As the old adage goes, you never get a second chance at first impressions — and the same is true for onboarding. Not only is the onboarding process an optimal opportunity to display the sales organization’s culture, values, and vision, but it’s also the first phase of a rep’s development. Getting it right is key to creating sales reps that are effective and productive in a timely manner, while also aligning to the strategic initiatives of the organization.
In order to do this effectively, sales onboarding programs should prioritize the development and improvement of essential, core competencies in order to derive maximum impact. By definition, competencies are the behavioral attributes that underpin the successful execution of a skill, role, or duty. Many hiring and onboarding programs focus on the acquisition of specific skills and knowledge, rather than identifying which foundational competencies are likely to contribute the most meaningful results for the organization.
Here’s how managers, sales enablement, and any relevant stakeholders can make competency improvement a focus of their next onboarding initiative.
Establish core competencies
The first step in incorporating competency improvement as part of the onboarding curriculum is to establish what those competencies are. This a multi-step process that requires consideration of organizational goals, specific job duties, and interpersonal expectations. Competencies are never static, and should vary from company to company and across different time periods within the organization’s maturity.
- Organizational goals: Every company has a different vision and various strategic objectives that ladder into that vision, which is why competencies should reflect those in order to be effective. For instance, the development and roll-out of a new, complex product requires more than just “product knowledge,” but rather a comprehensive understanding of the customer’s business and how the product is able to solve their unique challenges and contribute strategically to their mission.
- Specific job duties: No two sales roles are ever identical, which is why every industry, vertical, company, or team requires vastly different expertise. For example, some B2B sales roles may require comprehensive abilities in multiple pieces of technology or software in order to engage with buyers and ultimately, be an effective salesperson. This would require more than just a know-how of a few specific solutions, but instead a keen aptitude of navigating technology and knowing when to leverage it to gain advantage.
- Interpersonal expectations: Behavioral competencies are harder to define, as they often get grouped in with skills. It’s easy to say that sales reps should have the gift of gab, but being a skilled conversationalist is not a competency if it’s not coupled with empathy, social awareness, and a deep curiosity. When characterizing which personal attributes are most essential for a particular sales role, identify high performers on the sales team to get a depiction of what that looks like, and build from there.
Describe how competencies are assessed
The next step is conducting a competency-based audit that determines where your new (and current) hires fall within desired expectations. In order to do this, each recorded competency should contain specific, detailed information about what behaviors or knowledge demonstrate acquisition. For instance, the competency “data literacy” might be demonstrated by the faculty to interpret various types of graphs and data visualizations, as well as a proven ability to make critical decisions through data analysis. While this example contained only two attributes that demonstrated the given competency, organizations should have several more for a more accurate depiction.
Conduct audit to uncover degree of competency
The next step is to evaluate the level of competency that new hires and recently onboarded reps have. Each competency should contain a range of scores that reps can fall into, as determined by the onboarding team in collaboration with frontline managers and sales leadership. It’s important to have a reasonable expectation of what the highest score looks like, based on an existing high-performing rep.
Evaluating new hires for competencies is a holistic process that can take many different forms. Common methods include one-on-one interviews with new hires, exams that test a specific competency, or surveys that ask reps to score themselves. Oftentimes a combination of methods is useful in obtaining a clear picture of where the reps reside on any given competency spectrum.
Tailor onboarding programs to address competency gaps
Once a cohort of new hires have been audited and competency results have been discovered, the next step is to address whatever gaps that might exist in the onboarding curriculum. Rather than just provide all new hires with the same onboarding plan, this tailors the program to the individual needs of each rep, setting the stage for their success in the future. Once onboarding has been completed, continue to test reps for competency levels to track progress and ensure the program is working. If possible, incorporate coaching and ongoing training to continue developing the core competencies that are most critical for any given role.
When prioritizing competency improvement during the onboarding process, managers and leadership are correcting poor behavior before it becomes a habit and more difficult to fix. This starts with establishing what the core competencies are, creating descriptions of how they’re assessed, conducting an audit to discover where gaps lie and then tailoring the onboarding program to suit the needs of the new hires. The use of competencies within onboarding initiatives will ensure that new reps are well-equipped to handle the increasingly complex buying landscape ahead, while also providing clear pathways of improvement and growth within their own professional development.