The Roadmap to Success:
How Best-In-Class Sales Organizations
use On-Boarding to Accelerate Revenue
Effective On‐Boarding: The Ramp to a New Sales Rep’s Success
The top 20% best‐in‐class companies with an effective on‐boarding process showed
over a 3x (60% vs. 19%) advantage in time‐to‐productivity reduction when compared
to other companies.
“All Aboard: Effective On‐boarding Techniques and Strategies”, Aberdeen Group, January, 2008
What is effective on‐boarding? Why is it particularly important to sales organizations? How do you
In this white paper, we will answer these questions as well as provide tools (see the last page of this
paper in order to request a “Starter Kit”) and a practical guide on how to develop an effective on‐
boarding program for new sales people. Although successful on‐boarding principles apply to all parts
of the organization, because we’re concerned with sales best practices this paper will take a narrower
view. The enormous potential impact of this program on the productivity of newly hired sales reps
makes their successful on‐boarding particularly imperative.
Simply put, effective on‐boarding is a best practice. It’s one of the cornerstones of best‐in‐class sales
organizations and new hire sales success.
What is effective on‐boarding?
Let’s start with what on‐boarding isn’t. Although it’s often confused with it, it isn’t just a new hire
orientation program. New‐hire orientation is a subcomponent of the on‐boarding process that deals
primarily with administrative in‐processing and other HR‐related activities and acts as a general
introduction to the company rather than a sales focused on‐boarding program.
Effective on‐boarding is a formal process that best‐in‐class sales organizations develop, implement and
monitor to ensure consistent and optimal ramp‐up for all newly hired sales people.
The primary objective and efficacy of a sales on‐boarding program must be measured by its ability to
accelerate time‐to‐revenue. Specifically, reducing the ramp‐up time for each sales representative, so
they are generating revenue faster than typical financial models plan for. While there are other
metrics that may indicate how effective the program is at increasing productivity, accelerating revenue
production is the single most important aspect.
The following are some tenets of an effective on‐boarding program:
It must be documented—a written program with specific activities, tasks, timeframes, deadlines
and expected outcomes.
It needs to be measured. It’s necessary to inspect what you expect to ensure that each activity and
task is completed and validated, as well as, measuring the overall effectiveness in speeding
It needs to be time‐bound. On‐boarding is a more lengthy process than simply conducting a “new‐
hire orientation” and all related activities should be tied to specific weekly, monthly or quarterly
milestones. The milestones should relate to immersing the new hire in a complete business cycle
with the objective of being able to effectively position and sell the solution and generate revenue
as quickly as possible.
It must involve the hiring sales manager as the central figure. Oversight shouldn’t be passed off to
an assistant or become an HR‐owned program. While specific activities may be delegated, in fact,
individual sales reps should be expected to self‐administer many of the tasks, this program is
operational in nature and the hiring sales manager must play a central role in its conduct.
It requires regular in‐progress reviews (IPRs), preferably weekly or bimonthly, so that goals and
milestones are reviewed complete with feedback and progress against the checklist memorialized
in the plan document.
It needs to have incentives and rewards tied to it. This may be a perfect opportunity to align with a
draw or other remuneration as part of the offer process.
It must hold sales management accountable for getting their sales reps ramped‐up consistently
Why is it important to a sales organization?
Effective on‐boarding reduces the time to productivity and as a result, speeds revenue generation.
Most sales organizations have metrics for new sales rep ramp‐up and productivity. While you can
assign a full‐year sales quota to new sales reps regardless of when they join it’s counterproductive if
they aren’t fully ramped up. The concept behind a “pro‐rated” sales quota is based on how long it
should typically take a new sales rep to get ramped‐up but often these are assigned without the
benefit of an on‐boarding program and so the results may be less predictable. This lack of consistent
revenue production across the entire sales organization is precisely why an effective on‐boarding
program is paramount.
You need to gauge new sales rep time‐to‐productivity as precisely as possible. An effective on‐
boarding process results in greater accuracy, because sales managers truly know how long it should
take to get a new sales rep fully productive. If you can shave a month or two off of the ramp‐up
period, it can have tremendously positive revenue implications. Even for a complex product or
solution sale, shaving a month or two off of the new sales rep ramp‐up is quite achievable. Even if you
only hire 2‐4 new sales reps (replacement and expansion hires in total) in a given year, at a $2.4MM
annual quota, that accelerated time to revenue productivity (based on a 1 to 2 month efficiency gain),
results in an additional $400K‐$1.6MM in revenue. This illustrates how having an effective on‐boarding
program is important for all companies, not just large ones with numerous new hires in a year. In fact,
it maybe even more important for smaller and early‐stage companies that simply don’t have the luxury
of missing new sales rep ramp‐up projections.
“90% of employees make their decision to stay at a company within the first six months.”
Sukanya Mitra, “Strategic Employee On‐Boarding”, AICPA Insider e‐Newsletter, March 2008
Another natural byproduct of effective on‐boarding is higher retention rates relative to industry and
competitive averages. Happier, successful sales people stay longer. New sales reps appreciate a
process that helps them start to make money faster and maximizes their earning potential.
Why doesn’t everyone do it?
The fact is, a lot of companies and sales managers simply don’t know how. In many smaller companies
or start‐ups, sales management doesn’t have experience developing an on‐boarding program. They
may have come from larger or more mature companies, with longstanding processes in place that are
developed by others. As mentioned earlier, some companies and sales managers mistake a “new‐hire
orientation program” with an on‐boarding process.
Paradoxically, sales managers often focus the majority of their cycles with the sales reps that are fully
productive and have existing pipelines and deals to close. This focus comes at the expense of getting
the new sales reps ramped‐up to full productivity. Managers need to strike a healthy balance in how
and where they invest their time. Getting new sales reps off on the right foot is just as critical.
A self‐fulfilling prophecy comes about in the form of companies that don’t measure and hold their sales
managers responsible for on‐boarding effectiveness and sales rep retention rates. Best‐in‐class sales
organizations understand this and measure and reward their sales managers for delivering optimal
new sales rep ramp‐up along with higher retention rates. Not surprisingly, top performing sales
managers and sales teams leverage an on‐boarding process that results in generating revenue faster,
with ultimately more revenue for the company and increased earnings for the sales reps.
“Operationalizing” an effective on‐boarding process
There are some specific facets that should be considered in “operationalizing” the process:
On‐boarding can be viewed as a “script” for the first 30/60/90/120 days for new sales reps.
Incremental weekly goals and metrics written and specified in the plan
Weekly new sales ramp‐up plan review meeting with new sales rep and sales manager
Detailed and written feedback provided and updated on a weekly basis
Financial rewards tied to plan for both new sales rep and sales manager
• Always tie any draw in offer to sales ramp‐up plan
Ramp‐up should include the new sales reps responsibility for achieving full proficiency in these
areas over the first 30/60/90/120 days on‐board:
• Ability to effectively articulate the product or solution “pitch”
• Articulate value proposition
• Cite unique differentiation
• Relate customer “use cases” and success anecdotes
• Test new sales rep message proficiency through mock sales pitch exercise(s)
• Review pricing model
• Discounting and approval process
• Test new sales rep proficiency through different product pricing configurations exercise
• Review SWOT analysis for all key competitors
• Test new sales rep proficiency through different competitor scenario exercise
• Review contracts and finance policies for revenue recognition and sales order processing
• Test new sales rep proficiency/knowledge
• New products or releases
• Familiarize with sales field feedback loop to Engineering
• Development process review
• QA process review
• Familiarize with sales field feedback loop to Engineering
• Scoping deals process review
• Process for leveraging professional services in sales cycles
• Customer support process review
• Success stories
• Demand generation plan for new territory with milestones at the 30/60/90/120 day marks
• New Sales Rep Territory Development Plan
• Sales process and methodology
• Sales forecasting rules and procedures
• Sales Force Automation
Lastly, there are some technology vendors that automate the on‐boarding process and may provide
useful tools, a few you may want to investigate are:
Taleo Corporation, www.taleo.com
Silkroad Technology, www.silkroad.com
Cornerstone OnDemand, www.cornerstoneondemand.com
If you don’t have an effective on‐boarding process for new sales reps this white paper and the “Starter
Kit” can assist you in developing and implementing one. Here are the key takeaways:
On‐boarding is a process not a discrete event. While accelerating revenue is the primary objective
it is also about learning how you do business and building a strong foundation in each new hire.
On‐boarding has more to do with socialization and assimilation into the company and its culture
than a simple orientation program.
The sales manager is central to the on‐boarding process, not HR; communicating the manager’s
intent and expectations (setting the tone & performance standards) is a critical component.
The process has tactical aspects but is strategic in nature; there are administrative tasks, but they
are part & parcel of the entire approach.
You need to have clearly defined on‐boarding process metrics that are measured and rewarded.
Organizational size doesn’t matter; the smaller the organization the more critical the process
because it provides more structure and enhances the ramp‐up of new hires (especially for
organizations that operate virtually).
We strongly encourage each sales organization to go through the process of identifying the attributes
of an effective on‐boarding process unique to their environment, culture and situation. The
information we’ve shared should add the appropriate tools to your skill set and help you in that effort.
Good Hiring & Good Selling!