How the Agile Approach Can Ramp Up Sales Onboarding

Sales onboarding – every company does it, but few do it as well as they’d like. According to a report from The Sales Management Association, 62% of companies consider themselves to be ineffective at onboarding.

When sales onboarding is ineffective, the costs are high – not only for the sales department but for the entire organization:

These challenges created the need for a sales rep onboarding process that is faster and more flexible – areas in which the software industry is already well-versed.

Taking a Page from Agile Software Development

Software companies used to spend months or years developing new products. But when software-as-a-service (SaaS) became popular, companies needed to move more quickly – constantly innovating and developing and releasing software with quicker turnarounds.

“Today’s accepted norm for every SaaS company is the ability to continuously operate, with no down time, 24/7/365,” says Sandeep Soman, VP of product and design at Brainshark.

This need for speed gave way to agile development methods. Agile allows companies to develop software and push out incremental updates continuously, with the ability to make adjustments along the way.

This methodology, described in the 4 steps below, can easily be applied to sales because it offers the speed and flexibility that ineffective sales onboarding programs desperately need.

  • Planning: make a list of business priorities or features that need to be created or updated
  • Sprints: start executing on your list and get feedback along the way
  • Review: review work and make necessary adjustments or ‘bug fixes’
  • Retrospective: look at what worked, what didn’t and what could be changed for next time

RELATED: The Beginner’s Guide to Agile Sales Management

4 Steps of Agile Onboarding

So what does an agile approach to sales onboarding look like? Here are 4 steps that agile developments use to maintain its pace and efficiency – each of which can be directly applied to new hire training:

#1: Planning: Make a list of required competencies of which a salesperson needs to demonstrate mastery. Competencies can be anything from listening and closing skills to negotiation skills and objection-handling – anything a rep needs to be proficient at to be successful.

By the end of the Planning stage, the idea is to have a master list of competencies, as agreed upon by sales enablement and sales managers, that will help a new rep become as productive as possible.

“Focus your early onboarding efforts on getting reps really good at the things that lead to productivity,” says Jim Ninivaggi, chief readiness officer at Brainshark.

#2: Sprints: According to, in software development, Sprints are defined as having “consistent durations throughout a development effort. A new Sprint starts immediately after the conclusion of the previous Sprint.

Each Sprint may be considered a project with no more than a one-month horizon.” In short, the purpose of a sprint is to narrow the scope and ensure engineers have laser focus.

When it comes to onboarding, Sprints refer to activity-based training and assessments where reps are expected to complete the task in a given amount of time. Activities can include the first prospecting call, first demo call or first sales call.

For example, if a rep has her first prospecting call in 14 days, set up relevant training, a video coaching assessment (i.e., when a rep records a video response, such as an elevator pitch, and submits it for feedback) and a certification for her to complete in a 14-day sprint before the call happens.

RELATED: 3 Unmatched Sales Enablement Strategies to Try in 2018

14 Day Sprint: Training → Video Coaching Assessment → Certification = First Prospecting Call

“It’s about how we are defining those key activities the rep needs to execute on and building out sprints where we get that person just ready enough to do that next activity really well,” says Ninivaggi.

The key here is the coaching; it’s where you determine if the rep has absorbed the material and can relay it back and move onto the next sprint, or if they need more training (can they do it? vs. did they do it?).

#3: Review: At the end of the day, agile is about continuous learning and improvement. Check with sales leaders on a biweekly basis to review the status of reps and overall effectiveness of the program, by answering the following questions:

  • What’s working? What’s not working?
  • Are reps hitting KPIs at the right time?
  • What was learned during the sprint about the training and rep’s competencies? Is anyone falling behind?

“Get insights from the embedded coach, sales enablement leader, or sales manager to know which reps are doing well and which aren’t and address it with targeted learning or coaching,” says Ninivaggi.

The advantage here is that you can look at team and individual progress and address any potential issues early on, helping to reduce turnover and identify whether a rep is (or isn’t) cut out for the job.

#4: Retrospective: Every 3 months, review where the program added value, what could’ve been done better and what could be changed next time, by answering the following questions:

  • What worked well that we should repeat?
  • What didn’t work well that we need to fix?
  • What are we measuring?
  • How many activities, modules and coaching activities were completed?

“The retrospective stage is all about looking for those critical outcomes from our salespeople that demonstrate competency, confidence and the ability to add value to their customer interactions,” says Ninivaggi.

Agile Onboarding Best Practices

In addition to the 4 steps, apply these agile onboarding best practices:

  1. Agile is highly collaborative. Get buy-in from key stakeholders such as sales leadership and sales managers
  2. Use a sales readiness platform to create content, set up training and coaching and measure results
  3. Remember that onboarding and training are never done – reps need to keep on learning and receiving coaching from managers in order to find long term success

For more on agile onboarding, check out our eBook, The Brainshark Agile Sales Onboarding Methodology.

Lauren Boutwell is the Senior Content & Programs Manager at Brainshark. With more than 8 years of content experience in the technology space, Lauren is responsible for content marketing and strategy at Brainshark. In her current role, she oversees Brainshark thought leadership content, the Brainshark Ideas blog, Brainshark’s Sales Enablement Magazine, customer testimonials and social media. She previously worked in B2B technology journalism for CIO magazine and covering all facets of the IT space.

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