The Recipe for a World-Class Onboarding Program

Is your onboarding program setting your new sales reps up for success?

At 2015’s SiriusDecisions Summit, Sharon Little, Research Director, Sales Enablemen Strategies at SiriusDecisions, led a breakout session on the “Sales Onboarding Programs of the Year.” Pairing with top SiriusDecisions clients – Oracle Marketing Cloud, PTC, Zebra Technologies, and PrimePay – Sharon was able to not only identify classifications and goals across different approaches to onboarding, but also to reveal the top-line results that denote a “best in class” methodology.

Depending on your company’s trajectory, your approach and need may vary, but what SiriusDecisions found applies across the board. No matter the route or motivation for onboarding, a clear set of characteristics are shared by all of the “best-in-class” programs.

Among numerous unique case studies, Sharon revealed some of the traits that companies of any type should aspire toward in building their onboarding plan:

1. Begin onboarding before the start date

New reps often accept their offer, and then wait two or more weeks to enter into “boot camp.” With time for training already thin, getting reps into the basics of the company, role, and space before they walk into the door is crucial. Top onboarding programs use video-based tools to introduce new hires to the core of the business, meaning that they carry a point of view from day one. Even sharing a plan or brief outline can cut down the time to productivity. Yet, few companies are pioneering this space.

2. Blend different styles of learning

What is the most effective format for learning? As it turns out, a blended approach works best to cater to different learning styles.

SiriusDecisions found that best-in-class organizations blend Self-Study and Practice, eLearning, classroom instruction time, formal certification, field learning, and peer mentoring. PrimePay found using this multi-faceted approach that they could get 50% of new hires to close their first deal within the first two weeks.

3. Formalize and monitor the process

Onboarding needs a champion – not only does the process need day-to-day leadership to inspire and continue motivation, but it also needs someone to monitor the program and refine.

Onboarding also needs metrics, so that success and change can be tracked. The best-in-class organizations all leverage a basic set of metrics that track to ROI – time to productivity, win rate, sales cycle length, etc. – and use these to adjust the program as it matures. Tying impact of what’s learned with field performance is critical. Without an understanding of the levers that can be pulled and the expected results, it is hard to make meaningful changes to the program.

4. Leverage mentors and peers

What made PTC a best in class program was its foresight to pair new sales hires with experienced mentors from their future team. This not only built strong relationships within the sales team, but also gave each new hire a personal steward to drive training and answer questions.

The benefits of peer learning and mentoring are well known – CEB research suggests that peer-taught reps have an edge over their manager-led peers in closing business – but actually enabling peer mentoring can be challenging. PTC introduces mentors after their boot-camp, which they found creates the right set of expectations for an effective partnership.

5. Extend the process beyond the first three months

One of the classic breakpoints in onboarding is the time dedicated to learning: not enough. Top performers excel because they continue to independently seek out knowledge through their tenure, and encouraging continued learning over any rep’s tenure will spark the same benefits. Rather than losing sight of the learning after two weeks or 90 days, best in class organizations think about a year in the life.

Oracle Marketing Cloud has shown leadership in continuous onboarding, with a program that extends from day 1 through the first year. Reps move from boot camp and best practice exercises to accreditation, new product education, and even opportunities to mentor and train their peers. The results show: Oracle is able to move over 250 sales participants through product expertise training, while dropping time to productivity and boosting the average deal size.

What does your organization do that is “best in class”?

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