On-boarding sales people – it’s not your father’s Oldsmobile


How sales people are on-boarded is a significant factor for building sales success.  Unfortunately, it is historically one of the most underemphasized aspects of sales performance development.  Great on-boarding programs for sales people are still the exception.  

This lack of emphasis is part of the larger problem companies have with Talent Management. “Companies like to promote the idea that employees are their biggest source of competitive advantage.  Yet the astonishing reality is that most of them are no better prepared for the challenges of finding, motivating and training capable workers than they were a decade ago.” (McKinsey Quarterly). 

If your company put in place its on-boarding system for your sales force more than five years ago, it is likely time to reassess.  Institutional changes have significantly impacted what an optimal system looks like.  

These changes include:  

  • Success matters more.  As it has become increasingly difficult to win by product alone, the number of sustainable competitive advantages has decreased and the importance of having a world-class sales force has grown with that decline.
  • Job demands are greater.  In sales there is a “book of knowledge.”  For many companies that book has expanded from a manageable set of chapters to a tome that is encyclopedic in scope.  To be a top performer today, a sales person has to know more and know it at a higher level of proficiency. 
  • Specialization of the sales function has increased.  If the sales force in most companies were studied under a microscope, they would be a greater number of job positions and specializations than in times past.  As sales people move up the hierarchy of positions, they are faced with different buyers and differing points of view on what constitutes value.
  • Generational differences are significant.  New people coming into entry level sales positions are from a generation with a different set of expectations, learning preferences, and experience sets. This shift provides a huge opportunity and a new set of challenges.

If one could return to an earlier decade, on-boarding sales people would be a relatively straight forward process at the time of hire.  Not so, if you fast forward to the present.   

Today, if you want a world-class sales team, you need to define on-boarding as an on-going training process, no a hiring event.  Sales training programs are needed not just for on-boarding new hires to the company but also for on-boarding your existing sales team to deal with an increasingly changing buying environment.  As your company enters new markets, launches new products, deals with keener competitors, and copes with ever changing demands within customer organizations, sales training is one of the answers for executing a superior response to these changes.  The need for training is now driven by changes in the market not the elapsed time since the last program.   

It’s difficult to overemphasize the potential payoff of developing a world-class sales team. You simply cannot maintain superior sales force overtime, if you don’t invest in skill development overtime.  Building a state-of-the-art on-boarding process is an inherent part of that solution.  

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©2011 Sales Horizons™, LLC

About Richard Ruff

For more than 30 years Dr. Richard Ruff and Dr. Janet Spirer - the founders of Sales Horizons - have worked with the Fortune 1000 - such as UPS, Canon USA, Smith & Nephew, Boston Scientific, Owens & Minor, Textron - to design and develop sales training programs. During his career Dick has authored numerous articles related to sales effectiveness and co-authored "Managing Major Sales", a book about sales management, "Parlez-Vous Business" which helps sales people integrate the language of business into the sales process, and "Getting Partnering Right" – a research based work on the best practices for forming strategic selling alliances. Dr. Ruff received his Ph.D. in Organizational Psychology from the University of Tennessee and a B.S. from Rennsselaer Polytechnic Institute.
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