No amount of effort can transform raw recruits into capable sales reps overnight.

But the clock is ticking. Every extra day reps spend ramping is a day the company loses money. Between long training periods and typically high turnover, reps may have only a few months of peak performance selling. Even if a rep stays on the job long enough to recover the costs of recruiting and training, companies incur significant opportunity costs, while new hires sit idle on the bench – sales are lost and customer relationships suffer because the sales team is not ready to compete at full strength.

A faster and more meaningful onboarding experience would benefit new hires, their managers and coaches, and the company as a whole. But the question remains, why is it so hard to develop, manage and deploy a meaningful onboarding program?

Onboarding experience is disjointed across functions

In many B2B companies, a number of functions or departments are involved in creating and delivering a sales ramping program – sales management, sales operations, learning and development, marketing, product management, HR and the list goes on. Too often, learning is driven more by logistics and the availability of resources to directly engage with the new group of learners. Each department focuses on delivering content relative to their area of expertise, and the hand-offs are weak. Learning agendas focus too heavily on sharing large volumes of information (product features and functions), yet lack the context and skills needed to apply to that information to anticipated selling scenarios or territory development goals. Ultimately, sales reps are left to connect the dots themselves to understand the big picture and knit together the key insights they need to be successful in their new roles.

Onboarding takes too long

A frequent complaint from B2B sales organizations is that onboarding simply takes too long. Sales leaders are starting to recognize that accelerating the ramp time of new sales hires (even by a few weeks) can have a dramatic impact on the bottom line. New sellers tend to spend too much time sitting idle on the learning curve − they either can’t find the answers or resources they need to complete the task at hand or are unsure of what task should be next. In addition, once they acquire the requisite company and product knowledge, reps lose momentum trying to figure out how to adapt or apply that knowledge to their individual territory.

Managers are ill-equipped to coach or guide

Despite significant advancements in sales enablement technology, many sales onboarding programs are still managed either manually or via an Excel spreadsheet. In these cases, coaches and managers lack visibility into new rep knowledge and skill development. Has a new sales hire completed his or her self-guided learning tasks? Have they been certified at each stage of learning and for each competency? Are they progressing on pace or falling behind? Without this insight, managers don’t know when or how to intervene. At the end of the day, you want your quick learners to advance unencumbered and your slower learners to have the extra support they need to stay the course.

If these are the obstacles, how can we then counter them and help accelerate time-to-value for new sales hires?

Guiding a prescriptive but flexible learning sequence

The best learning programs are a combination of essential curriculum components such as key phases, subject areas, seller tasks, manager coaching and expected learning outcomes. A logical learning sequence is prescribed step-by-step to the seller, but with enough flexibility to complete tasks out-of-sequence as circumstances require – keeping new reps productive with meaningful activity even when key resources aren’t available. This approach is often a combination of prescribed, self-guided learning and more traditional classroom style learning with case studies, role-plays and face-to-face coaching.  Content, information and resources are served up to new reps based on the specifics of their role, responsibilities, learning stage and task. Knowledge is delivered in context, when and where it’s needed.

Accelerating internal connections and collaboration

Your new sales hires are the ones who will have the most questions, but are the least equipped to find answers or support. One of the key reasons experienced reps are successful is because of the valuable internal support relationships they’ve cultivated and nurtured during their tenure. New reps need to be connected early and often to their internal selling network − they need to be able to quickly understand and navigate the organization, identifying the key relationships to invest in along the way. Providing dedicated collaboration activities and tools enables sellers to easily engage and interact with trainers, managers, product experts and peers – as well as to solicit feedback, find answers, and seek real-time guidance and mentoring.

Enabling managers and trainers to inspect, coach and measure

Visibility for trainers and managers is critical. They need to understand the progress of new hires as they work through the onboarding program. Are the new reps completing learning tasks in a timely manner and in a logical sequence? What degree of proficiency do they have with new skills? In what areas might they need additional coaching?

Without automated tools that provide real-time insight to understand new rep progress and proficiency, a manager or coach is virtually handicapped to ensure the overall success of the individual or the program.

With the rising costs and competitiveness of attracting and hiring top sales talent, a successful onboarding program can’t be left to chance. Reducing ramp time and improving the effectiveness of sales-specific learning provides the opportunity to improve the bottom line, boost morale and put your new sales hires on an accelerated path to success.

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