We tend to think of onboarding as a one-time event as new sales reps are hired. Laptop? Check. Employee handbook? Check. Meetings and assignments? Check. eLearning modules? Check. Product training? Check. And then it’s over, the new rep has been officially onboarded and is now ready to be a productive member of the team, right?

But we all know the reality – even with the most organized onboarding program, it’s going to take weeks of reinforcement, training, and coaching, and months before it can be determined whether a new sales rep is successful. Moreover, recent research “Salesperson Onboarding” by the Sales Management Association found that new hire success rate for sales reps is just 55%. Almost half of new sales rep hires aren’t going to succeed regardless of investments in onboarding and training.

There has to be a better way. It’s time to stop thinking of onboarding as a one-time event, or complete within a few months.  Effective sales onboarding is a continuous process – and it has a direct impact on compressing a rep’s time to value — and on quota attainment.

Onboarding as an Early Warning System

Hiring good salespeople is difficult in any market condition, but retaining and helping them reach quota is even more difficult. Considering that only half of new sales hires are going to be successful, purely assessing pipeline to identify who is on track (and who isn’t) seems like a classic no-brainer. However, sales performance metrics alone don’t tell the whole story. Not only that, one-time, one-size-fits-all onboarding and training isn’t designed to assess individual competencies and knowledge, with 45% of these investments not delivering.

A continuous approach to onboarding should include gap assessments and performance correlation to identify opportunities for targeted coaching and to reinforce only the knowledge where they fall short. In addition, proficiency data allows managers to identify talent that can be nurtured into high performers, as well as model the specific competencies needed for middle performers to improve upon. Those who are underperforming and not progressing can be managed out, or re-skilled into more suitable roles.

The best way to think of continuous onboarding is an insurance policy that protects investments in hiring, onboarding and training. The goal is revenue improvement and cost avoidance, but there are other benefits including employee engagement and retention.

Onboarding with the End in Mind

The goal of any sales onboarding program is ultimately revenue performance but most companies have no way of measuring this. Instead, sales onboarding is often the “spray and pray” approach, overwhelming new hires with reams of information and hoping they can be field ready within just a few short weeks. The reality? Studies show that in as little as 30 days, 79% of new information is forgotten – it’s just how the brain works. A microlearning approach can help break this information into smaller pieces, and when combined with spaced learning techniques, can help recall the information more effectively when needed in the field.

If revenue performance is the goal, how do you get reps up to speed as quickly as possible? What are the skills they need? How good are they at these skills already? What are the top three things that will have the most impact on performance? The answers are going to be different for each hire and for each role. In other words, effective sales onboarding which directly impacts revenue achievement  is like the story of Goldilocks: not too hot, too cold, too soft or too hard — just right for that individual.

In fact the Sales Management Association research I referenced earlier confirms this assertion. It found that customized onboarding by sales job and individual sales reps were deemed successful 79% of the time after 24 months. The research is really enlightening – look out for the link to the download it at the end of this article.

Onboarding to Reduce Time to Value

Many new sales hires have little to no experience in their new industries or knowledge of the competitive landscape, so including this content in an onboarding curriculum makes sense. The key to success is ensuring this is retained and applied in the field over time.

So how is this done? Interval reinforcement — it’s scientifically proven to dramatically improve knowledge retention and job proficiency. The concept of repetition is common sense: successful repetition leads to competence, competence leads to confidence, confidence leads to success. Small victories create momentum which, in turn, becomes motivation.

There is also science behind the way knowledge delivery is spaced to optimize retention and recall. Reinforcement in bite-sized pieces delivered repetitively over time over time increases the uptake of information and encodes the brain with the information so it is preferentially retained.

Continuous Onboarding and Engagement Increases Retention

The continuous approach to onboarding is also an ongoing opportunity for employee engagement, which research has shown to be critical to retention.

Sales talent management plans that continuously cycle through sales reps in search of high performers, regardless of lost investment, aren’t sustainable. A more strategic, and frankly a more cost effective approach, is to make the most of hiring investments by supporting reps with a personalized, continuous learning model that helps them be successful.  If they are successful and feel supported, they will naturally be more engaged and loyal.

For more hard data on the benefits of effective salesperson onboarding, click here to access the recently released research from the Sales Management Association.

This week’s post is by guest author, Rich Lanchantin, CEO of Qstream, a microlearning platform to reinforce key knowledge, develop skills, and drive behaviors in just three minutes a day.