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Sales Onboarding: The True Measures of Success

david_kirk.jpgI felt compelled to share the great work that one of our customers has recently been performing in the area of sales onboarding.

A blog post by Dr. David Kirk, CRO, CloudApps

Much like this particular client, I am sure most folks already have a robust and well-defined onboarding process. After all, we are talking about expensive resources that we need to become productive as quickly as possible, right?

Pausing for a moment though, let’s think about the common measures of success for most sales onboarding programmes. They are usually simply those of ‘quantity’ and ‘elapsed time to onboard’. For the slightly more advanced and adventurous, they might take the trouble to measure the ‘elapsed time to initial revenue’ for each band of new recruits.

So, in essence, success is often measured simply by how many sales folks we can crank through the onboarding process and how quickly we can impart all of the knowledge that we think these newbies will need to be successful. The more thoughtful will circle back some time after graduation to determine how long each new recruit took to close their first deal (often talked about as ‘ramp-to-revenue’ time).

I have worked for many organisations (and I am pretty sure I am not alone) where the trumpet is given a good blast to celebrate that “another 30 new hires have passed sales bootcamp this month”. Well done us!

But let’s face reality. It’s pretty hard to fail sales bootcamp, as that would be a glaring admission that we just hired the wrong person!

With this in mind and in addition to the standard success measures, our customer was curious to understand the impact of their sales onboarding efforts across a number of additional dimensions:

  • What impact does our onboarding process have on the wider, existing sales team?
  • What is the impact of first-line sales managers on our newly graduated recruits?
  • Are the onboarding materials in lock-step with the habits of our top performers?
  • What level of adoption of our stack of sales tools do we see amongst new recruits compared to existing reps?

Let’s take each one in turn and just get under the skin of why these questions are so very important. 


What impact does our onboarding process have on the wider, existing sales team?

This one is fairly straightforward. The desire here was to understand the ripple effect of the training on existing sales staff.

There’s probably nobody more curious than a sales person sat on the outside looking in at a new sales recruit. They will be busting a gut to know the latest tools, materials and approaches that have been imparted on this fresher. They should be viewing this as an opportunity to help the new kid on the block and at the same time up their own game. But do they? Or do they sit smug in the false knowledge that they already know it all?

Unless you measure this impact and create a positive culture of sharing you are potentially missing an opportunity to squeeze more out of your onboarding investment. Imagine the benefit of this extended reach. Not only will you be training your new set of recruits but you will also be raising the bar in your existing sales teams. Double whammy! 


Sales Onboarding - measure of success.jpg


What is the impact of first-line sales managers on our newly graduated recruits?

Now here is an interesting one. As sales leaders, I suspect we are all guilty of having adopted the one-dimensional view of sales performance. Those that hit their number get classed as winners and everyone else is grouped into second place.

For the folks that find themselves in the latter group, the size by which the target has been missed typically determines who remains in the starting line-up and who does not.

If you are interested to learn more about the “hidden dimension of sales performance”, I can strongly recommend reading how UBM tied their revenue target to a sales behaviour target with some very illuminating results!

Ever since being at CloudApps (and working with a large number of clients that use SuMo to provide insight into their true sales performance) I remain amazed at how often the issue of poor performance has nothing to do with the individual sales reps. The problem quite often lies squarely at the door of the first-line sales manager.

Let me point you at one particular case of this. Ebury were experiencing a large degree of churn in their sales team due to seemingly poor sales performance. SuMo allowed them to identify that the issue was originating from their first-line sales managers. After making some simple changes they turned poor performers into stellar achievers and dramatically reduced churn.


There are many reasons first-line sales managers often struggle, seven of the most glaring are discussed further in this blog post:

‘The 7 Traits of Highly Effective First-line Sales Managers’


The simple desire here was to create a check-and-balance on the managers. This would serve to identify those managers that reinforced the new hire sales training. It would also expose those managers that squash new approaches, seeking to replace them with their own ‘tried and trusted’ sales methods.

The impact that a first-line sales manager has on the success of a newbie hire is huge. But how many of us bother to evaluate this? Coaching wayward managers also very quickly addresses the issue (an area that is all too often overlooked).


Are the onboarding materials in lock-step with the habits of your top performers?

It sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But how often do you have sales leaders review your onboarding content? Are you confident that the best practices being imparted have taken into consideration the very latest learnings from the field?

This is of course only possible if you have a very clear picture of the winning habits of your top performers. Only then can you drive others to follow the same path to success.

Too often the Sales Onboarding process and materials are built and left unchecked. There should be a cycle of continuous improvement that is brought about by distilling the approaches taken by top performers – and then systematically encouraging new recruits to adopt them.


What level of adoption of the sales tools do we see amongst new recruits compared to existing?

To be effective across the whole sales process requires the use of the right sales tools, content and resources at the appropriate time.

For example, there is a timing, process and mechanism for issuing proposals. Do our new recruits adopt these best practices or quickly fall into bad habits?

The measure here is actually really two-fold. Are our new recruits following every step of the journey as they should? And are they using the right tools at the right time to help them navigate the journey appropriately?

As well as tools to facilitate proposal delivery the other obvious tool in the sales stack is the CRM system. Used properly it is a personal productivity tool for the sales rep. Everything should flow from the information stored in the CRM system. Marketing will make campaign investment decisions based on this data. Sales support functions will determine which deals to engage with. Sales leaders will base growth and investment decisions on forecast revenues.

Hence driving not just adoption, but adherence to the chosen sales process is critical from our new recruits.

Most of us ignore these 2 dimensions though. We invest in the sales tools and define the winning sales process but never measure if they are being used and followed.

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Taking this new approach, this particular customer was able to answer some interesting questions about their onboarding process. The output was used to create a culture of continuous improvement. Can you say the same with any degree of confidence?

New Hires

  • How effective are they and do they actually put what they have learnt into practice?
  • What influence (positive or negative) are the first-line sales managers having on new hires?


OnBoarding Process

  • Has it remained in lock-step with the actual process happening in the field?
  • Are we adequately reflecting the approaches taken by our top performers?


Ripple Effect

  • Are we managing to create a culture that promotes the extension of learning back into the sales team?
  • Are we able to determine new tactics adopted by existing reps (what is actually rubbing off)?


Adoption of Sales Stack of Tools

  • Are we able to drive the correct use of tools, content & resources at the right time?
  • Are our new hires adhering to the defined and proven sales process?


Keen to learn more? 

Why not read our guide to building a clean & healthy pipeline.


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