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Onboarding | Then & Now

By Mark Bingham

2021 marks my 20th year within the professional industry of training & development. I’ve been very fortunate to have a diverse career path with valuable experiences across industries. 

From starting out at Domestic & General in the world of outsourcing, to television and sports with BskyB, to Merlin Entertainments in the hospitality sector to Estate Agency at Zoopla (and much more), these varied experiences have been valuable and beneficial to me in so many ways. But across all the companies and industries I’ve worked in, the bottom line when it comes to sales training has always remained the same: how quickly can a salesperson generate revenue?

The Earlier Years

Casting back to when I first started out, I remember delivering weeks and weeks of training to new starters: everything from HR procedures to sales skills to product and systems, all glued together with role playing exercises and the occasional quiz or test thrown in for good measure. And for some reason, the perception was that passing these tests would determine someone’s ability to speak and sell. I often look back and cringe at the vast amount of information thrown at new employees, after which they were expected to hit sales targets in an extremely short turnaround time. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out why attrition rates were so high, which, still to this day, is a common occurrence I often observe within companies.

The "Driving A Car" Analogy

On average, it takes around 45 hours of professional lessons and 20 hours of practice to pass a car test and statistically 45.5% of individuals pass their first time. I use this analogy to get people thinking about the link between learning to drive a car and learning in a sales training room. Let me explain:

Imagine: It’s your first day learning to drive a car and you’re sitting in the passenger seat with an instructor in the driver’s seat. The instructor is showing you how to operate the steering wheel, the foot pedals, various buttons and levers, and so on. After an hour, the instructor chucks you the keys and says, “Great, you can now drive.”

I observed this far too many times in the context of sales training. Sales reps sat in training rooms (or on online calls) being shown what to do, and then were told they’re ready to hit sales targets - you can guess the typical outcome these types of training programs.

Consider also the time it takes to actually learn how to drive vs. how long it takes to fully train a sales rep to achieve quota. When learning to drive a car, we’re not taught all the manoeuvres or practical elements in one lesson. It's spread-out, focused on mastering one thing at a time.

It begs the question: why are sales training programs still trying to teach everything in one go (maybe across a week or several weeks) with the view that new reps will be completely prepared to smash sales targets at the end of the program?

Today's World

With the ever-increasing rise of social media platforms, I believe this has an effect on how our current and our future generations will learn. If we look at the attention span of an average millennial, it is around 12 seconds. That shortens by 4 seconds to just 8 seconds for the average Gen Z employee, the next wave of younger employees coming into the workplace. 

With that in mind, I quickly recognised that long days and weeks of intensive classroom (or online) training are not key to a successful sales training program today. It’s imperative to focus on shorter bursts of bite-sized content that effectively convey what is being taught. I’m not just suggesting quizzes or tests. Anyone can pass or fail a quiz or test, but they do not reflect how a sales rep will perform in their role..

Bridging The Gap

I've received this advice:

“You may have a million and one things to do, but try your best to focus on one thing and do one thing well.”

It’s so important to complete an item with quality in mind, rather than just fractionally nudging lots of items forward with no completion. This applies directly to training and with the evolution of sales enablement here on UK shores: the practices and methods have shown to be really effective and relevant to today’s learners within onboarding and other types of training deliverables. So, with all of the above in mind, below is a guide to what to avoid and what to include when designing an onboarding program:

Avoid, Whenever Possible:

  1. Long days and weeks of sales training in a room (or online)
  2. Grouping complex content together, such as a “How To Use Our Entire CRM” or “How To Sell” bunched into one session
  3. Using a test or quiz to critique someone’s ability to sell through conversation
  4. No interactivity
  5. Not involving stakeholders to help aid design, delivery, or support post-training

What Has Worked:

  1. Chunk or group your content by type, flow, or process:
    1. For example: “How to qualify a lead from start to finish,” incorporating the use of systems, phones, sales skills, etc. Essentially, the whole process from A to Z
    2. Use topics like “a morning/afternoon/day in the life of an XXX”
    3. Prioritise your chunked/grouped training by delivery and spread it out, maybe use the probation time
    4. Allow a new starter to perform/practice what they have initially learnt before moving on to the next subject or skill
  2. Create and deliver bite-sized topics/subjects:
    1. Keep delivery time between 30 and 60 minutes
    2. Use that time wisely to factor in a combination of delivery/interaction/break-outs. For example: 30 minutes of delivery, 5 minutes to break-out solo, 15 minutes of group break-out, 10 minutes to debrief as a class
  3. Factor in multi-stage embedding:
    1. Assessment(s) (in or outside of the training delivery)
    2. Use break-outs, either solo or group-focused
    3. Watch, rate and provide feedback on pre-recorded calls/f2f visits
    4. Involve their line manager with a post-training schedule/handover, top-up mini training each day, and regular coaching
    5. Ask the learner to record a video(s) of themselves practising a scenario(s) – set the criteria for marking to benchmark the rating and be able to provide feedback
    6. Make use of your LMS or Enablement system (if owned) with the above suggestions
  4. Shadowing/Buddying up – pair up a new starter (or developing employee) with an existing employee
    1. Listening in or shadowing is really effective throughout all the stages of onboarding – each session should have a focus
    2. Allow the “buddy” to give control to the new starter (or developing employee) in stages
  5. Scenarios/Persona
    1. Create as many of these per subject/topic or skill, these can be real life examples of what they will expect when fully onboarded into their role

It’s imperative that we end the stigma surrounding training. Training shouldn’t just be a requirement that employees must complete to take on a role: it should be informative, fun, and natural.


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