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A practitioner’s primer to effective sales onboarding

A well-structured and efficient sales onboarding program is the key to getting new sales recruits up to speed on their jobs. Such a program will determine the sales rep’s journey toward full productivity and is crucial for the organization’s revenue development and growth. On the other hand, poor or inefficient sales onboarding can result in high attrition costs and lead to the revolving door syndrome that plagues many organizations.

What is sales onboarding?

Sales onboarding involves providing SDRs/BDRS/AE/Field Reps with the knowledge, values, strategies, skills, and tools needed to begin selling effectively and perform their role within the broader sales organization. Onboarding sales reps in an organized manner ensures that new hires do not waste valuable time and resources learning and finding their own way in an unstructured manner.

Why sales rep onboarding is important today

Sales roles have grown more complex in recent years due to digitization, growing customer expectations, and pandemic-driven shifts to remote selling.

Digitization has meant that the power of sales reps to control the sales conversation has decreased significantly. Sales reps have dropped down in the list of information sources customers rely on to make their purchase decisions, with Gartner's research showing that buying committees now spend only 17% of the purchase journey meeting with sales reps.[i] 

However, this decrease in control does not mean a reduced relevance of sales reps. Instead, customer expectations have only been increasing. According to Salesforce, 85% of business buyers expect sales reps to demonstrate a firm understanding of their business, and 86% expect a trusted advisor relationship with sales reps.[ii] This combination of reduced influence and growing expectations means that sales reps must be far more agile, knowledgeable, and creative in their sales interactions. 

The COVID-19 pandemic further increased the complexity of the sales landscape in several ways. A recent Salesforce study found 86% of reps reporting that the pandemic has increased the importance of long-term customer relationships, 72% reporting changing sales success metrics, and 64% reporting new job responsibilities.[iii] Moreover, the rise of remote work has also meant that traditional learning delivery methods have had to be significantly restructured to suit distributed sales teams. 

While these changes in the sales landscape demand greater skills and mastery from sales reps, companies must also contend with shorter windows of opportunity for getting their reps sales-ready. According to recent benchmark reports, the average required experience at hiring has halved since 2010 from 2.5 years to 1.2 years. Moreover, the average tenure of sales reps has decreased from 2.5 years in 2010 to 1.8 years in 2020.[iv] If companies don't get reps sales-ready in the shortest possible time with structured sales onboarding, it could result in significant shortfalls in productivity and revenue. 

The benefits of sales onboarding

Listed below are some of the key benefits of an effective sales onboarding program.   

  1. Decrease in ramp time

    One of the goals of sales rep onboarding is to help sales reps reach their full productivity in the shortest time possible. As buyer journeys become more complex and buyer expectations rise, sales reps require more support to become productive. According to one study, companies with a formal sales onboarding process saw 60.7% of their reps reach full productivity within the first 6 months, and 85% of their reps reach full productivity within the first 11 months. On the other hand, companies without a formal sales onboarding process saw only 42.8% and 67.8% of their reps reach full productivity within the same period.[v]

  2. Increase in productivity

    Sales onboarding has a direct impact on the productivity of new employees. Organizations with a structured sales onboarding process experience 50% greater new-hire productivity[vi]And improving the quality of sales onboarding training services is seen to improve quota attainment by as much as 6.7%.[vii]

  3. Improvement in retention and recruitment

    An effective sales onboarding process is one of the critical factors in ensuring higher employee retention. One study, for instance, noted that organizations with a robust sales onboarding process improved new hire retention by 82%[viii] while findings from another study show that employees who had a negative new hire onboarding experience are twice as likely to look for new opportunities in the near future.[ix]

Sales onboarding best practices

Building an effective program for sales rep onboarding requires a strong vision and strategy. Here are a few best practices to ensure sales onboarding programs are impactful:

  1. Start before the first day

    If sales reps are to ramp up as quickly as possible, it is useful for them to arrive at the first day on the job with a minimum level of acquaintance with the organizations’ goals, strategies, and processes. The more sales reps know on Day 1, the easier it becomes to communicate more in-depth knowledge and build more complex skills. Not only will pre-boarding help get reps going with the training more rapidly, but it can also encourage their enthusiasm and willingness to go through the process if designed well.

  2. Establish clear milestones

    When sales reps receive clear definitions of what success means to an organization and are provided with a well-structured roadmap of what is expected from them through their onboarding journey, they are more likely to commit more fully to the process. In addition, when the goals and milestones provided to reps are tangible, they are more able to track their own learning and performance and optimize their efforts without requiring oversight at every step. Importantly, such milestones should be developed realistically based on existing standards of performance within the organization, as well as an understanding of the baseline capabilities of each rep.

  3. Integrate sales onboarding with training and coaching

    Research tells us that sales reps forget a majority of their learning within 90 days.[x] Hence, the skills and knowledge delivered during sales onboarding must be reinforced and built upon with regular training and coaching. When such continuous learning is provided in a seamless and iterative manner, skill and knowledge development can take the form of a smooth and pain-free journey.

  4. Provide easy access to all sales onboarding content using cloud-based repositories

    If reps have to struggle to find sales onboarding content, they are likely to feel discouraged by the sales onboarding process. Therefore, companies need to ensure that reps have seamless access to all resources they require during their early days in the organization.

  5. Create conditions for social interactions and peer learning

    It is especially vital in the post-pandemic situation that companies pay attention to the social integration of new sales reps within the organization. With sales teams becoming increasingly remote, the opportunities for water-cooler moments and social interactions have dwindled significantly. However, it is only through connections with their team members and colleagues that new reps can build loyalty toward the broader organization. Further, it is also essential that structured processes are put in place for new reps to learn from their more seasoned colleagues, especially in the absence of traditional processes, such as shadowing.

Sales onboarding checklist

While sales onboarding programs must be efficient, companies would be wise not to rush through them and overload reps with learning. A 30-60-90 day onboarding program is an effective way to spread out onboarding learning across a comfortable learning period. Here is a sales onboarding checklist outlining key tasks at each stage:

First 30 days:

  • Break down details regarding company vision, values, goals, and culture through videos and strong narratives.
  • Provide product or solution training, including demos and walkthroughs of the product, as well as battle cards indicating the USPs of the product or solution.
  •  Walk new reps through buyer personas and the different stages of the buying journey.
  • Have reps develop lists of potential prospects and gather contacts for each of these prospects.
  •  Have reps develop strategies for outreach and draft sample scripts for cold calling, outreach emails, and so on.
  • Provide reps with walkthroughs of the CRM and procedures for gathering and recording client data.
  •  Assess learning with a variety of quizzes, exercises, and certifications.
  •  Arrange group and one-on-one meetings with all members of the sales organizations to facilitate integration and learning. 

30 to 60 days:  

  • Provide hands-on practice in writing sales pitches, preparing sales presentations, and carrying out product demos and walkthroughs.
  • Have new hires sit in on calls and client meetings led by veteran reps, followed by feedback and clarification sessions.
  • Have new reps perform daily outreach activities, building toward securing appointments with clients.
  • Help reps further optimize and develop their prospect lists, and learn processes of qualifying leads and identifying high-value prospects.
  • Have reps record and share their demos and roleplays to receive feedback for improvement from peers and managers on their performance. 

60 to 90 days:

  • Have sales reps begin making live sales calls to prospective customers they have been nurturing.
  • Have reps record calls, meetings, and demos and share them with sales leaders for feedback and coaching. Ensure adequate feedback is provided.
  • Have sales leaders sit in on new reps’ calls and meetings to provide further feedback.
  • Establish clear performance schedules, assess KPIs, and provide feedback to ensure reps are on their way to hitting their goals.  

Steps to effective sales onboarding

Implementing an effective sales onboarding program and driving value from the start of the process requires careful planning, strategy, and execution. Here are the key steps:

  1. Have a plan and share it with the new recruits

    One of the persistent problems when onboarding sales reps is the inadequate attention given to planning in the sales onboarding process and a failure to communicate the same with the reps. In one study, more than half the sales reps mention the lack of milestones to gauge a rep's progress as the leading problem of a poor sales onboarding program.[xi] One solution to this is to co-create plans with the reps: 30, 60, and 90-day plans that will keep the new hires on track and ensure that they aren’t overwhelmed by all the information being delivered to them. When sales onboarding processes are not properly formalized, organizations struggle to help users smoothly transition through the early, middle, and late stages of sales onboarding. It is only with a clear roadmap and strategy, based on user behavior and needs, that useful milestones can be evolved, against which expectations can be managed.

  2. Build in flexibility into the program

    The most efficient programs for onboarding sales reps are standardized to provide a high degree of repeatability that can drive efficiency gains in the process. However, there should be room for fine-tuning and optimizing the process based on data gathered about user experience and satisfaction. Finally, even as procedures are standardized, it is essential that they contain built-in flexibility to allow for personalization, depending on the learning characteristics and the pain points of different users.

  3. Use modern interactive content formats to deliver content

    Given that in-person sales onboarding may be very limited in scope in the present situation, it is important to create content in formats that provide an immersive learning experience even when delivered remotely. 3D visualization, product walkthroughs, and the extensive use of video can help engage participants and further the cause of learning. Build modularity into the content. Sales onboarding is a progressive and iterative process, not a one-time information dump. Hence, it's essential to prioritize information delivery in stages and break down content into bite-sized, easily consumable pieces.

  4. Enable experiential learning

    Modern sales processes are less about formulaic pitches and more about conveying customer-specific value propositions. This means that traditional learning methods focused on content consumption and memorization are ineffective since they do not build sales reps' creative and adaptive skills. Instead, the need of the hour is for sales onboarding processes that are focused on mastery and skill integration. Such skill integration can be achieved through experiential learning, or learning by doing, which is proven to increase retention rates to as much as 75% compared to the 5% to 30% of traditional learning methods such as lectures, reading, audio-visual materials, and demonstrations.[xii]  Experiential onboarding of sales reps encourages skill development because it is built around real-life scenarios and is also more visceral and memorable. Because experiential onboarding exercises are designed to provide carefully calibrated outcomes, they also provide reps with direct linkages between particular behaviors or actions and results. In the process, they form a clear bridge between theory and practice. Thus, reps are able to take lessons learned from such exercises and apply them directly to similar situations they face in actual sales conversations.

  5. Gamify and incentivize the process

    Gamification is a powerful tool to motivate and engage reps during the sales onboarding process. Typically, gamification involves setting actionable goals for the participants, establishing leaderboards that list out the top performers, and offering rewards and incentives to those who outperform. Gamification makes training fun and accelerates the pace of learning.

  6. Evolve and measure appropriate metrics

    Evolving and tracking appropriate metrics is necessary to know which parts of the sales onboarding process are working and which parts aren’t. These metrics should be aimed at measuring the progress of the participants through the different stages and touchpoints of the sales onboarding process and not merely the final outcome.

  7. Provide clear feedback channels

    Visibility into the sales onboarding process is key to delivering greater effectiveness. If sales onboarding is to be a user-centric process, one-way communication during this process would effectively undermine the value gains it provides. Only when proper channels are provided for feedback and interaction can the process be optimized to reach higher levels of effectiveness. Feedback is also essential to ensure greater personalization of the process so that specific pain points of participants can be targeted and addressed.

How a modern integrated sales enablement and training platform can help in the sales onboarding process

An integrated sales enablement and training platform comes with many features that enhance the effectiveness of a sales onboarding program. Modern platforms allow role plays, live demos, and video coaching as part of the sales onboarding process. They enable organizations to create content in all modern interactive formats. Their AI capabilities allow organizations to personalize the sales onboarding process at scale. And their robust analytics and tracking & reporting features make it easier for managers to determine the effectiveness of the various components of the sales onboarding program.


An effective sales onboarding program is a crucial driver of business success. Good sales onboarding will save you a lot of heartache and money, better integrate new hires, and help you reach your goals faster. However, instituting an effective sales onboarding program would require that you start with a clear plan, structure the process while building-in flexibility for personalization, deliver bite-sized content using modern, interactive formats, gamify the process for increasing engagement, and evolve and track metrics that allow you to understand what is working well within the process. 

Add the experiential element to sales onboarding with Nytro

As a pitch intelligence platform, Nytro helps in integrating experiential learning into the sales onboarding process. The Nytro platform provides simple and intuitive methods for reps to record practice pitches and demos and submit them for instant insights into their performance at every stage of the sales onboarding process. This allows reps to practice specific parts or scenarios of each sales conversation with short, focused exercises. Nytro's AI-enabled computing allows it to analyze and assess hundreds of practice pitches simultaneously and provide immediate and unbiased feedback. This makes it possible for the experiential learning component of sales onboarding to be quickly scaled up to large organizational needs without depending on the limited time and resources of human managers. The platform also allows the sales onboarding process to be gamified by harnessing events such as pitch competitions to drive reps to higher levels of performance and peer learning. Finally, the Nytro platform can be readily integrated into existing tech stacks, particularly with an organization's LMS or sales enablement and training platform, to quickly bring in the experiential component of learning. Thus, while reps go through learning materials and assessments on the LMS, they can also plug into the Nytro pitch intelligence platform to immediately apply their knowledge and skills in a practical setting and receive immediate feedback. 

To know how can help you with sales onboarding, schedule a demo today.