Sales forces effective at onboarding – that is, getting new-hire salespeople up-to-speed – enjoy surprising productivity advantages over their peers. Our recently concluded onboarding research shows these firms have 10% greater sales growth rates, and 14% better sales and profit objective achievement.

But onboarding programs are not consistently practiced, and onboarding success eludes most organizations – in fact, just 40% of firms with formal programs believe they’re effective. Here’s what we learned about firms that are doing it well: 

Onboarding programs’ degree of structure and consistent application matter greatly influence overall success. Programs highly rated for structure and consistent application outperform those with low ratings in these attributes by 37% - lopping 3.4 months from the average time-to-productivity for new-hire salespeople, and improving average new salesperson ramp-up time to 5.7 from 9.1 months.

We also learned that onboarding works best at delivering content knowledge, like company or product information, for example, but falls short when it comes to developing core selling skills. One-third to one-half of sales people completing onboarding lack proficiency in the 12 core selling skills included in the study. Firms relying on onboarding efforts for salesperson development may be best served by dialing back their onboarding initiatives’ ambitions, focusing less on skill development and more on simpler learning objectives. We suspect the best-performing of these firms more quickly transition new hire salespeople from onboarding programs into longer-term skill training, development, and coaching efforts. 

For example, onboarding initiatives were least effective in helping new hires achieve proficiency in reengaging stalled deals (with just 49% of respondents’ salespeople proficient after the onboarding period), selling new products (53%), upselling (54% proficient), closing prospects (54%), and closing deals (without regard to customer type; 54%). Firms had better success in teaching new recruits how to utilize internal resources (66% achieved proficiency), identify prospects (62%), and retain customers (62%). 

It’s difficult to underestimate onboarding’s strategic importance, and its influence on other critical human resources issues impacting sales capacity and staffing. Inefficient onboarding, our research suggests, may affect hiring and turnover in unanticipated ways – by delaying firing decisions, and slowing hiring while new salespeople get up to speed – and many firms report poor onboarding results along with both staffing and turnover rates that are too low. Solving for onboarding offers management the confidence and flexibility to speed hiring, and more quickly replace low performers. 

Robert Kelly, one of the sales world's most prominent thought leaders is now a Salesforce Sales Community contributor. He is the Chairman of  The Sales Management Association. This community is a new collaborative networking group for sales executives sharing best practices and innovations in sales leadership. We encourage all Salesforce customers to join Kelly and other top sales thought leaders in the new Salesforce Sales Community.

About the Author

UntitledRobert Kelly is Chairman of The Sales Management Association, a global, cross-industry association for sales management and sales operations. The Sales Management Association serves members in 35+ countries with research, content, workshops, and peer networking. Continue this discussion with us on Twitter, FacebookLinkedIn, and at the 2014 Sales Force Productivity Conference, 15-17 September.