Let’s face it.
Onboarding is broken. The average ramp time for a new rep is 4.5 months, while the average tenure is a year and a half. That means that 25% of a sales rep’s total time at a company is spent getting up to speed.
At the same time, boot camp-style training (more on this in a minute) has abysmal recall rates. 84% of what reps learn in a sales boot camp is forgotten within the quarter, which means the so-called “onboarded” reps end up spending their time learning on their own – eroding their ability to close business.
To cap it all off, hiring reps is getting harder. Sales is now the second-most in-demand role in the US, and the cost of hiring continues to spiral accordingly.
The current format of onboarding is not sustainable, and there’s a huge incentive for sales teams to crack the onboarding problem.
But that’s not going to happen with onboarding as it’s run today.
How onboarding (usually) happens
Onboarding usually goes something like this.
Sales reps all get sent to a boot camp. There might be some pre-work, but the assumption is they’ll learn 99% of what they need to know in one week of sales onboarding.
During this boot camp, reps check off boxes like product, market, and messaging content. They read whitepapers, attend classes, listen to speakers, and maybe log into their CRM or engagement platform. The schedule is jammed with content consumption, focused on extracting value from subject matter experts and learning the product, with little focus on practicing selling.
After this total information overload, reps usually do some form of practice pitch. Then they’re considered “certified”.
At the end of this dog-and-pony show, newly-minted sales reps are passed to woefully time-strapped sales managers and left to their own devices. And yet, this is considered an onboarding success because they graduated boot camp.
In reality though, that’s not what makes sales reps successful at their job.
Ask any VP Sales or CRO what a successful sales rep means to them, and they’ll tell you: success is a rep’s ability to book meetings, find opportunities, and close deals.
Right now, we measure how someone is onboarded and how they do their job with completely different metrics, and it’s not driving the performance that growing companies demand.
Fortunately, there’s a better way.
If you can tie enablement and onboarding programs to revenue outcomes, and measure how quickly these outcomes are achieved, enablers can build a case for how they’re contributing to the bottom line – while also providing a clear picture of what works and what doesn’t in terms that the organization cares about.
5 tips to onboard faster and tie onboarding to revenue
If onboarding is fundamentally broken right now, then what are enablement teams supposed to do? Here are my five tips to tie onboarding to revenue and some of the benefits you get if you do.
1. Measure the outcomes you want to achieve
There are two axioms to think about here: compensation drives behavior, and what gets measured gets done.
Never have these axioms applied more than in sales enablement and onboarding.
Content consumption metrics (e.g. quizzes taken, reports read, documents opened) are great – but they shouldn’t be the core measures for onboarding success. If onboarding’s objective is to get sales reps consistently achieving quota as quickly as possible, then it should be measured against the sales outcomes they’re trying to drive. Outcomes like:
- Activities logged
- Meetings booked
- Demos held
- Pipeline generated
- Deals closed
In turn, if the objective is to get reps to quota as fast as possible, then enablement should also be measuring how long it takes for each of these outcomes to be achieved, with metrics like:
- Time to first activity quota (e.g. 100 calls per day)
- Time to first meeting booked
- Time to first demo held
- Time to first pipeline generated
- Time to first deal closed
- Time to second deal, third deal, full quota, and consistent quota
Content and learning paths are great – but they’re just tools to get to the real meat of onboarding: activities logged, opportunities piped, deals closed, and how quickly it all happened. What’s more, it’s not enough for a rep to get to first pipe or first deal quickly.
Rather, companies should also be tracking time to second and third deals too, as well as measuring time to quota and time to consistent quota. Not only does this make your data cleaner by accounting for one-off bluebirds or inherited piped deals, but it also means that you can track to what you really want to achieve – consistent sales performance.
2. Align the objectives of enablement and sales
The worst thing that can happen in onboarding is for reps to learn one thing in boot camp, then when they start, their manager immediately says ‘welcome to the real world’ and gives wildly different advice.
When enablement and sales leaders have different objectives, this is going to happen a lot. After all, if enablement is measured on boot camp certifications, then they’re not going to care if the reps are sales-ready – only that they’re certified.
In contrast, if you measure sales enablement and sales leaders with the same metrics by tying onboarding to revenue metrics, you create natural alignment between teams that grows top-line revenue.
3. Embed sales milestones into your onboarding programs
Onboarding isn’t a single event. Sales onboarding is a journey from newbie to veteran as reps progress towards reaching their first deal, first quota, consistent quota, and finally to sales rep superstardom.
And like any journey, there are milestones that need to be hit. First cold call, first booked meeting, first demo, etc…
However, onboarding suffers when:
- The achievement of these milestones and the tracking of these milestones are separate.
- The completion of onboarding and the completion of sales milestones are separate.
For instance, how can you finish onboarding before you’ve booked your first demo or piped your first deal?
A better approach is to embed these milestones directly into your program, then track the time it takes to achieve each one all the way through to revenue.
By embedding milestones into your program and making it so that onboarding isn’t completed until the milestones that you’re tracking against are completed, you can:
- Experiment with different programs and look at time-to-milestone metrics for an accurate picture of what gets reps onboarded faster
- Capture clean data for how long it takes to go from first day to fully productive
- Learn where reps are struggling in the process to put extra resources where they’re going to have the biggest impact
Over time, you’ll begin to build a picture of early indicators that lead to success and begin to make data-driven decisions around your onboarding.
4. Teach just enough to get reps to the next stage
Drinking from the firehose doesn’t work. It’s too much information in too little time, and it ends up being forgotten.
Instead, parse out your program into bite-sized pieces.
The goal of any single piece of onboarding content should be to get them to the next embedded onboarding milestone.
No more, no less.
For example, there’s absolutely no need to learn about the contract negotiation process your company goes through before you make your first cold call.
Rather than saturating reps with every piece of information they’ll need for your entire process, just focus on getting them to to the next milestone.
This approach, in addition to improving knowledge retention rates, ensures that the thing that reps are focusing on is the thing they just learned, so they’re always learning, practicing and perfecting before they move on to the next step.
5. Extend onboarding past the initial boot camp
Finally, extend your onboarding beyond your initial boot camp. If the point of onboarding is to get reps up to achieving quota, then onboarding should last up until reps are consistently achieving quota. For some organizations with long sales cycles, that might be 12-18 months. And that’s fine.
We need to shift out of the mindset that onboarding is a one-and-done event, and towards a world of ever-boarding, where sales enablement is tracking and optimizing both onboarding and performance by offering reps additional training, support, content, and coaching, exactly when they’re struggling and exactly what they’re struggling with.
When we can tie enablement to the revenue impact that reps are measured against, we create a natural alignment between what enablement is working towards and what sales is trying to achieve.
And if you’re measuring the revenue impact of sales onboarding, you can be sure that you’ll begin to look at where reps need more help, what stage they’re stumbling at, and early indicators of sales rep success.
Ultimately, tying sales onboarding to revenue impact means that every team is working together – aligned, measuring, and tracking the same things, in the same way, to deliver the best possible result for the organization.
Onboarding can be fixed – we just have to measure the right stuff.
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David Bloom is the CEO & Founder of LevelJump, a sales onboarding and enablement solution built on the Salesforce platform. Prior to founding LevelJump, David built and sold a corporate training company and held a variety of sales and marketing leadership roles at Fortune 500 life sciences and technology companies including Salesforce.com, GSK and Pfizer.
Editor’s Note: This is a guest post. Interested in contributing content to the Drift blog? Email Molly Sloan at firstname.lastname@example.org.