Three Traits of World-Class Onboarding Programs


Part of working with enterprise sales teams is being able to witness the range of approaches to new hire training. With so many different potential avenues to engaging reps early and driving long-term learning, it can become challenging to identify what an organization does right, and what is stunting growth.

Luckily, when you look at the top programs, you can identify three distinct characteristics that make an onboarding approach best-in-class: longevity, cadence, and practice.

CommercialTribe has the opportunity to help a wide range of organizations build world-class onboarding, and to identify the broad traits that these approaches share. Generally, we advise clients to focus on three aspects of the approach when revising or planning for onboarding: eliminating the idea of a “program,” building a cadence and adopting practice.

The Traits of Winning Approaches

world-class onboarding programsWhat makes for a winning onboarding approach? As HubSpot’s Andrew Quinn shared, it depends. Generally, the true differences made by a great program are a reduction in time to productivity and an improvement to the productivity of each new hire.

When looking at programs that reach these goals, we found that world-class onboarding programs do not use one time programs, and instead extend learning beyond a set period of time and through a rep’s tenure.

The first rule of onboarding at a world-class organization is that you do not talk about onboarding. Instead, you onboard perpetually. Best-in-class onboarding extends far beyond the first 3 months, continuing through a rep’s tenure and updating as new releases, messages, or skills are introduced. The dynamo of new information forever spins, and reps are always learning.

When a world-class organization brings on a group of new hires, they certainly still put them through a few days or weeks of accelerated learning, but the program does not stop there. Even as they graduate out and reach full ramp, reps are engaging with small, medium, and large forms of learning, with ample time to practice.

No longer does enablement have to hand off learning to sales, nor does sales have to guess at the experience or ability of new hires and their impact on goal.

World-class onboarding programs base learning on a cadence of mixed learning approaches and touchpoints.

Mixing up the learning approach, from varying the length of time reps spend learning to the actual method of viewing and practicing content, ensures that reps continually engage and remain sharp. World-class programs do not rely on a single “bootcamp” or program to stand as a frontloaded source of rep learning. Instead, they break learning into individual elements – certification, quick spotchecks on knowledge, simple watch and respond exercises – and execute these strategically across the year.

Instead of spending two weeks in bootcamp and 30 minutes in coaching each month, reps spend minutes each day, week, and month perfecting a broad range of content – all while selling.

World-Class Onboarding Programs Incorporate Practice

World-class onboarding programs are cultures of practice. Simply put, practice becomes the single-most important element in the ongoing learning of reps, and these organizations encourage and enable their reps to practice.

Practice allows reps the chance to more thoroughly engage with any type of content, learn it deeply, and use it in everyday selling. It goes far beyond a one-time bootcamp or program and extends into every selling day. Practice can be targeted, with a formal certification course taking 30 minutes over a week, or light, taking the form of a quick skills check.

The important point is that reps have access to practice content, and are encouraged by sales and enablement to actually practice through their tenure.

Building a best-in-class onboarding organization takes work, but it is not reserved for the Fortune 500 alone. Any company, with a dedicated and prescriptive approach to building their onboarding, can see reps ramp faster, sell more effectively, and return on the training investment more quickly than ever.

Your Sales Onboarding Videos are Too Long


Sales enablement in the digital age means a whole new suite of resources available to impact learning and cater to changing habits. One of the most impactful methods of sharing information with your new hires is video, a chance for reps to actually engage with and absorb content. One profile shared by Brainshark highlights a 3 – 6x increase in learning retention with video, “compared to isolated audio or text/images alone.”

However, simply putting a video into the onboarding process is not enough. Often, reps get bored or distracted, missing the point of the exercise. Usually, this is not because of the rep, but because the delivery of the content itself is flawed: it is too long.

Analysis pulled from the CommercialTribe platform in 2014 provides a guidepost. We found that the most impactful videos were less than 3 minutes long. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise in the 140 characters or less world that we live in, but nevertheless, organizations still struggle with this concept in their delivery of information. Our finding also matches outside research on the subject, such as that from Rochester’s Philip Guo and edX, which suggests that ideal learning videos are shorter than 6 minutes.

The recommendation to “break lectures into small, bite-sized pieces” holds true. When those videos are intended for reps to observe and then practice (i.e. create their own), it’s even more important to abide by the 3-minute rule.

To reach our conclusion, CommercialTribe profiled its entire pool of usage data from 2014, determining not only the right length for the perfect training video, but also how curriculum, recording, and timeline work together to drive learning.

The benefits of small, targeted lessons are clear.

New hires absorb more

With a huge volume of content, HR materials, and skills landing on a rep’s desk in their first week, it can be hard to navigate through the noise. Keeping content short and concise helps reps pay attention and actually take home the lesson.

Reps can practice

Whether you use a practice-based training system or not, giving reps chances to review material and even repeat it as they would in the market is invaluable. With short videos, reps can more readily review it for proficiency and transition the information into their selling. Best of all? Reps can share and learn with their peers.

Content is recyclable

With large videos, it is easier for content to become dated or fail to be impactful. As a result, you have to throw away the project and start over.

When videos are short and focused, individual videos can be quickly updated or adjusted to maximize impact. As new products or messages launch, relevant units can be quickly replaced, avoiding the cost and effort of re-recording.

Solving the Sales Training vs. Sales Manager Onboarding Paradox


Which of these sales training scenarios sounds more familiar?

Scenario A:
The sales training organization leads onboarding, with sales managers waiting on the sidelines. Yet, after two weeks of onboarding, reps are passed to their managers, who now expect to have fully functioning reps.

Scenario B:
The responsibility to onboard is placed on the individual sales manager, working from their own playbooks and often with different expectations. Every manager’s approach to training is different, reps come out of the process with widely varying amounts of attention, and comparing success across onboarding classes is difficult.

Which of these scenarios is the most common to you? These are two extremes, so your organization may look like one, the other, or somewhere in between, but chances are, the some of the realities are the same.

In Scenario A, the problem starts at the handoff. Once reps are passed on to their manager, the structure associated with the onboarding program wanes. Managers inevitably focus on making this month or quarter, but new hire onboarding doesn’t stop after two weeks.

For Scenario B, the problem comes in a lack of cohesion. Each manager has their own playbook, and the results of training vary widely from rep to rep. One of the dirtiest secrets in any sales organization is that coaching is widely inconsistent across managers.

No matter which scenario you identify with, here are four tactics that, when executed, will build a well-oiled onboarding machine that your managers will love!

1. Benchmark success and track results

By setting up clear benchmarks for success, measuring key data like participation and knowledge retention, sales training and/or managers will have greater focus and attention on what’s working and what’s not. Likewise, a training organization that communicates with managers in a language they understand (time to first deal, time to quota attainment, time to certification, etc…) delivers far more value to the company than one that only delivers onboarding.

Good sales training starts with good teamwork.

2. Generate buzz before the start date

Building buzz before onboarding, both with introductions and teasers of the learning and success to come, is a great way to build momentum and align both sales training and managers on the task ahead. Moreover, reps start on day one knowing what to expect from sales training, managers, or both.

3. Continue to train after two weeks

No matter who leads the initial onboarding, it shouldn’t stop at an arbitrary moment in time. The reality is that we all learn at different speeds and intensities. Yet, there’s one thing that most organizations look at – “the start date.” A healthy way to get after this challenge is to look at the key milestones in year 1. Set up those milestones and build your curriculum around metrics as opposed to arbitrary moments in time.

4. Involve the broader team to accelerate learning

If you leverage the power of sales tribal knowledge and peer mentoring, you can reinforce onboarding concepts and community from day 1, while giving your new team members powerful tools to retain and better embrace new concepts. Reps learn more effectively from each other, so developing strong team bonds will help to reduce the time to productivity and boost overall learning stickiness.

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Why Peer Mentoring Should Be a Bigger Part of Your Sales Learning

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The rep onboarding experience can be daunting. With the pressure to get ramped as fast as possible, but a lack of progressive recognition that builds toward hitting goal, it’s no wonder that churn rates are a real problem for many companies.

Reps relate to other reps for obvious reasons, and peer learning should make up a large part of the sales learning program. One thing that makes each rep different is their experience: tenured reps, for example, hold a library of tribal knowledge and best practices. Unlocking and distributing this knowledge at scale is a missed opportunity for many companies.

Here is why peer mentors can help bridge this learning gap.

1. Social Proof Drives Learning

Social Proof is the idea that people, observing others, will alter their own behaviors to match those of their peers. To drive learning, have peers lead lessons, naturally influencing others to take notice and creating a culture of sharing tribal knowledge. Instruct your managers to play a part in guiding lessons, but create structured opportunities for reps to guide each other whenever possible.

2. Peers Master Tribal Knowledge

Sales tribal knowledge – the in-the-field tips, nuances, and advice that drive successful sales in your organization – is typically not accessible for the average rep. Having peers, including sales leaders, work together naturally transfers this knowledge from rep to rep. Using video or social tools can make this transfer scale, reaching your entire organization.

3. Peers Lead to Learning that Sticks

Sales training “stickiness” is a measure of how well sales lessons carry with reps after training. Studies by the Sales Leadership Council have found that peer-led teaching resulted in a 2% increase in stickiness, a significant difference in how reps learn and apply knowledge in a large organization.

What does this mean? Reps will more quickly internalize and demonstrate their new behaviors in the market. The result is increased quota attainment, reduced churn, and a more prepared team.

4. Peers Are Natural Motivators

Even the best reps need motivation outside of compensation. Constructing peer teams during the onboarding process creates a natural support system for each rep, friends to share win and loss stories with and to rely on when goal looks unattainable.

Not only does this increase the chance of a rep solving a problem in their learning before they miss quota, but it also creates a culture of support that will drive retention and success.

peer mentoring stakeholders

5. Peers Stick Together

Sales reps tend to stick with their onboarding group for their entire tenure, naturally gravitating toward these peers socially and within their role.

Teams are essential not only to sharing sales tribal knowledge and new skills but also in navigating the sale: the average sale, according to CEB, now takes 5.4 stakeholders on the buyer’s side and many more resources on the seller’s end. That makes having peer sharing a critical way to transfer knowledge on how to internally and externally navigate complex deals.

Smarter Sales Training and Onboarding Using the -30, 0, 30 Process


Sales Kickoff is not the only thing consuming your time in Q1.

The expansion of budgets and new goals often means large-scale sales training, onboarding, and expansion, the growth of reps, managers, and even new executive leadership. The pattern is natural: since you are already focusing on training with Kickoff, bringing on new hires makes sense. Yet, we still face critical organizational issues when onboarding that not only lengthen the process and a rep’s time to productivity, but also take away valuable resources from your Kickoff. Instead of sticking to the old model, the -30, 0, 30 day model can dramatically decrease your ramp times and churn, building productivity faster.

Traditional Onboarding

Sales onboarding has not changed much. A new hire, after receiving their offer, takes a week to unwind before coming into their class with a number of other new hires. For 1-2 weeks, this class gets a treatment similar to the Sales Kickoff (in fact, they may even be combined): reps watch lectures and videos, practice sales scenarios with their peers, and engage in roleplay. At the end, reps “test” out and certify in some way, be it a simulation with their manager or an interview with an executive.

Now they’re on their own, heading off to hit the number with at best a Powerpoint and at worst no further sales training or certification. The success of the entire organization relies on how effective that onboarding process was and how much of it is remembered, but we leave reps with no true method of learning continuously. The onboarding process – as-is – remains responsible for high churn rates.

The Last Mile

This unfortunately broken process is what we call the “last mile” – a perfect business can fall apart at the “last mile” of sales training, where the success of all of your investments rests in the ability of your reps to convey and engage with the message. Data from the Sales Leadership Council suggests that reps forget 70% of all content within a week of learning it: you can expect the same return from the standard onboarding process. The results show that the current system, while certainly minimally effective, is unsustainable for any growth-oriented operation.

Simply changing the content or the focus of onboarding cannot cure the problems with this process. Instead, the concept itself is flawed, relying on a lecture and learn model that does not account for individual learning styles, social sales training, practice, or the “flipped classroom” structure that reinforces learning.

-30, 0, 30

A better approach, and the route we follow at CommercialTribe, is based on the idea of “-30, 0, 30 days.” Rather than focusing onboarding into a core two-week process, you instead spread the training process across weeks and months, starting before a new hire even joins. The process creates the necessary foundation for real learning and training.

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-30 Days

Before new hires actually come into the team, they start practicing and learning on their own. While a system like CommercialTribe is built to support independent, pre-onboarding training, even standard practice and learning methods are effective. Supply your reps with enough independent training to walk in on their first day with your core go-to-market message and product line familiar. This “flipped classroom” concept pays real dividends.

CommercialTribe reps start this process just like our customers. Before joining, and even before accepting an offer, reps practice and record the “CT Pitch” activity, covering our go-to-market message. Once extended an offer, reps continue to engage with the market message and their new manager, getting asynchronous feedback on each scenario. By the time they walk in on day 1, they are immediately productive, with the knowledge to engage and convert.

0 Days

Now that your new hires have a strong sense of the company, messaging, and products, onboarding has changed. From day one, reps are able to begin ramping into productivity faster, continuing to learn and more effectively relate the message. Given that the average rep can take as long as 10 months to reach full productivity, a methodology that reduces this time even a small amount is one with tremendous value. Reps begin to move into advanced techniques.

30 Days

The link most often missed in the training and coaching process is what happens after onboarding. While the training organization focuses on new classes, reps a month or more out of training are mostly left on their own, with minimal training to reinforce past lessons or advance their abilities. We all hope that they have learned the material fully enough during onboarding to reach productivity, but know that it will take almost a full year to see a result.

Instead, practice-based, progressive, continual training can reverse the trend, with reps actually absorbing learning and more rapidly reaching productivity. While the process of continual learning requires a manual, well-made procedure, social sales training solutions, such as CommercialTribe, can make the process fit any schedule. As a result, managers spend less time manually coaching and more time getting the right content into rep hands to practice anywhere, in a safe, confident environment. Reps engage with more product lines, new concepts, or advanced sales techniques, not only increasing their confidence and effectiveness, but also delivering value far sooner than the average rep.

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