3 Obstacles to Sales New Hire Onboarding Success

By Anita Nielsen

3 Obstacles to Sales New Hire Onboarding SuccessOver the past several years, there are a few challenges I’ve consistently seen sales leaders struggle with, regardless of their level of experience or the size of their organization. One of the top 3 for nearly every senior sales leader I meet is “sales new hire onboarding”. I’ve spent much time helping sales leaders face this challenge because it is never easy or straightforward. What is it about sales new hire onboarding that makes it so difficult for organizations to get right? There’s the rub…it’s never just one thing.

Stakes are high in the sales new hire onboarding game. Research consistently shows that organizations with rigorous sales new hire onboarding recognize significant gains in revenue, engagement, and retention. The war for top sales talent continues across industries. Between the amount of time it takes to ramp a new sales rep and the amount of money it costs to replace one, organizations stand to suffer devastating losses when onboarding programs fall short, or worse, don’t really exist.

So, what are the main reasons onboarding continues to be so challenging for sales organizations? I’ll share 3 of the biggest roadblocks I typically see sales leaders facing with sales new hire onboarding and, thus, time to revenue. These 3 obstacles are:

  1. Organizations use “onboarding” to simply refer to training on products and services: what reps will sell.
  2. Effective content and collateral have been developed, but no one truly knows what exists and/or where to find it.
  3. No formal milestones or checkpoints are in place to gauge the progress of the new hire throughout onboarding.

Obstacle #1: Organizations use “onboarding” to simply refer to training on products and services: what reps will sell.

One of the first questions I ask when learning about new sales leader clients is whether or not they have a sales new hire onboarding program. I rarely hear an affirmative answer, but when I do, my spidey sense goes off. Upon further questioning, I usually find that what “onboarding” means to these sales leaders is not what it means to me, or anyone else who has adopted sales enablement as a mission.

More often than not, those leaders who believe they do have an onboarding program are thinking of the firehose training around the company, the products and services that new hires are forced to go through. In their minds, giving a sales rep information on what they need to sell is all that is required. After all, these people were hired because they are stars at selling; once they know what to sell they should be able to just go out and sell it. Nope.

You know where I am going, here. Just because someone proved to be an excellent sales professional at a previous company, does not mean that they will sell well at a new one. There are just too many variables. Focusing sales “onboarding” on teaching products and services while ignoring the new sales process and methodology means sales professionals will do a whole lot of “winging it.” Having a formal sales process and methodology AND ensuring that new hires are trained on them, means reps can take their newfound knowledge and apply it correctly in their sales context. Neglecting to train the reps on the “how to sell” or not having a formal sales process that tells them how to sell, means rapid failure instead of rapid ramp.

Obstacle #2: Effective content and collateral have been developed, but no one truly knows what exists and/or where to find it.

Another major challenge is around the content and collateral that’s required as part of a sales new hire’s training.  I can’t count how many times I am told something like “I know we created a document about that at some point. Let me see if I can track it down.” Imagine the frustration a new hire feels when they hear something similar. It is important that sales new hires have QUICK access to all training related content and collateral — that is part of their foundation for success at the new organization. In sales new hire onboarding, time actually IS money. If reps can’t get to the information they need in a timely and efficient manner, they won’t get to revenue in a timely and efficient manner.

Obstacle #3: No formal milestones or checkpoints are in place to gauge the progress of the new hire throughout onboarding.

Lastly, a serious challenge to successful sales new hire onboarding is in making sure they are actually learning everything they need to. Even in companies where there is a checklist of content, processes, and activities that sales new hires need to know, there is rarely a formal approach to checking in with the rep to ensure they’ve actually gained the knowledge their sales leaders intended.

This is one of those particularly frustrating common sense but not common practice scenarios.  When sales organizations have been diligent with documenting what a sales hire needs to learn and do, not taking the time to make sure the expectations are being met along the way seems careless. It also tends to make the new hire feel like you truly couldn’t care less about how they are doing with their onboarding. Most new hires know in their first three months whether or not they will stay at a company for more than a year. Failing to take the additional step of monitoring progress impacts not just time to revenue but also retention rates.


It’s not always so gloomy, though. There are some companies that get it right. Leading sales organizations tend to leverage sales enablement technology to help minimize or eliminate these and other onboarding related issues.

Sales enablement tools and technologies almost immediately address the issue of content chaos by creating a “one stop shop” for current, approved collateral. A central repository for content and collateral is particularly valuable for new hires because they don’t know what they don’t know. By having a “sales new hire onboarding” category set up within sales enablement software, the new rep is able to easily and quickly access what they need to accomplish their learning objectives. The less time a new hire spends chasing down content, the more likely they are to hit revenue targets within the desired timeframe. Again, in sales new hire onboarding, time actually IS money.

Clearly, sales new hire onboarding is something that poses many challenges to both sales leaders, and sales new hires, alike. Making the time to develop and reinforce a thoughtful sales new hire onboarding program is an investment that pays off in revenue and in employee engagement. Furthermore, incorporating sales enablement technology to accelerate the sales new hire onboarding program has quickly become a competitive differentiator.

It’s crucial that sales new hires are able to learn what to sell and how to sell it, to easily access content and collateral when they need it, and to be monitored on their progress toward learning and activity objectives. The investment in time and technology to create a comprehensive sales new hire onboarding program can have a big payoff in terms of increased speed to revenue, improved employee engagement and reduced chance of attrition. Arguably, these are three of the biggest objectives for sales leaders and organizations, today.


Here are some more tips to help with onboarding your new sales hires!


About the Author

Anita Nielsen is a sales enablement and transformation consultant, thought leader and freelance blogger. Her company, LDK Advisory Services, provides sales optimization and transformation advisory services for B2B sales leaders. You can find her on LinkedIn, follower her on Twitter via @AnielsenLDK or reach her directly at anielsen@ldkadvisory.com.

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