Onboarding is the sales leader’s opportunity to set the tone for the relationship. Both the sales professional and the company are making an investment in the same thing: a mutually beneficial long-term partnership. This investment comes with significant costs; replacing an employee can range from one-half to two times the employee’s salary, according to research from Gallup.
The same data showed that a 100-person business with an average salary of $50,000 and an annual turnover rate of 26.3% — a recent figure from the Bureaus of Labor Statistics — can expect to pay a minimum of $660,000 in turnover costs per year. It’s not surprising that the authors of the study have called this the “$1 trillion” problem.
These numbers call attention to the importance of getting onboarding right. Here, we look at the four most critical components of an effective plan for onboarding new sales professionals.
Communicate the Big Picture
Traditionally, sales onboarding activities focus on immediate tasks like becoming familiar with a CRM system or learning to navigate a database of marketing assets. While these steps are important and should be executed using an onboarding checklist, they often lack a balance with long-term objectives.
Leaders can achieve this balance by using the onboarding process as an opportunity to discuss the sales professional’s planned movement through the sales academy. As a result, sales professionals gain a cohesive picture of how their role can evolve. Moreover, they receive an early message that leadership has a vested interest in helping the sales professional succeed and become a long-term team member. This holistic approach shows the sales professional how the various skills build upon one another and why each is relevant to their job.
Finally, offering a big-picture perspective fosters a greater sense of agency within each sales professional. Each person develops a clear understanding of their role and how the suite of instructor-led training, adaptive learning platforms, and reinforcement tools each serve a specific learning objective.
Articulate the Connection between Skills and Business Goals
The intensive learning during the onboarding process for sales professionals becomes more engaging when participants understand why the skills are relevant. Therefore, leaders need to jump on this early opportunity to illustrate how the content connects with business outcomes that will serve the learner.
The power of this approach is evident in research from UCLA psychologists who learned that salience drives recall. Previously, it was widely believed that retention gradually and predictably fades with time. However, the work from UCLA shows that this “forgetting curve” changes shape when the information learned engages with people on a personal level. Put simply, our relationship with the material influences the way we learn. Leaders can take advantage of this finding by offering case studies that represent ways in which specific selling skills drove measurable, meaningful results. Additionally, leaders can facilitate communication between the new sales professional and enablement teams. Doing so helps translate the theoretical into the practical by seeing how enablement teams support sales professionals who are trying to use their skills in the field.
Employ Multiple Learning Modalities to Onboard New Sales Professionals
Effective learning means matching the modality to the material. Our research tells us that learners prefer a variety of instructional design, including classroom training, on-demand mobile learning, and coaching.
Choosing the right modality requires an understanding of the sales professional’s process. Field sales professionals spend much of their time out of the office and speaking with customers onsite. Inside sales teams use sales and marketing automation tools to reach more customers from the office.
Instructor-led training is more feasible for those in the office, while mobile-enabled adaptive learning platforms are suited to field sales professionals. Training should be blended because different skills require different styles of engagement. Role-playing, for example, is an effective way to condition sales professionals to use crucial communication skills in the moment when there is little time to determine a response to a hardline negotiation stance or an objection.
A blended approach is also critical for exercising different cognitive processes. Some absorb more information from the independent engagement that comes from digital tools. Others require the verbal exchange that comes with the classroom experience.
Develop a Coaching Cadence
While coaching is an ongoing practise, it is often most impactful during the onboarding phase. An early approach drives results because sales professionals are most receptive to coaching in their first few weeks in the new role. However, effective sales coaching doesn’t stop here. The best coaches recognise the value of an “early and often” approach. They jump on early opportunities during the sales professional’s first months, but they also seek out coachable moments that offer opportunities to apply skills to real-world challenges.
Finding this coaching cadence begins with an intentional approach. Leaders need to get specific about what outcomes they want to achieve with coaching and how they want to achieve them. Research spanning more than 1,000 executives and managers found that “the more a company has a clear reason for using a coach, the more likely that its coaching process will be viewed as successful,” according to the American Management Association. Therefore, leaders should be proactive about how they will structure coaching. For many, the most effective approach is to blend in-the-moment, spontaneous coaching with scheduled coaching sessions that include prepping, debriefing, and performance appraisals.
The Bottom Line
The process of onboarding sales professionals represents a valuable one-time opportunity for alignment. Making the most of this opportunity means balancing immediate needs with carefully communicated long-term objectives. Leaders also need to draw a line from the skills covered in training to the real-world business outcomes they will yield. Sales team onboarding must also respect the different modalities that are best suited for each piece of content covered. Finally, coaching must start early and emerge from a clear framework designed by the leadership.