The average sales hire takes 5-10 months to reach full productivity, though year-long onboarding processes are not unheard of. For most organizations, this is 5-10 months too long.

Just as important is enabling new rep success. SaaS Inside Sales turnover is a whopping 34%, and it costs an average of $100k to replace each lost rep.

There are two main schools of thought when it comes to new rep onboarding. Let's dig into these and see how we can strike a balance between shortening time to productivity and maximizing rep success.

Camp 1: Throw Them To The Wolves

The first is the “throw them to the wolves philosophy.” Granted, practitioners of this method don’t refer to it as such, but the comparison is apt. Practitioners of this onboarding philosophy will have new reps making calls on Day 1, and are trained in the sales process as they progress through deals.

The general theory behind this onboarding philosophy is that the best sales reps will succeed organically, and those that don’t will never succeed anyway. If only “A player” reps are kept around, only “A players” will be on the team. So the thought process goes.

But while it sounds like a good idea to let the cream rise and the rest fall, in most organizations this situation is not realistic. Some of the best salespeople will want to be given the opportunity to grow into their role, to learn about the product, and develop their own processes - and those things take time. If new reps are judged based only on their ability to get deals started and make phone calls, a great sales organization won’t necessarily be the result. You will, however, have a phenomenal call center.

Camp 2: Slowly Nurture Each Into The Perfect Rep

This is on the opposite end of the spectrum. By letting reps shadow, learn, and grow at their own pace, theoretically each will cultivate a real passion for the product that will prove advantageous down the line.

Unfortunately most organizations have very real costs in the present, not just down the line.

Striking A Balance

As is often the case, best practice lies somewhere in the middle. The sink-or-swim style of the first camp lets too many good salespeople slip through the cracks, while the easy-going second camp is far from a sustainable business model. But by taking the best bits of each, I think we can form a middle-of-the-road onboarding process that prioritizes time to productivity while enabling rep success.

Improve Time-to-Productivity

  1. Practice, Roleplay, and Coach. We've made the distinction between coaching and feedback before, and during the onboarding process is when coaching really comes into its own. Since opportunities to provide feedback will be slim, coaching specific skills should take precedence. And since practicing in front of customers is expensive (do you really want reps to practice deal closing during an actual deal close?), consider practicing with video (see point #2).
  2. Leverage Technology to Increase Reps' Access to Managers. Practice, unfortunately, does not make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect. But your sales managers are busy people- they are not available at the drop of the hat to evaluate new reps' practice and roleplay. Giving new reps a video platform on which to practice and be evaluated at managers' convenience nips bad habits in the bud before they form. Reps given the opportunity to practice on their own time also end up practicing more. So it's a win-win.
  3. Keep Metrics Constant (and Known) Throughout the Onboarding Process. Make sure new reps know what metrics they are being measured against- and how the best reps perform on each. This gives them reasonable goals to shoot for on a specific timeframe.

Enable Rep Success

  1. Use Shadowing to Show, Not Tell. Let new reps figure out their own "best practices" from shadowing opportunities. No two reps operate in the exact same way, encourage each new hire to build their own unique selling toolkit.
  2. Enforce, Encourage, and Enable Learning About the Product. Salespeople who know the ins and outs of their product almost always perform better than those who don't. Give them access to promotional material, customer success stories, and customer service literature so they can learn the nitty-gritty of the product they're selling. Provide each new rep with lines of communication to other departments (development, marketing, customer service, etc).
  3. Know When to Let Go. Unfortunately, some new hires just won't fit well in your organization. Know when to let these go, and don't lead them on.

With the above, time to productivity is not compromised by success enablement, thanks in large part to always-on coaching tech that allows new reps to be trained on an as-needed basis.

Did you know that 45% of sales reps missed quota last year? Check out this handy infographic to get started fixing a broken onboarding process.

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