Everyone knows the excitement and trepidation that comes with starting a new job. The excitement often comes from joining a new organization and entering a new career phase. The trepidation comes from entering an environment where there are new people to meet, systems to learn and values to adopt. For sales reps, both emotions are magnified by the ticking stopwatch measuring the all-consuming “time to productivity.”
The ability of — and timeline for — sales reps to go from zero to fully productive relies on a number of factors, including the quality of reps’ training and territory as well as the talent and work ethic of the reps themselves. Most organizations have established onboarding processes, such as multi-day “boot camps,” designed to bring reps up to speed as quickly as possible. However, even the most well-designed onboarding programs suffer from a momentum problem: Reps arrive in a stationary state, and it’s up to the “onboarders” to help them move forward. This task can be daunting when, in the space of a few days, reps need to learn the buyer personas and company value messaging and how to position solutions and hone their selling skills. Plus, they need to adopt a new company culture, meet new people and figure out where the coffee is.
Like pushing a car that’s run out of gas, onboarding is difficult when you start from a standstill. It’s much easier and more effective when reps already have some forward momentum when the “pushing” begins. Conducting a structured “preboarding” program before the reps officially join the company can create that momentum. With preboarding, they can walk into day 1 already knowing information such as the people with whom they’ll work, the company’s history, their schedule for the first few weeks and, yes, where they can get a good jolt of caffeine.
Key Elements of a Sales Preboarding Program
Preboarding is a way to ease and improve the onboarding experience by giving new reps some of that momentum before onboarding begins. It is not intended to be a burden (after all, many of the new reps will be enjoying a week or two of free time before coming on board) but can be effective using easily consumed communications.
For example, the onboarding team can send a short welcome video to new reps, so they recognize team members right away on their first day. Another bite-sized video can familiarize reps with the office, so they understand the dress code, general office tone (is it buttoned-up or informal?), the location of break rooms, etc.
Preboarding is also an opportunity for the new reps to provide practical information that may be useful during onboarding and beyond, such as food allergies and work style preferences. Finally, the organization can send calendar invitations for onboarding meetings, along with background information, so the reps are primed to learn when they arrive.
Categories of preboarding communications can include cultural, learning, expectation-setting, and peer learning and interaction content.
Preboarding is a great time to define the company’s mission and goals and provide information on the leadership team through, for example, a video Q&A with key executives. During this video, the executives can ask questions for the pre-boarders to answer via email, which can give the onboarding team valuable information about each person. Reps can also have the opportunity to email their own questions for the company’s leaders, with answers provided during onboarding.
Preboarding is a perfect time to set the stage for reps’ learning paths and programs during onboarding and on an ongoing basis. A good way to approach this task is to give reps a short primer that provides background information, such as company and product information, and a few relevant articles and customer case studies. The onboarding team can even include a quick quiz at the end of e-learning communications to ensure comprehension. Pre-boarders should be able to consume each piece of content in 10 minutes or less.
Preboarding can help set expectations for the new reps, their managers and other key personnel who will play a significant role in the reps’ development.
Firstly, managers need to set schedules so that reps are in the right location, at the right time, during the onboarding process. Ideally, the human resources department will provide onboarding schedules and relevant background information after the reps are hired so their managers know where onboarding will occur and when to be available for meals and meetings. Finally, the onboarding team should give managers daily action items for follow-up and reinforcement during onboarding based on what the new hires have learned that day.
Additionally, HR, IT and sales enablement teams need to have a set process in place where they work in lockstep to ensure that new reps have the systems, content and support they need to be on a successful path from day 1.
Peer Learning and Interaction
Asking new reps to create short “about me” presentations — to share with the onboarding team, peers and other people involved in the onboarding process — enables them to be a familiar face when they begin. These presentations can give their new team members valuable background information and can be the beginning of long-lasting bonds among the new reps, too.
The Preboarding Advantage
Ultimately, onboarding can be an important competitive advantage. Companies that can bring their reps up to full productivity quickly, and keep them that way, stand to be more efficient and profitable than those that do not. Preboarding new reps can increase the likelihood that the onboarding process will be successful, transforming all that new-hire excitement and trepidation into superior sales performance.