Why Your Sales Hires Aren’t Ramping Up Sooner

salesperson on the path to successful ramp up with onboarding
Shutterstock | Adrian Blagrove

Sales onboarding and new-hire ramp-up time are perennial hot topics in the sales enablement profession. This fact should surprise no one. While ramp-up times vary wildly (from a few short months to well over a year) and how companies define what “ramped-up” is differs almost as much, everyone wants their sales employees to:  

  • Reach an acceptable level of sales productivity   
  • As quickly as possible 

There are several possible root causes for delays in new-hire ramp up times. If we remove larger organizational issues from the table, such as product strategy and go-to-market plans, the two primary reasons for ramp-up delays are:

  • Ineffective sales hiring practices
  • Ineffective sales onboarding practices (including front line manager support)

In this post, we’ll focus on sales onboarding practices. To differentiate from pre-boarding activities and company orientation, we’ll define “sales onboarding” as a role-based, job-related training that enables a new hire to master their position and meet or exceed company expectations.

Devise a Strategy for Onboarding

The solution to all of the issues contributing to onboarding failure is to create a world-class sales onboarding program that addresses the root causes with a “Stop/Start” strategy.   

The "Stop" list doesn’t require much effort. It’s mostly a commitment to ending poor practices. 

Here are some things to “stop” doing: 

  • Using a “Go get ‘em, Tiger!” mindset 
  • Bouncing back and forth between pre-boarding, orientation and onboarding. Separate the activities instead:
      • Do whatever pre-boarding you can
      • Complete the company orientation when the employee starts
      • Move into focused, role-based sales onboarding as soon as possible
  • Sharing endless presentations from SMEs
  • Using event-based approaches (such as boot camps) with no follow-up or continued tracking toward milestones

The "Start" list is an onboarding redesign effort that will address all remaining root cause reasons for onboarding failure and produce the best possible results that you can achieve. 

Here are some things to “start” doing: 

  • Ensuring that your training content will produce results.   
  • Setting a series of performance milestones.  
  • Maximizing modern learning methods.   

Conduct Task Analyses to Inform Your Training Content

Conducting research with your own top producers is a great way to ensure that the content you teach will get results. If you go this route, here’s a crash-course on top-producer analysis (TPA).

Conduct task analyses as you would for a training project. Examine what these top producers do, why they do it, how they do these tasks, and when it seems to matter, when and where they do them.

Examine the activities they perform and the sales methods they use. Capture their workflow, and then define how top producers manage the sales process and incorporate sales methodology. Study your middle producers in a similar way. Compare your top producers to your middle producers, to find the differentiators.    

Of course, if you don’t have the experience, time, resources, or statistical prowess (yourself or internally at your company) to conduct a top-producer analysis to identify the differentiating skills and behaviors between your top producers and middle producers, there are options. You can select a proven-effective commercial sales methodology that fits your industry, company, buyers/customers, and solution set.    

Chart Ramp-up Performance Milestones for New Hires

Next, you determine your major performance milestones for your new hires and document when you expect that they can achieve them.  If you have performance ramp-up data from past new hires, you can use those benchmarks to start and work to shorten them, over time. Milestones may vary by industry, company, product, service, sales cycle, and quota structure. You need to determine the most reasonable and effective milestones for your company.   

Organize the Need-to-Know Content by Milestone ​

Next, you need to have the difficult, prioritization conversations and determine what reps really NEED to know to hit each of your milestones. Other than establishing the milestones themselves, this is one of the most critical concepts to help you dramatically shorten your onboarding ramp times. 

This is a lot harder in most companies than it sounds, and certainly more difficult than it should be. People, especially subject matter experts, are incredibly invested in their content or functional area, and what they believe sales reps should know.   

Your strategy should be a “just-in-time” content or a milestone-based approach based on need-to-know. Cramming everything into the first milestone bucket, whether the content is needed then or not, is why ramp-up times are so much longer than they need to be. I suggest involving an excellent instructional designer with a firm “need to know” filter in your discussion.   

When you establish your sales onboarding program, you’ll want to measure everything you can, report on it, analyze the data, and use what you learn to adjust the program for continuous improvement.   

Use an Instructional Design Strategy That's Maximized for Onboarding​

The “Chunk, sequence, and layer” concept is a well-known instructional design strategy for organizing large amounts of information to help with absorption and retention. It’s perfect for helping you maximize your onboarding program to do the following:   

  • Chunk like topics together  
  • Teach in bite-sized chunks with reinforcement and assessments to increase retention  
  • Order chunks in a logical sequence that will make sense for the learner and be easier to absorb  
  • Layer additional related chunks (or new chunks) on top of already-learned knowledge and skills 

One of the most fascinating oddities about instructional design is that anyone who knows something about anything believes they are qualified to design training for it or teach the topic. If you’re not an instructional design expert, the best advice you’re going to get on the topic is hire a real instructional designer or rent an expert (a contractor/freelancer).    

Help Your New Sales Hires Ramp Up Faster

Set your performance milestones – the performance you need from the new hire. Chunk, sequence, and layer the content, segmenting by the stuff they NEED to know to reach each milestone. In that chunked, sequenced, and layered approach, teach the business process and sales process, from left-to-right (basically, teach them what to do, to do their job and reach the first milestone, step-by-step).  

Basically, when the chunksequencelayer series of the need-to-know content to reach Milestone 1 is complete, the rep can start the very next day to do what they were taught. 

Want help on your journey to improve your sales training? Check out our Sales Training that Sticks eBook, which I wrote in conjunction with our sales enablement partner, Allego

Modern Sales Foundations

Use a buyer-centric approach to improve sales results.

What it takes for salespeople to deliver value has changed significantly as the modern buying process has evolved. Modern Sales Foundations™ (MSF) is an end-to-end sales training program that teaches sellers the buyer-centric strategies and approaches needed to excel in today’s marketplace.

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