why sales onboardingWe work with many companies to help them improve their sales hiring effectiveness. Unfortunately, we find companies tend to ignore what happens after the interviewing, assessing and hiring are done. Often, the importance of having a systematic sales onboarding program in place is not recognized.

I have found that hiring managers occasionally get lulled into believing that because the candidate was recommended by the assessment and HR has screened them that they will just step into the position and magically be a superstar. I wish it worked that way, but it doesn’t.

There are six steps to successful sales talent hiring. Onboarding is the last of them, but it is certainly not the least. Even the best, most precise approach to selecting the right candidate can prove ineffective without a strong onboarding program to complete the process.

6 Steps to Successful Sales Hiring

  1. Determine whether you want to be proactive or passive in your approach.
  2. Create a well-written ad/description of the opportunity.
  3. Get the Sales Manager actively engaged in the process.
  4. Use a sales-specific assessment to weed out the wrong candidates.
  5. Follow a consistent, repeatable interviewing process.
  6. Implement a structured, sales-specific onboarding program.

The Sales Management Association recently released a research brief about salesperson onboarding. Two key takeaways from the brief are:

  1. Companies that have a very structured onboarding process and follow it consistently had the most positive results.2. Consistently following a structured onboarding program shortened the time to productivity by 37%.

While these two points may seem completely obvious, most companies described themselves in the study as not having structured onboarding programs.

Only 31% of companies described their onboarding programs as structured.

This is consistent with my experience as well. Many company leaders are concerned with attracting, interviewing and hiring the right person, but then fall down on the job when it comes to onboarding. Yet, structured onboarding programs have a significant positive impact on the Sales team’s results.

To be effective and efficient in hiring sales talent, companies need to go further than attracting and hiring the right people. That isn’t the finish line. They must also systematically onboard in a structured way. Much of your employee turnover ─ and the associated high costs ─ can be avoided if a process is followed to both hire AND onboard appropriately.

Sales Onboarding: the First 90 Days

The first 90 days (if not longer) are nearly as critical as following a solid recruiting and hiring process.

First, keep in mind that “A” players will not settle for “B” management, so you need to have a disciplined approach to onboarding and ramping up.  Second, you need to be able to articulate why customers buy from you, and how you are differentiated (or not) from your competitors. Be ready to equip them with a massive list of great questions.  Not good questions, mind you, but great questions.  Help them quickly learn how to get inside of your prospect’s mind and heart.  Do this with good, thought-provoking questions.  Share with them what the typical obstacles are and how to discuss that. Give them customer stories to own. Provide them with the tools they need to be confident, agile and informed in their dealings with prospects.

Once you have given them the basics concerning your company, your industry (if necessary) and followed my advice above, be sure to have an action plan and an expectation plan.  What specifically should the new rep do the first week?  What should they do the first month and so on?  Make sure to set specific expectations to go along with those activities.  For instance, a typical plan for your business might include expectations regarding setting  a certain number of appointments, so you should determine at what point the new salesperson is capable of trying to set appointments and build into the program a specific expectation regarding this requirement.  And, then finally, you should also articulate specific expectations with regard to when they should be closing their first pieces of business and what the ramp up expectation is.

The more specific and precise you can be about your expectations, the easier it will be for your newly hired sales reps to have success, because they will know what to do, and the easier it will be for you to manage their progress.

Too Small for an Onboarding Program? Think Again.

Those of you with small companies that don’t hire salespeople frequently may think it isn’t necessary to have a specific on-boarding plan, but it is just as important for you as it is for those companies that hire dozens or hundreds of salespeople. Maybe more so, because you can less afford to make a hire that doesn’t count.

Instead of boosting your sales, the wrong hire can have a major negative impact on your company’s revenue. The cost associated with making a sales hiring mistake varies by industry, but commonly-quoted figures peg company costs between 3 – 5x the hired salesperson’s annual compensation (some peg it as high as 15x). You can instantly calculate the costs of your hiring mistakes here.

Get onboard with strategic onboarding; it’s one of the smartest investments you can make in your sales team.

Gretchen Gordon - BraveHeart SalesGretchen owns Braveheart Sales Performance, a sales optimization firm that guarantees improvement in profitable sales for its clients through sales team transformation. She speaks to business groups across the country, delivering expert insights on revenue growth through sales performance in her engaging, funny and self-deprecating style.