Team businessmen
Team businessmen

How hiring and onboarding can support sales performance management

15th Feb 2016

Sales performance management is all about continuous improvement – ensuring that the strategies, tools and processes are in place to nurture and support your sales representatives and ultimately boost their performance. But interestingly, the process of sales performance management begins before a sales rep event even starts with your company.

The process of hiring staff and then onboarding them into your team is of vital importance. If you have the wrong staff in place – either because they aren’t a good fit for your organisation or vice versa - you can waste a lot of time and resources trying to achieve performance levels that will simply never be achieved. And this represents a costly burden on the business. Indeed, the Harvard Business Review estimates that 80% of employee turnover is due to bad hiring decisions. 

“I recently heard a company say that they are losing about 60% of their sales representatives through attrition on a yearly basis, so hiring and onboarding is particularly important to that type of organisation,” says Tad Travis, a research director at Gartner. “We’ve noticed in a lot of industries that are very competitive, such as high-tech, hiring and onboarding has become a competitive differentiator, because those companies are procuring revenue models where they have to pay attention to operational costs and have to control customer acquisition costs and so the way to expand the gap between revenue attainment and cost-of-goods-sold is to onboard sales representatives as rapidly as possible so that you get a faster time-to-value from those sales representatives.”

So how can sales managers ensure that their hiring and onboarding practices are contributing to their sales performance management goals, rather than undermining them? Let’s examine some expert advice.

Capability gaps

“If you want a high performing sales team it is essential that you have the right people in that team, working in the way you want and with the right behaviours,” says Garry Mansfield, managing director of Outside In Sales and Marketing Ltd. “For most, this means retaining the best performers in the team and then hiring new people (with new skills).”

However, many organisations are guilty of being haphazard with their hiring processes, often because they aren’t crystal clear about the key characteristics of a successful candidate. To identify these characteristics, sales leaders should firstly revisit their sales strategy to surface the skills that are required to deliver against that strategy. This could flag up if there are any capabilities that are absent from their current team that could be hampering successful execution of the strategy, so that you can then plug the gaps.

In a lot of industries that are very competitive - such as high-tech - hiring and onboarding has become a competitive differentiator.

“A sales VP must understand their capability gaps related to their strategy,” advises Mansfield. “First you need to define the strategy and identify the 'know-how' and capabilities you require to execute successfully.”

Mansfield recommends developing a team resourcing plan with an associated 'performance framework' for each of the key roles, which can inform the hiring and then ongoing skills development activities.

He continues: “A clear performance framework (core activities, skills and behaviours) focuses you on what you need (end goals) when hiring the right person, and is consistently used post hiring to set expectations and manage performance. For instance, if you lack growth from customer acquisition there is little point in hiring more farmers into the team. If you sell complex managed services don’t hire a 'box-shifter' sales person who sells on a more transactional level (and vis-versa).”

Super salesperson

As well as understanding the capabilities and roles that need covering in your team, it is of course also worth considering the broader skills that are required by the candidates within those roles.

Sean McPheat,  founder and MD of international sales training firm MTD Sales Training, recommends starting with the end in mind, defining what excellence in the role looks like, and scoping out the characteristics and skills for the role based upon what excellence is and then you need to hire based on that.

“The organisations that really get this have a clearly mapped out development plan of the ‘super salesperson’, right from the hiring process through to when they leave (succession planning),” notes McPheat. “That starts with understanding that journey, the key milestones along the way, appropriate sales targets, training and development and everything in between.

“Working backwards along that journey you can then build up a picture of the ideal candidate for the role. For example, some companies will want a finished article to hire and other companies may want someone who has experience of a certain type of sale and has a great attitude to succeed. You will only know this by beginning with the end in mind.

“All hires need to be coachable in order for the sales performance management process to work so I would recommend that you carry out an assessment to look into their motivations, skills and psychological make up.”

All hires need to be coachable in order for the sales performance management process to work.

Hiring practices can also be streamlined thanks to a variety of tools that take some of the effort out of the process. For instance, CV screening and searching can be automated to rapidly narrow the applicant pool, with tools automatically searching for keywords to generate a view of applicant backgrounds and, if necessary, disqualifying them. A growing number of organisations are now also prescreening applicants with online assessment tests, a good way to understand their capabilities and whether they will fit in with the team.

One technique that is being applied to the evaluation of candidates is pattern matching. Travis explains: “More and more evaluation of candidates is occurring in digital channels, and pattern matching allows you to not only evaluate resumes or online profiles such as LinkedIn profiles – that has been going on for a while – but also quickly see who has got the requisite skills for an sales development representative role, for instance, versus a key account manager role.”

And of course the actual interview process itself can also be conducted online, either in real-time with the interviewer speaking to the candidate, or via an automated system where the candidate records answers to questions.

Estimates by the likes of Aberdeen Group indicate that this can dramatically slash the time required for the hiring process, with the analyst firm estimating that 10 online interviews can be conducted in the time it takes for a recruiter to speak with one candidate. Some of these tools also have a video component that allows recruiters to review and parse the answers they provide through the video channel as they are interviewed.


When hiring a person into the team there is a period of time before they hit full productivity. This onboarding time is an important part of the hiring process. “Whilst a sales person you hire may excel in prior roles, they will need to fit quickly into the company and feel part of the team,” says Mansfield. “The role of the onboarding process is to make sure they fit in early so they can hit performance faster.”

A successful and comprehensive onboarding process should incorporate a variety of different activities, including:

  • Outlining the team values and behaviours you want, defining expectations related to the sales discipline you expect.  “A core part of successful performance management is being able to set expectations clearly and then manage performance against this standard,” says Mansfield. “Train the default 'how we sell around here' activities. Sales process, tools, reporting, meetings and systems that you expect them to use day to day. Whilst they may be familiar in part it is almost certain that your way differs to their experience so make sure they know what is expected and give them the tools to do their job.”
  • Introductions to the people they will work with in their day-to-day activities. “Encourage them to learn about their internal customers' needs so they can better engage within the company,” says Mansfield.
  • Regular one-to-one sessions. “Put regular check-ins (short) and more detailed coaching time into the diary and stick to these times to reinforce their importance to the team,” advises Mansfield. “There is nothing worse than bumping these meetings as the message of 'you are not as important as all this other stuff' doesn’t sit well with new hires.”
  • Delivering product information. They can’t sell what they don’t understand.

McPheat has some additional advice on targets during the onboarding process. “In the initial weeks and months the targets that you set your newbie need to be realistic and achievable. They have lots to learn so don’t expect miracles. Having said that they need to know exactly how many sales and at what margins they are required to sell at so they know. Clarity is key for successful performance management.”

McPheat adds: “Your onboarding process needs to have realistic performance measurements in their early months and a plan in place through the sales performance management process to improve the skills, abilities and competencies of the sales rep over time.”

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