their coaches.

3. Implement sustainable onboarding

This is the true machinery of success — the how-to behind implementing, sustaining, and integrating (in other words, executing) an onboarding program. Your success here depends on the effectiveness of your strategy. Also, don’t be afraid to adjust. You’re not setting your onboarding in stone. An important part of sustaining is creating onboarding that’s scalable as your company grows.

Successful implementation means being transparent and open about the changes — especially if the new onboarding changes or effects established roles. Make sure all your reps are aligned and that everyone understands the ins and outs of the new process. Decreasing confusion means decreasing frustration and increasing satisfaction.

Planning for a changing world

People say that the only constant in the world is change. This seems especially true for the endless cycle of recruiting, hiring, training, and ramping new sales representatives up to productivity. Because, once you’ve done that, some of them will leave — for a multitude of reasons, many beyond your control.

However, you can influence some of those reasons. By carefully building a strong and intentional onboarding program, you can speed new hires toward productivity. At the same time, you can pave the way to greater job satisfaction for employees, increased commitment to your organization, and lower turnover. And that brings us full circle.

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