How To Build A Great Sales Onboarding Process

In our last webinar, we looked at some of the challenges of ramping reps in Q3 and Q4 to hit your annual quotas.


We covered a lot of topics, including the sales onboarding J-curve (patent pending), the disconnect between expectations vs reality of onboarding programs, and how you should be measuring onboarding success. One thing we touched on was what a great onboarding process actually looks like.

Today, we’re going to see what a great sales onboarding process looks like, and what you can do to make yours better.

Here we go!

Sales onboarding process today

Most companies think about onboarding as the 1-2 week bootcamp their reps go through.

And the bootcamp model is great…

But it’s not enough.

Current ramp time is about 37 weeks, meaning you end up with this sort of graph:

Sales onboaridng process time frame


Now, this isn’t the most sophisticated data visualization you’ve ever seen...

But it’s pretty clear there’s a crazy disconnect between what sales development reps are doing to get up to speed, and the realities they face as they do their jobs.

That, in a nutshell, is the sales onboarding process today.

So how do you fix it?

Measure sales milestones

The first step towards building a great sales onboarding process actually happens at the end: sales milestones.

Sales milestones are the steps or stages that a prospect goes through as they move through your sales funnel. Basically, it’s the markers of someone moving through your funnel (or flywheel, for you new-fangled folk).

You need to embed your sales milestones directly into your sales onboarding process. That way, you’re not done onboarding until you’ve actually achieved the objective of said onboarding – you’ve closed some actual revenue.

Currently, a lot of enablement teams approach the problem like this:

  1. They look at what programs / learning paths a rep completed
  2. They look at the first deal they closed.
  3. They look at the time between program completion (usually the same day as the end of onboarding).
  4. They benchmark the time to first deal
  5. That time becomes the “fully ramped” time

And that’s a great starting point. But it doesn’t tell the full story.

The problem with the “first deal” sales onboarding process

There are two big problems with a sales onboarding process that only measures time to first deal.

First, the first deal might be an inherited deal, a stroke a luck, or a really great rep who’s an amazing contributor. You have no idea in this model of measurement.

Second, for bigger deals or seasonal businesses, your first deal might not be expected for 9-12 months. That means a business might be paying a rep’s salary for a year while they technically “ramp” before they realize that rep has been playing Tetris all day instead of doing their job.


The problem is that time to closed / won deal is a nice metric, but it’s flawed both in its accuracy and the fact that it’s a lagging indicator.

Sales milestones to the rescue

That’s why embedding sales milestones is key. You want to measure the “time to first” for all the activities leading up to that closed / won deal as well. These activities usually include:

  • First call
  • First meeting
  • First demo
  • First opportunity
  • First deal

Now, you can get a much clearer picture of if a new rep is on track or not far faster, since you’re looking at the time to first call, which should happen within weeks, rather than the first deal, which takes months.

So that solves your lagging indicator problem.

But what about those pesky one-off deals messing up your great metrics?

That's’ where the second set of metrics comes in. You just extend your early indicators out the back of your sales process. So, after your first deal, your next milestone is the second deal. Then third. The time to first full-quota month. Then time to consistent quota (e.g. 3 months in a row). Then time to exceeding quota.

Embed your milestones

Ok, you’re measuring milestones. Now what?

Now, you want to extend your sales onboarding process from that first week all the way through to that first deal.

It’s not enough to say: “Ok great, we’re measuring all this stuff. Now we just sit back and watch the bootcamp work its magic.”

Teams need to design a sales onboarding program that helps reps at every stage of the sales motion to push them to achieve the next milestone

(we call this the sales onboarding J-curve and you should watch the webinar from around 18 minutes).



j curve sales onboarding process


The goal here is to put your milestones directly into your programs and then build each mini-program to get your reps to the next milestone.

It looks something like this:



flattened j-curve


Each of these mini sales onboarding programs – call program, pipe program, etc... – only has the content, activities, tasks, and quizzes that relate to the next milestone you’re trying to get to.

For example, here's a program template we use for a first deal program.


sales onboarding process example


It's only a few activities long, but you can see that each activity is laser-focused on getting the closed (plus, it ends with recording a win story for other reps).

Tie the sales onboarding process together

Sales don’t just “happen.” They go through a defined process, and the role of the sales rep is to take them through that process, holding the sales hand every step of the way.

And just like your reps guiding the sale, your onboarding should guide your reps.

That’s why the one-week onboarding doesn’t work. It's either too sparse, and the reps don’t have the information they need, or it’s total overload, and reps end up jammed with information they might not use until the very end of the sales cycle.

That’s why you need to do just three things to have a great sales onboarding process.

First, you need to set up your sales milestones. What key points do every sale need to pass through from prospect to close (hint: you probably already have this).

Second, you need to set build a post-bootcamp program and distribute it among all your sales milestones. Each mini sales onboarding program should only have the content and activities needed to get the rep to the next stage.

And finally, you need to stretch all this out over the full sales process, from the first call to crushing quota. That might be months. For some reps and complex products, it might be years.

By blurring the line between onboarding and continuous improvement, you can foster an environment of continuous learning, driving your reps to higher quotas and, ultimately, more money in everyone’s pocket.

A great sales onboarding process isn’t out of reach. It just needs to reflect how reps really sell, so that it’s doing what sales enablement is supposed to – helping them along, holding their hand every step of the way.