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Looking to Improve Sales Rep Performance? Start with Hiring and Onboarding.

by Nalanie Nath

Insight’s Sales Center of Excellence frequently gets asked “How do I increase sales rep performance?” When companies think about this topic, they typically look to rep activity and pipeline reporting to gauge whose performance might fall short – this data is a good starting point to understand existing rep performance. However, the best way to ensure reps perform is to create an effective hiring and onboarding process to set new reps up for success from the start. A structured and repeatable hiring and onboarding process will take the guesswork out of bringing in new talent, improving the effectiveness of your organization and your ability to achieve sales targets.

Hiring: Use a Structured Process

Sales hiring is something that leaders are under pressure to do in a short amount of time. As companies scale-up, the Sales team will need additional quota-carrying reps to achieve new targets. To confirm fit and fast track the hiring process quickly, we typically see organizations rely on referrals, the reputation of “company logos” on reps’ resumes or anecdotal stories in behavioral interviews. Inevitably this leads to a mixed cohort of reps that includes more “B” performers than companies would like. 

At Insight, we believe it’s important to set up a robust, structured process to evaluate talent. We recommend that you assess Sales candidates in three ways: 

  • Utilize a multi-measure pre-hire assessment. After you receive candidate applications, use an online pre-hire assessment with both cognitive and behavioral elements to screen for candidates that have a low likelihood of success. This improves the quality of those candidates that progress to the in-person interview stage, and improves recruiting efficiency. There is a temptation to fast track referrals to an interview and to skip this step, but to remove bias in your recruiting and maintain quality, referrals should take the pre-hire assessment like everyone else. Insight Partners has developed and funded Insight PREDICTIVE – a customized pre-hire assessment program tailored to the needs of Insight’s high-growth software companies. The program is available to all portfolio companies free of charge and is easy to implement as a first step in your hiring process (see our blog post “Five Secrets to Successful Hiring” for more information on Predictive).
  • Add data to behavioral interviews. Behavioral Interviews may feel very qualitative, but it’s possible to make them quantitative and measurable through a scoring rubric. A scoring rubric should ask interviewers to grade the candidate from 1-5 on the key areas that your team determines are necessary for job success. Examples of key rubric categories include coachability, industry knowledge, curiosity, and values alignment. We also recommend recruits interview with individuals across various functional teams, not just Sales. This ensures that teams who regularly interact with Sales can provide input on people they will work with; it also ensures that your scores have diversity of perspective. To take it a step further, we’ve seen companies utilize a survey tool (e.g., Qualtrics) to gather scores and written feedback on each rubric area. The best practice is to hold a meeting with all interviewers where they discuss their scores and provide additional context on the candidate. The candidate’s strengths and development areas should quickly become clear.
  • Create a case interview round. A case interview will give you an understanding of how the candidate will perform in your sales environment. It’s also an opportunity to further evaluate the candidate’s ability to solve problems. We’ve seen sales case interviews structured in two formats. One format is an in-person case where the interviewer provides a client scenario and asks the candidate to walk through their approach to the situation; it’s a chance to role play typical client conversations. This provides a sense of the candidate’s selling abilities and ability to think on their feet. A second format is a written case – typically done at home in a specific timeframe.  In this example, you would give the candidate a written prompt and ask them to prepare slides and present their approach. The first format of live role playing is more common in sales interviews, whereas the second format is more common in interviews for sales operations candidates so that you can test analytics and problem solving more thoroughly. It’s the final step in the selection process and, as above, includes a case scoring rubric to grade the candidate on areas that are required to be successful in the role. 
Hiring Takeaways

To select the best candidates, companies should evaluate multiple aspects of the candidate’s skillset. A behavioral interview or a pre-hire assessment standalone is not enough to truly understand the candidate’s full potential. With multiple evaluation vectors, you will be able to weigh the candidate’s scores across the various assessment areas and ensure that the candidate is scoring strongly in the areas that are critical to be successful in the role. 

Onboarding: Monitor New Hire Performance by Training Module

Once hired, a new cohort of reps needs to be trained.  Most scale-up companies that Insight engages with have not yet built a dedicated Sales Enablement or Training organization. Leaders turn to the current sales force and ask reps to do "ride-alongs" with new hires. This is hard to scale; top sales reps won't always have bandwidth for new hires to shadow them on activities. Furthermore, it’s inefficient to expect new hires to figure it out on their own by copying the behaviors of more seasoned reps. Poor training greatly affects rep productivity, resulting in longer rep ramp time, lower win rates, and longer sales cycles.

To combat this, sales leaders, working with sales operations, should implement a basic training program that covers the market, product, product demos, value proposition, competitors, objection handling, territories, target customers, CRM, sales process and sales reporting. As part of onboarding, HR should cover other topics like company vision, mission and culture, as well as an introduction to founders/ the senior team, and other functional areas. 

We recommend using quantitative measures to track a rep’s knowledge of each of the basic training modules. The following two suggestions to help you track the efficacy of your training and the rep’s ramp time. 

  • Embed knowledge assessments or quizzes into onboarding. Like the hiring process, we recommend assessments after specific sales stages or product training sections. Creating an assessment for onboarding doesn’t have to be complex. You can utilize easy-to-configure survey tools to send quizzes that are a mix of multiple choice and open-ended questions. The rep’s manager should review the results of each quiz and decide whether the new hire is ready to move on to the next section of training. When new hires score low, they should get feedback and repeat the section. Using assessments, the manager can quickly diagnose the cause of any challenges in onboarding and provide additional coaching. 
  • Benchmark onboarding scores to actual performance to continuously improve your onboarding program. As you begin to collect data on onboarding scores, you will be able to benchmark a target score that correlates with rep success. Subsequent reps need to achieve this score before being able to move on to additional training topics. Benchmarking scores on training exams ensure that all reps have a baseline level of knowledge. Insight has found assessments to be particularly useful for companies with complex products or industries: these make it easy to understand if the rep is prepared to talk to clients about new technology concepts or products. Moreover, it also provides an opportunity to continually improve onboarding and training materials as you compare scores to actual sales results. Conversely, if newly onboarded reps are struggling to achieve their ramp-up targets, it’s an indication that you should evaluate the effectiveness of your onboarding program and make adapt it. 
Onboarding Takeaways

This simple implementation of assessments in onboarding ensures leadership accurately understands the performance of new hires. It also identifies coaching opportunities as reps ramp up. These activities will accelerate rep time to productivity, and ultimately revenue.

Structured Processes and Assessments Are an Ally in Successful Sales Hiring and Onboarding

Scale-up organizations seeking to create strong sales organizations, build rigorous and quantifiable hiring and onboarding processes to avoid recruiting biases or the pressure to fill and ramp positions quickly. Similarly, formal assessments and scoring rubrics are powerful tools for onboarding reps. These do not have to be overly complicated; you can start with a simple survey tool, a handful of success metrics, and continue to iterate over time. 

If you would like help building out hiring or onboarding processes and assessments, please reach out to sales@insightpartners.com. 

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Nalanie Nath, Senior Director, Sales COE

Nalanie Nath

Senior Director, Sales COE

Nalanie joined Insight’s Sales Center of Excellence with almost 10 years of experience across the consulting and technology industries. Nalanie consults with Insight’s portfolio companies to build scalable and effective go-to-market strategies. She also drives sales due diligence for potential…

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