The sales onboarding J-curve

If you’re anything like me, then you love the idea of starting something new.


A new job. A new friendship. A new course. Heck, even a new book.


It’s an exciting period of time, when anything is possible.


What’s not to love?


Well, a lot actually.


Starting something new is hard, even for someone who relishes the challenge like me.


The truth, is any new task or journey will come with its ups and downs, and most people will simply revert back to their comfort zone whenever the going gets tough.


And this is especially true when it comes to sales onboarding.


I mean, most onboarding is so hard today that 1 in 3 new hires are looking for their next gig after just six months at a company, and 1 in 5 will churn out in 45 days or less.


Those numbers are insane.

The sales onboarding J-curve

Let me start with a story.


Recently, I was visiting some old friends. After the obligatory catching up and reminiscing on old times (who knew I had so many nicknames!), we got to talking about investing.


I know. Exciting, right?


From there, we got to talking about the J-curve in economics, which is a J-shaped diagram where a curve initially falls, then steeply rises above the starting point.


In private equity, it's used to illustrate the historical tendency of private equity funds to deliver negative returns in early years and investment gains in the outlying years as the portfolios of companies mature.




As mugs clinked and the night wore on, this talk got me thinking on how this theory could be extremely applicable to the sales onboarding space, specifically the peaks and valleys of a new rep’s journey within a company.


And then it hit me. Something new about sales onboarding challenge I hadn’t thought of before: 


The sales onboarding J-curve.


So here’s my new theory. 


Take the same economic concept of the J-curve, and apply it to a rep’s onboarding experience.


Just like investing, reps go through peaks and valleys of a sales onboarding J-curve when starting a new sales job, or even a new position, before hitting consistent return.

The Sales Onboarding J-Curve

sales onboarding j-curve


In the chart above, the Y axis represents the rep’s attitude as being positive (+ve) or negative (-ve), and the X-axis represents time.


Every single sales rep goes through this onboarding journey. But the problem is, not every rep has the gumption to make it through the trough to the quota-crushing returns.


So here are the 7 stages of the sales onboarding J-curve that a rep needs to pass through. And our job as enablers is to make this happen as quickly and with as little backsliding as possible. 

7 Stages of the Sales Onboarding J-Curve

Here’s what happens when a new rep gets hired and goes through the standard sales onboarding process.

1. The Hire

sales onboarding honeymoon period


The honeymoon begins. Training is intense and you’re not getting a lot of sleep, but on the flip side you’re getting adjusted to the work culture and starting to fit in. It’s a good time to be you.

2. The Worry

sales onboarding worry


You’ve returned from boot camp, and the training wheels are off. If you’re lucky, you’ve been assigned to a mentor who probably has their own problems. If you’re unlucky, you’re flying solo – and you have no idea what you’re doing.


You get your territory, and while you’re excited to get started, you’re not exactly sure how.


Then a solid rep on your team has a deal slip and let’s his emotion out. It’s not all gongs and whistles.

3. Valley of Doubt



This is the hardest part. You start questioning your decision to come to the company. Is it me? Is it my patch? Maybe I should’ve have opened that restaurant I always dreamed of, or gone back to school to pursue my masters. Can I do this? Will it look bad if I quit now? I wonder who else is hiring...  I wish I could sell this stuff as well as I could interview. 

4. The First Deal


You’re first deal! It’s not big, but at least you’ve got points on the board. Starting to feel a bit better, like maybe you can pull this off. Was it a fluke? Your manager said you did it faster than the last guy, but your teammates aren’t impressed. Your “new guy glow” is starting to fade, but with one deal in the bank, you can sense that there’s light at the end of the tunnel. 

5. The First Quota

sales onboarding first quota

Yes, you can do this. Your VP officially knows your name. Four people you don’t know just told you that I have a bright future here.


The sales enablement team have little hearts and birds circling their heads like they just met their soulmate whenever you walk into the room because it typically takes eight months for a newly hired employee to reach full productivity, but you’ve done it in six.

6. Consistent Quota

sales onboarding consistent quota

You’re going to like it here. You just got paired to mentor the new guy. You I know you’re getting better, but have you mastered the trade? You’re currently on cruise control but is that really all that you want? Safe is good, but it’s the risk-takers who get sonnets written about them.

7. Crushing Quota

sales onboarding crushing quota


You’re awesome. You’re asking for more options. Wait, don’t let it go to your head - the dashboard resets tomorrow and you’ll be back at the beginning with the other worker bees. You’re going to go teach someone else and become a manager. Nah, the money is so much better if you crush my quota again next year.


Accelerating ramp up the J-curve

So that’s my big idea – the 7 stages of the sales onboarding J-curve. 


As sales enablers and leaders, our objective is to get our new reps up the J-curve as quickly as possible and to keep them from sliding back down.the sales onboarding j-curve - faster ramp



Given the startling statistics at the top of the piece, we can do a better job of this:


  • We send reps off to a two-week boot camp and expect them to be ready to sell on Monday.
  • We don’t follow-up to check how their mindset is.
  • We expect them to hit quota in 3 months, when our sales cycle is 4 months.


We need to be cognizant and focus on the programs and tactics that will help shift the onboarding curve from the red line, to the blue line, getting reps out of the valley of doubt sooner, and getting them to first deal and first quota faster.


Second, when we develop onboarding programs, we need to take into account the peaks and valleys that reps are going to go through.


They’re going to be the most confident and excited right after boot camp. They’re going to be the least excited after 30 days. And they’re going to be extremely vulnerable and prone to fleeing in the time before their first deal. 


This is where, as sales enablers and leaders, we need to focus the most attention for our onboarding programs. 


This is where reps will need the most attention, the most support, and the most hand holding.

Over to you 

If we spent more time getting the rep’s emotional state and mindset ready for sales cycles and less time cramming in information, then we’d all be able to ramp faster, reducing onboarding costs and driving top line revenue.


Once they’re through the valley of doubt and have some points on the board, we can focus on getting them to second deal. And once they have the second deal locked down, you know as an enabler, you’ve done a great job and can shift your focus to on-going training.


And not one minute before.


Want to learn more about how to design onboarding programs that gets you through the J-curve ramp faster? Check out our webinar: How To Design A Sales Onboarding Program for Faster Ramp.