This post answers that question with contrasting examples of onboarding models. It describes how Agile methodology can be applied to Sales new hire onboarding. It includes an Agile Onboarding Scorecard you can download here.


Waterfall vs. Agile

Traditional ‘waterfall’ onboarding consists of a sequence of activities to complete. The new hire advances to full capability by completing the prescribed checklist of learning tasks. At the end of 6 to 9 months the new hire earns a certificate. This signals the end of sales training and readiness to handle a territory.


In reality, the ability to perform the new job is not binary. The University model reinforces this misconception. We all know someone who has been a college “senior” for 3+ years. He’s perennially a few credits shy of graduation requirements. But one happy day, the final course is completed. Suddenly the student makes the quantum leap from undergrad to alumnus. His capabilities did not change overnight, only his academic status.


We know that is not how people really learn and evolve. But it is often how onboarding programs are structured. Treating onboarding as a sequence of events retards the development of new hires. In reality they become more competent each day, mastering basic skills and acquiring advanced capabilities. Here are two examples:


William Waterfall Joins the Sales Team

Willie was excited to start his new sales job on Day One. He quickly shook off the disappointment of spending his first morning filling out benefits forms. In the weeks that followed he grew impatient, hammering through self-paced training modules. The satisfaction of checking off course completions was nothing like the thrill of signing an order.


Willie was soon overwhelmed by advanced information that he did not yet need. He felt isolated from the sales team, waiting for the classroom training. The patience to endure this onboarding program was not part of his “hunter” DNA.


He wondered why the interviewers had asked so many questions about his “sense of urgency.” Willie never earned his onboarding diploma. His recent job search had also turned up some other options. They looked much more promising now. He was gone in 6 weeks.


Angela Agile Comes Aboard

Angie arrived on Day One full of questions about her pre-hire study assignments. She met with her Fast Ramp coach for lunch and got answers. Angie was delighted to dive into selling activities right away. They were simple tasks that put her knowledge of the basics to the test. She felt a growing sense of accomplishment as bigger challenges came each day.


Angie’s training was built in layers; it wove concepts together. Basic product information was followed by basic competitive knowledge, and then back to more advanced product knowledge. Learning seemed easier when streams of content were blended this way. She could apply new capabilities immediately without waiting to complete the entire curriculum.


Her rapid progress came in a series of ‘sprints’ that kept her energized.  Angie soon announced the success of writing her first order in a Chatter post. In just over a dozen weeks she was on pace to retire her annual quota.


How Onboarding Becomes Agile

Agile Onboarding has 3 key attributes:


Knowledge is layered – subjects are not covered completely in one session. Enough information is learned to support learning of the next subject.


Content is sequenced – topics are revisited at increasingly more advanced levels. Basic skills can be applied early without waiting to complete the entire curriculum.


Expectations are progressive – from accomplishing developmental tasks at the start to closing orders that deliver revenue at the end.


The goal is not simply to check off a list of required course completions. The goal is to learn and apply new capabilities every day.



Why Doesn’t Everybody Use Agile Onboarding?

This all makes sense, but waterfall training is still the norm in sales organizations. This is partly because the University model reinforces the checklist approach. The real reason? It’s easier for those who create and deliver the training.


Scheduling – sessions can be delivered in any order


Instructors – each subject matter expert can independently deliver their module


Content – a single module covers an entire topic


Updating – changes can be made to one module at a time because they are not interwoven


The result is not what the learner really needs, but it’s clearly much easier for the trainers. Agile Sales and HR leaders need to push back.  


The Good News about Agile Onboarding

The good news is that Sales and HR leaders already have the content they need. The challenge is to structure it to enable Agile learning. Subject Matter Experts tend to be organized in disciplines like Industry Marketing, CRM, and Proposal Writing.


Agile Onboarding requires a holistic view of sales effectiveness to build the layering and sequencing. Sales leaders are not experts in learning and development. HR leaders play the key role here. They can direct onboarding to be more Agile.  


Take an Agile Step Forward Today





Does your Onboarding follow the University model or is it Agile? Can you improve the time to full effectiveness with a more Agile approach? Start by downloading the scorecard.


In just a few minutes, you’ll have an assessment of your current program. Find out if your Onboarding will prevent you from Making the Number. Or guarantee it.