BY KARI VAN DYKE VICE PRESIDENT & SALES LEADER RICHARDSON

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1 BY KARI VAN DYKE VICE PRESIDENT & SALES LEADER All the time, money, and effort that go into hiring sales employees can be wasted if the right program isn t in place to bring them on board quickly and effectively. Without the proper introduction to your company, your way of working, and your expectations for results, new hires can easily fail to live up to their promise or their potential. The longer it takes them to learn the ropes, the more sales opportunities are delayed or lost to competitors. It used to be enough to present new hires with a Day One overview of the company, introduce a few colleagues, hand out pertinent reading material, and pair them up with a seasoned employee for a few weeks. Now, it s imperative to immediately begin immersion into the company s culture and methodology, train new hires faster and more effectively, and provide adequate coaching and support in the field. With the right kind of onboarding program, sales employees become more productive in less time and contribute more to your company throughout their careers. TEL

2 From a business standpoint, there are many reasons to adopt best practices in onboarding. To minimize the learning curve and help new hires to become more productive sooner To differentiate your company in the marketplace in order to attract new talent To create a consistent and unified approach a living representation of your brand when sales employees walk through a client s door To make new hires feel welcome and support talent retention To allow questionable hires to select out earlier rather than later To create mobility within the company, developing a pool of employees who can grow into strategic roles To support the overall growth and profitability of the company Measures of Success What does it take to build a world-class onboarding program? It begins with a defined purpose and internal measures of success. These success factors may be: speed to productivity; retention of talent; promotion of talent; or other measures of importance within your company. Setting the desired outcomes first allows you to align your onboarding program with these objectives, using ongoing adjustments to maximize success based on actual results. Many companies just cobble together an onboarding program from existing company materials. The result looks like a hodgepodge because it is one. A company history. Compliance training. Technical reviews. Digital devices. A two-day sales program. There s little consistency in look and feel. These companies are challenged to keep their curriculum up to date and to understand how everything should link together in order to create a greater impact. A key best practice in onboarding is creating a blended learning solution, which offers benefits for both the organization and its new hires. Blended learning which uses different formats (also known as modalities) maximizes learning, cost efficiency, time and resource utilization, sustainability of learning, and flexibility in delivery. The following are among the modalities most often used: Classroom/instructor-led Webinars elearning Video Experiential/field training Self-paced study Individual and group coaching Manager- and mentor-led reinforcement/application Learn More: Contact the Richardson Team at TEL or visit us on the web at

3 The Right Stuff With the number of learning modalities available, it s important to select the right one based on the type of content and learning objectives. For example, when the key learning objective is to impart knowledge or create awareness, a classroom program may not be the most efficient means of meeting the learning objectives. Conversely, when the objective is to develop a skill, the classroom will likely be a critical modality. There are many things new hires should know, and it can be overwhelming for them to consider the totality of learning ahead. That s why it s better to focus on and prioritize those areas that drive success. Some are table stakes basic skills needed to execute on the job and others are real differentiators. Understanding which skills, behaviors, and knowledge are fundamental vs. a success differentiator allows you to establish the proper emphasis and order of content elements in the overall onboarding program architecture. Each role filled by a new hire brings a different level of required industry or sales experience in the company on Day One. The difference in recruiting requirements for broker sales reps, key account managers, and other roles is significant; it must be factored into the onboarding program in order to optimize your investment and minimize frustration for those coming in with more experience in the industry and in sales. Likewise, the onboarding curriculum for entry-level sales employees needs to differ from content developed for senior-level account managers in order to bring them along at a measured pace. While some content elements (such as a company overview module) may be the same across all roles and experience levels, others require customization. It s well worth the effort to identify which elements are consistent and which must be customized from the start. The specific manager and mentor components need to include a strategy to drive accountability for the success of newly hired sales employees. The matter of job accountabilities may exceed the scope of developing an onboarding curriculum, but it is something that must be addressed, usually at an organizational level. Whether through managers and mentors or training instructors, a world-class onboarding program should incorporate learning checks. These are used to evaluate progress, measure success, and increase the level of personal accountability. Such checks can take many forms: paper or online quizzes, manager or mentor observations, diagnostics, demonstrations of skill proficiency, and so on. Deciding which to use depends on the skills, knowledge, or behavior you seek to evaluate. Despite the use of a rigorous selection process, there s a possibility that a few new hires may not make it through the training; this is a situation in which an early fail is preferable to a slow letdown. Learning checks are a good way to gauge performance against standards for how someone should be performing at 30, 60, or 90 days with the company. They provide opportunities for both evaluation and feedback that can be used for coaching on what s working and what s not. Such critical reviews early on allow the employee and the company to give the relationship a realistic shot at success and provide objectivity if it s better to part ways. Managers and Mentors A critical element in developing sales professionals and reinforcing desired behaviors is the support provided by managers and mentors. This requires additional training and companion guides on the key skills of coaching, leading, and managing for these individuals. These elements provide established checkpoints for coaching and evaluating progress throughout sales careers. TEL

4 Consistency and Sustainability One best practice that adds an element of sophistication to individual development planning from the first day a new sales employee comes on board is the use of an assessment and pre-onboarding skills diagnostic. The results can feed into a specific and detailed Individual Development Plan that increases personal accountability. This plan then provides a roadmap for individuals and acts as a contract with their manager and mentor. Furthermore, it supports new employees by providing focus and clarity on the development of their highest priority needs. The same holds true with regard to onboarding incumbent employees into new roles. For example, take the case of a senior rep that comes on board with a track record as a great sales hunter. While that s a positive strength to have, she has trouble pushing back during deal negotiations. That s where coaching comes in, enhancing the onboarding program by personalizing it to the individual and his or her skill sets and his or her skill needs. It is absolutely essential that what is taught in the onboarding program be consistent with what actually happens and is reinforced in the field. If this is not the case, the training will be quickly undone by the reality of the field. Any differences between what happens in the field vs. the desired state what is taught in onboarding must be addressed in order for the onboarding development to be sustainable. Onboarding, like any kind of training, is not a once-and-done proposition. The learning must be sustainable in order to be effective and produce results. There are several methods for building sustainability of learning within an onboarding program. These include: ensuring that content is integrated and additive; incorporating the manager component; using learning checks; and other blended learning solutions and modalities. The objective is to embed learning skills and processes into the daily workstream through coaching, tools, and resources. TEL

5 Although often overlooked, a sustainment strategy for the onboarding program itself is as important as sustainment is to learning among new hires. Ways to sustain the freshness and appropriateness of the learning include scheduled content reviews and updates. When selecting a modality for learning content, the shelf life of the content should be considered. It makes little sense to invest in producing highly interactive elearning modules if the content will soon change; instead, more easily updated modalities should be used. An onboarding program should provide a foundation for learners who successfully complete it to advance to next-level programs. They should be able to continue building their skill levels and results, eventually moving into more advanced or higher-level roles within the company. This allows the company to retain and fully leverage the talent it has invested in and developed from Day One. Completion of the onboarding program also provides the opportunity for rewards and recognition. Some companies are creating certification programs that provide added motivation, building additional levels of accountability that link to compensation and performance objectives. Certification adds a stamp of approval and creates a platform for longer-term development. Get Started Since 1979, Richardson has successfully helped Fortune 1000 companies worldwide improve sales skills, increase sales performance, and drive corporate results. Its approach follows a proven process for diagnosing needs based on an analysis of the structure and talent of the sales force and the desired outcomes. Richardson then develops truly customized solutions that lead to sustained sales performance improvement. Richardson partners with its clients to create world-class sales onboarding programs, working in three key phases. Phase I: Defining the Architecture Creating the overall structure of the program and curriculum maps; and defining elements such as topics, delivery modality, learning objectives, description and location of each learning checkpoint, associated field work, and manager and mentor components Phase II: Defining the Scope to Build the Program Comparing what currently exists within the organization that can be modified for use in the new program, evaluating the remaining gaps, and recommending ways to fill those gaps Phase III: Building the Program Designing the components, tools, and resources for the actual onboarding program Learn More: Contact the Richardson Team at TEL or visit us on the web at

6 Rely on Richardson Richardson is a global sales performance company that helps leading organizations improve sales results. It does this in three ways: by analyzing the structure and talent of the client s sales force; by training and developing sales teams; and by continuing that development through coaching and reinforcement. Richardson equips sales leaders and their sales force with the skills and strategies needed to win in today s complex selling environment. What differentiates Richardson is how it creates truly customized solutions that change behavior and provide measurable results. Learn More: Contact the Richardson Team at TEL Copyright 2012 Richardson. All rights reserved. or visit us on the web at

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