Five Steps to Create a Better Sales Onboarding Program


Whether you’re hiring to maintain status quo or actively grow your salesforce, onboarding is a necessity for any company. An effective onboarding program is critical to better serving your customers. Yet many companies have no formal process to acclimate new sales professionals, and onboarding continues to be frequently overlooked.

Within our Education practice at FranklinCovey, we’ve found that our success ultimately hinges on our ability to bring in new client partners and have them be successful in a short period of time. We now have an effective onboarding program for our sales team, but that wasn’t always the case.

Before, it was typically taking 12 months for client partners to become comfortable in their roles where they could support clients with a high level of excellence. It was also taking an additional 12 months before a client partner could bring a school into our Leader in Me community—so on average it was a 24-month period between the date of hire and the date of accretive contribution. This obviously had to change.

After taking a step back, we found that our initial onboarding system lacked focus and shape. We had to be willing to make some major changes if we were going to pursue serious improvement. Our new approach addressed five key areas that we identified as critical to a successful onboarding practice. This overhaul, while still fresh, will net immediate results.

The 5 Steps to a Successful Onboarding Practice

1) Name it. We named the class that comprises our new client partners as Legacy 15 and gave the program a visual identity.


The word “legacy” highlights not only the personal legacies of their new careers but also the broader legacy of our organization. (“15” refers to the fiscal year that is their first in the organization.) Creating this brand and what it represents has added a sense of energy, excitement, and importance to their work, as well as a sense of connection to each other. We ensured our branding effort also aligned with the core beliefs of our company, sparking discussion and strengthening a feeling of belonging to a community and vision. Not surprisingly, the power of this brand has also helped in recruiting for these positions.

2) Onboard with peers. Instead of the fragmented hiring and onboarding we had used before, we shifted to bringing in a class of new client partners together. Now, they can develop relationships with each other in a face-to-face atmosphere. They have peers navigating the same experiences who can provide support and feedback. In addition, the single group arrangement reduced the executive time necessary to onboard each of the new client partners (CPs), freeing hours for other work.

3) Create a clear guide. We developed a process map that provided our CPs with a visual explanation of where they were headed. It helped to simplify the first year for them, giving them something concrete to hold onto in the whirlwind of their new jobs. We used the analogy of Mt. Everest to show them not only where they would start (base camp) and where they would finish (the summit), but also the steps that they would take along the route. We used camps with their own points of focus spaced along the path to illustrate the gradual progress they would make. The use of this map helped us to demonstrate the clear-cut path that they would take to enjoy a successful first year.

4) Establish robust relationships, with a focus on mentoring. Anyone who hopes to climb Everest will need support from others. We instituted four key relationships for each new client partner. One was with the general manager, who oversees the process and spends the first three days of live training with them. Second was the peer class itself. Third were the individuals in the field who the client partners and client partner assistants would be working with. And fourth were mentors, an essential component of bringing along a new team member.

We put a particular emphasis on the mentor relationship and solicited applications from our entire practice, ultimately using a committee to select those who were a best fit for the role and our new CPs. During live training, we presented each new CP with a box containing a biography of their mentor—immediately after they opened the box, they received a surprise phone call from their mentor. It was a powerful and moving start to the relationship.

We also committed to the concept that these were mentor partnerships composed of two equal employees—rather than the traditional view of a mentor/protégé relationship. While the mentors may have more knowledge within the company and can share that insight, the new client partners (which we identified as “legacy partners”) are able to contribute their own experiences and expertise. This premise allows for a more dynamic relationship, and it gives the new CP a greater sense of responsibility in the arrangement.

Mentors now hold bimonthly calls with their legacy partners. Mentors also invite their new client partners to shadow them in the field, and report directly to the general manager on their progress on an ongoing basis.

5) Provide tools for success. A climber of Everest needs sophisticated equipment. We started with a learning management system, which we named “Reach the Summit,” and aligned it with our process map. Beneath each of the camps on the map are developmental levels our CPs should reach. Each level represents one week. Instead of a fire hose of information, we’re adopting a steady, deliberate approach with structure and measurable results.

We also established an internal blog with dynamic content provided by both established workers and new team members. The blog serves as a valuable learning tool and central source of information. A requirement for new CPs to post also provides an element of accountability, requiring them to process their lessons in written form and demonstrate what they’ve learned and how they are applying it.

Too often, sales leaders simply leave onboarding up to the HR department. Their attitude is “let me have them when you’re finished with them.” However, the more that you can integrate those two processes—learning the organization while learning sales responsibilities—the more quickly a new team member can get up to speed. Separating the two only elongates the time it takes for new CPs to adjust to their role.

We’re confident our new approach will pay large dividends. Given the results to date, we anticipate reducing the onboarding period (time between the date of hire and the date of accretive contribution) from 24 months to just 90 days.

While getting her Masters in Human Resource Management at the University of Tennessee, Shannon Weniger had the unique opportunity to work with Landon to bring this onboarding project to life. Bringing her HR background and experience to the table, she was able to make a large contribution to this effort and influence organizational change within FranklinCovey.


Learn more about reducing the time it takes to onboard new sales hires, while also increasing their effectiveness, by attending a complimentary Helping Clients Succeed webcast.

About the Author

Landon Shewmake

Landon Shewmake is the General Manager of FranklinCovey’s Southern Education Practice. He spent 12 years in a sales career that includes Fortune 500 organizations such as Cintas and Chase Manhattan before joining FranklinCovey. Over that time, he has not only developed a passion for serving clients, but also for building organizational systems that improve performance and shorten the development time of new hires within an organization.

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