Onboarding is one of the most pivotal parts of sales enablement - it forms the foundation for so much of the function’s ongoing work. As a result, sales enablement professionals are always looking to make sure their programs are up to scratch.

But what is onboarding in a sales context? In this article, we’ll dive into:

  • What sales onboarding is
  • How enablement is involved in onboarding sales reps
  • Sales onboarding best practices and how to build a program
  • Benefits of sales onboarding programs

Let’s get started. 👇

What is sales onboarding?

When we talk about onboarding in sales and enablement, we’re referring to the process of providing newly-hired reps with the knowledge and skills necessary to perform in their role. 

The ultimate goal of an enablement team’s onboarding program is to prepare new reps so that they are able to play their part in leading the company to success as soon as possible.

Sales onboarding differs from the onboarding that a human resources (HR) department might do, as it specifically focuses on key responsibilities of a sales rep. During onboarding, a new sales team member will be typically be walked through: 

  • Conducting sales calls
  • Closing deals 
  • 30-60-90 day plans 

Meanwhile, HR’s onboarding will cover things such as payroll, insurance, and more general aspects of the company culture and being an employee of your organization. 

How enablement is involved in onboarding sales reps

In almost every organization that has a sales enablement team, creating and maintaining a sales onboarding process will be that team’s responsibility. 

Our Sales Enablement Landscape Report 2023 found that over 95% of enablement teams were at least partially responsible for onboarding new sales reps in their organization. 

That means a rep’s first impressions of a company, and early opportunities to build on their strengths and weaknesses as sellers, are handled by enablement. 

And while enablement will also be responsible for “everboarding” and long term training, learning, and development of reps - a new sales team member’s first 30 days, 60 days, and 90 days (i.e. the majority of their onboarding experience) will be enablement’s responsibility. 

Enablement teams need to develop strong sales onboarding plans to ensure that new sales reps can both hit the ground running as soon as possible and that they’re set up for long-term success. 

It’s important to remember that enablement doesn’t operate in a vacuum, even if the team is solely responsible for onboarding.

It’s important to communicate with and consider key stakeholders such as frontline sales managers and sales leaders to understand the exact objectives of the onboarding program. 

For example, is it more important to focus on ramp time and getting a sales rep on the phone as soon as possible? Or perhaps in-depth product knowledge is more important, meaning that concessions can be made in other parts of the program. 

Whatever the goals of the enablement team’s onboarding plans and programs, they should be communicated to and aligned with the goals of the wider organization - and what sales managers and sales leaders need from new hires. 

Sales onboarding best practices and how to build a program

Creating a sales onboarding program will look very different based on several factors, including:

  • Your enablement team size
  • The amount of new hires you need to onboard 
  • The size of your existing sales team, managers included
  • Your organization’s onboarding needs and requirements

And that’s just to name a few. Regardless of those factors, in order to build a program that prepares your new sales reps to effectively convert prospects and potential customers into actual purchasers, there are certain steps you have to plan for. 

Designing your program

Before you think about rolling out or implementing your plans, you should build out your program plans.

Start with designing a vision statement that outlines your enablement team’s goal for the onboarding program. An example, from enablement expert and Enterprise Enablement Leader at Handshake Garret Rafols, is the following:

“To create meaningful and memorable new hire experiences and ensure our employees are informed, engaged, and inspired by the work we do.”

Whatever your initial vision statement is, make sure you refer back to it throughout program construction to ensure you’re still on track to meet that overarching vision. 

Other factors to consider before creating slide decks and drawing up roadmaps are:

  • Do you understand the journey your new hires will go through?
  • Do you know your audience, their experience, and their expectations?
  • What targets and metrics does my program have to be built around?
  • What stakeholders have to be involved? 

With these, you can start to consider what the program will look like. 

Will it be an intensive, two-week program that allows reps to start making calls early into their career? Or does a slower, more calculated two-month program fit the needs of your organization better?

One might allow you better access to the reps, while the other allows you to involve more people from across the organization such as sales managers and leaders who can deliver valuable modules. 

These questions are difficult to answer without the information you gather as you work to establish a vision and understand the new hire’s role and journey.

With that information, however, you can begin to picture your onboarding program coming together.

And don’t forget - how are you going to deliver the onboarding experience? 

Are you going to fly everyone in for an in-person bootcamp experience, old-school style? Or are you going to target a virtual delivery?

These are the (many) decisions to make before you even think about implementing a sales onboarding plan and program. 

The flipped classroom model

This method of learning is becoming increasingly popular in enablement circles as it makes the most of the “classroom” time available. In three simple steps, it involves:

1. Giving students pre-work, such as reading materials or videos. This is where students learn about the concepts you’ll teach. 

2. Classroom time begins and everyone is brought together. Rather than spending time explaining the concept, the teacher can answer questions, work on problem-solving, and encourage active practice.

3. The materials and sessions from the previous steps should be recorded and uploaded in an easy-to-access place so that students can revisit them when needed. 

Implementing your program

With the design phase complete, it’s time to turn your ideas, plans, and research into an actual onboarding program - an experience that new hires will go through when they join. 

Every single enablement professional will tell you that there’s a key concept at the heart of every onboarding program launch: the minimum viable product.

Minimum viable product (MVP)

Your first iteration doesn’t have to, and won’t be, perfect. There is so much involved in creating a successful onboarding program that it’s practically impossible to roll out a perfect “V1”.

Instead, aim to implement your minimum viable product. That means sorting out the essentials for launch, then using feedback post-launch to iterate on the most pressing areas that need development. 

What does this mean in practice? Let’s take the example of product knowledge. 

Ideally, you want your reps to have strong product knowledge. However, if you’re onboarding in a situation where reps will be making calls within a month, then you might not be able to fit the full breadth of product training sessions you want into your program, at least initially.

That’s where creating an MVP comes in. Start with building a value proposition (the pains solved by the product) module into your program, as that is a must-have. Your onboarding program won’t be viable without it. 

Then, as you iterate, you’ll learn where and when to include the rest of the product training you originally wanted to include (or you’ll even find out that the value proposition module is effective enough to do the job you need, perhaps). 

What does implementation look like?

Building out a visualization of what your implemented program looks like can help. Match the skills and competencies you want to develop to modules or sessions, so that you can actually see that everything you need to cover is in the program. 

Here’s what that might look like:

An image showing an example of a visualized onboarding program. Each module or session is mapped to the skill or competency it addresses, as well as when/how it will be delivered.

Common inclusions in onboarding programs

While we could spend all day going through different permutations of onboarding programs, and what you could and should include depending on your company’s needs, we’ve bullet-pointed some of the key areas you probably need to consider regardless of the situation:

  • Basic company information
  • Role overview and expectations
  • Sales methodology training
  • Tools and technology training
  • Product knowledge training
  • Additional training (such as competitor and industry info)

Again, it’s valuable to discuss these elements with relevant stakeholders to understand where to prioritize your efforts when implementing your minimum viable product. 

Documentation, metrics, and measuring success

The way you document your onboarding program is just as important as anything else. From pre-recorded content and satisfaction survey results to slide decks and spreadsheets - everything should be recorded and accessible to those who need it. 

It’s not enough to roll out a program in a disorganized fashion, as that will make it far more difficult to iterate on. 

When it comes to metrics and measuring success, these will vary drastically depending on the organization and the expectations set upon the audience of your onboarding program, but we’ve listed some of the more common ones to help get you started:

  • “Time-to-X” metrics, or how soon reps achieve a certain milestone
  • Qualitative, rep feedback metrics, or how reps themselves feel about the program
  • Skill and competency certifications, using quizzes and tests to see if reps are actually learning

Feedback and iteration

Importantly, the process of creating an onboarding program doesn’t end the moment you roll the program out and incoming sales reps start being onboarded. 

It’s a continuous process, and as a result, each cohort you onboard will have a slightly different experience from the last.

The goal is to learn from each cohort you onboard in order to make the onboarding process even more effective for the next cohort.

In all honesty, the “perfect” onboarding program doesn’t really exist. You constantly need to iterate and evolve in order to meet the changing needs of your organization, improve on previous versions, and adapt to shifting market conditions. 

If your minimum viable product is flexible enough, you should be able to adapt it piece by piece to these shifting demands. 

360 degree feedback is key

That means you need to have structures in place that allow you to listen to:

• The reps who are actively participating in the onboarding program.

• Reps who have recently (<6 months) completed the onboarding program.

• Sales managers who are directly responsible for those coming out of the onboarding program.

• Sales operations and leadership who have an overarching vision for the wider sales organization

This is always a good time to revisit your vision statement. Your program is out there - it’s in the wild and fully rolled out - but is it achieving your original aims and is it setting reps up for success?

Sales onboarding benefits

With all of the above said, it’s clear that there are obvious benefits to building, maintaining, and iterating upon a sales onboarding program as a sales enablement team. 

These include:

  • New sales hires will be better prepared for their role
  • The entire sales organization are involved in ensuring that new reps are taught the right things
  • Your onboarding program is flexible, adaptable, and easy to build on
  • New hire success is measurable and documented

More resources

Still looking for more information on sales onboarding best practices, expert tips, and proven advice? You’re in luck.

SEC’s Onboarding Playbook is a 40+ page in-depth guide to onboarding new sales reps, featuring a step-by-step process you can emulate and actionable advice from expert enablement professionals. 

The best part? It’s free to download.  

The SEC onboarding playbook - download it today!
We worked with our partners at Second Nature and other expert onboarding professionals to build this playbook. Download and elevate your processes today.

And if that doesn’t quench your thirst for onboarding content, try:

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