According to new CSO Insights data, nearly 70% of B2B companies are planning to increase the size of their sales forces in 2015. For many companies, these growth plans, and the accompanying increase in revenue targets, are putting significant stress on hiring and onboarding processes.

Done successfully, a sales onboarding program can reduce mistakes, inspire confidence and accelerate time to productivity. Done wrong and the negative impact can cost your company serious time and money.

Onboarding time for new sales reps can vary widely by industry and company culture – anywhere from five months to as much as a year. Regardless of the timeframe, forward-thinking companies are adopting new, data-driven approaches to more effective and speedy onboarding: a system emphasizing knowledge transfer, reinforcement, manager-led coaching, and analytics. In this post we’ll take a closer look at what comprises a best-in-class onboarding approach.

1. Sales Readiness. Before bringing new sales hires onboard, it’s critical to lay the groundwork necessary for success. When top reps join a new organization, they expect the company to provide a roadmap for success that defines the company’s sales strategy, documents the sales process, and outlines the expected procedures for lead and opportunity management. This roadmap or playbook will also include all the necessary content assets and sales tools necessary to generate new prospects, and move them successfully through the sales cycle.

2. Hiring the Right People. The cost of hiring a bad sales rep, taking into account the costs for separation, acquisition, and training can easily run to the six figures, particularly if your company is selling a more complex solution. That’s why identifying the ideal profile and competencies required for sales success is so critical. Based on the sales strategy and roadmap defined earlier, typical characteristics you might consider when hiring a new rep include education, work experience, performance on the job, specific domain skills/knowledge and personal work style/behaviors.

Once identified, these competencies should be leveraged when developing enablement programs and coaching strategies, as well as when considering who to hire. These sales competencies can also serve as the benchmark for measuring effectiveness moving forward, supported by analytics that can help sales managers determine who is excelling and who may need additional help.

3. Training. At a high level, sales training focuses on three core elements: knowledge (what do you want the reps to know?), skills (how do you want the reps to behave, and what skill sets does that behavior require?), and technology (what applications and processes are in place to enable the reps to do his or her job most effectively?). Yet even within these core focus areas, too many companies still rely on the “fire hose” approach to sales training, and we know that simply doesn’t work for long-term retention and adoption. Busy sales reps need training content that can be consumed in manageable amounts, via delivery methods that adapt to their busy, on-the-go lifestyles. This means companies must go beyond traditional classroom training and take advantage of asynchronous, on-demand and mobile channels to keep reps engaged and learning.

4. Reinforcement. Most companies measure onboarding with lagging indicators, such as “time to first deal.” While that remains a key milestone for many sales organizations, that metric does not necessarily tell us that a rep is competent. Ideally, what we need to know is if the rep is capable of doing the job for the long term, and can he/she make the most of every customer interaction in order to meet their goals? This is where reinforcement comes in.

The best knowledge transfer – regardless of how it’s delivered – also needs to be reinforced over time to ensure reps not only understand and absorb the content delivered, but can actually apply it in their daily work. Applications like Qstream are scientifically-proven to increase the retention of critical market, product and competitive messaging, while providing insights to managers about what reps know and don’t know to support the execution of targeted coaching.

5. Coaching. Despite its acknowledged impact on sales rep performance, most organizations find big obstacles to effective coaching. These obstacles can range from a lack of time on the part of managers, to lack of manager knowledge on precisely how to coach, to an absence of support from executive management to make coaching a respected part of the sales culture. As a result, managers are more likely to engage on a highly informal basis, often focused on a single opportunity, versus the core skills and behaviors that are key to sustained success.

The Qstream platform has been architected to deliver all the insights managers require for more consistent and focused coaching. Our Predictive Insights Engine instantly analyzes thousands of data points from your team’s responses to deliver real-time metrics that let managers quickly and easily see how their sales teams are performing. Qstream’s onboard communication tools also make it easy for managers to reach out to specific individuals or the entire group directly from the dashboard.

And remember: coaching is not just for reps. Managers at all levels can benefit from leadership development support that ensures they are equally fluent on critical material, and that they have the skills to be effective leaders. Qstream customers often pilot new sales challenges to managers first, before a training program begins, and will include scenarios that are unique to a manager’s specific role, product focus or business unit.

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