Beyond Sales Onboarding: How To Make The Training Stick (Part One)

March 11, 2016

August 10, 2015  |  By Heather Cole

Congratulations, your latest class of new hire sales reps has just completed its prescribed onboarding program, and the reps are happily on their way to productivity… or so you hope. 

You hope they retain what they learned and continue to apply it in their daily activities. You hope they don’t resort to talking all about product specs and company history when they come under pressure in a customer conversation. You hope their managers coach to the customer-centric messaging you have spent hours helping the reps practice and role play.

But wishing for all of these things will not make it happen – you need a plan and some proven tactics. What can you do to reinforce what a new hire learns once he or she has left the comforts of the onboarding nest? That question comes to us in many forms, but in the end, it is all about finding ways to ensure that new hires retain their new knowledge and integrate what they have learned into skills they use every day until the right behaviors become an unconscious habit.

This objective can be accomplished and measured through execution of a formal certification process, supported by ongoing proactive coaching, supplemental learning opportunities and appropriate technology. 

What is certification?

A certification process introduces rigor to the training and ensures that reps develop an understanding of the content at a level required to effectively and efficiently execute their role. There are three levels of certification, which vary in complexity, effort and desired outcome:

Level 1: Content mastery (Do they know it?)  Test for understanding through an exam or teach-back.

Level 2: Application (Can they do it?)  Test for knowledge and skills through a simulated situation.

Level 3: Field execution (Can they execute in the field and retain the knowledge and skills over time?) Observe and coach to desired knowledge and skills, apply learning intervention when appropriate.

What factors come into play for continued field execution?

While it would be easy to assume that the adoption of critical skills is best reinforced by Level 3 certification, we continually see evidence that reps are more likely to consistently execute in the field when they are confident in their abilities. This confidence comes from clearly understanding expectations, practicing in a safe environment, having meaningful coaching, and observing what best practices look like in both live and simulated environments.

Simply put, the better baseline knowledge reps have and the more opportunities they have to practice and observe, the more likely they are to execute properly in the field, and the easier it is to reinforce and certify knowledge and training.

In part two of this series, we will discuss specific tactics you can employ regarding certification, coaching, field enablement and technology. 

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