Sales and HR leaders often misdiagnose the root cause of long ramp times. When new hire sales reps are not productive, take a look at onboarding. The lack of customer focus can be a deadly impediment. This post explores the impact of customer focus in onboarding. And it includes a Customer-Focused Onboarding Scorecard to assess your own program.


Most onboarding is anything but customer-focused. Programs usually take an inside-out view. The new hire is the center of attention. A positive Day One experience is paramount.  The value that the customer gets from onboarding is just a by-product. Put the customer at the center and see dramatically faster results.


This post is for sales leaders and their HR business partners. It answers the question, “How do we hire the right people and empower them with the right skills?”



Sales Onboarding vs. Sales Training

Sales onboarding programs differ from on-going sales training. The content is largely the same, but the sequence of the content is very different. Certain pieces of information are required as a foundation. Other information comes later. Without the fundamentals, the new hire simply can’t help the customer make a purchase decision.


Knowledge of product features, value propositions, and competition are imperative. But they build on knowledge of the customer. New hires need this right away, in order to make the first sales call. Customer-focused onboarding sequences the content to deliver value to the customer. Sooner. Using standard sales training for new hires is a sure-fire recipe for long ramp times.


Ingrid Inward – She Struggles Selling Software

Ingrid was a successful pharmaceutical rep. She was eager to train for her new role selling software solutions. She completed a conventional “Know, Do and Use” program.  At the end of the week she was fluent in product features, pricing and competition.


Her product demo enthusiastically followed the script. Her sample proposal was compelling.  But she was soon frustrated and confused with real-world customer interactions. Ingrid had a hard time identifying decision makers and struggled to secure appointments.  She never got traction in spite of topping her onboarding class in the final exam.


Oscar Outward – Ready for the Real World

Contrast Oscar’s experience at his new job as a telecommunications sales rep. During his first week, Oscar learned the 6 personas who are typically involved in buying his solution. He discovered what matters to each and how they differ. Using LinkedIn to research customers, he practiced uncovering unique interests and preferences of real buyers.


Oscar also played the role of a buyer, while a team member prompted “micro-decision” questions. By the end of the week, he was ready to align with customers and help them buy. His mentor then helped Oscar hone his skills in the field, building on his solid foundation.


What Makes Onboarding Customer-Focused?

The success of most sales onboarding programs is measured by readiness to retire quota. Customer-focused onboarding instead measures the ability to satisfy customer needs. Success in retiring quota is a by-product of customer focus. The reverse is not guaranteed.  


3 Dimensions of Customer-Focused Onboarding:



The new hire must first understand who needs the solution. Product features and competitive advantages are all relative to the Buyer Persona. Sales onboarding must enable new hires to recognize each Persona.


For complex sales, there are multiple personas. Success requires a clear understanding of the individuals involved in buying the solution.



A customer moves through a reasonably predictable buying process when making a purchase decision. At the start, the buyer is “Not in the Market.” Something happens that stimulates the buyer’s interest in solving a problem.


Early stages are followed by others that ultimately lead to a purchase. The new hire must learn to identify which stage the buyer is in. Without the ability to figure out the buying stage, the new hire wastes time and energy.



The buying process is composed of a series of “micro-decisions.” The buyer seeks answers to many questions during the buying process. “Can I fix this problem with resources we already have?” is a common starting question.


A late-stage question might be, “How can we afford this?” The new hire must be able to probe for these questions, and even stimulate them. Together, buyer and seller find answers and move towards a decision.


Sales onboarding is customer-focused if it educates new hires on these topics early in the program. It uses role play simulations that allow new hires to practice persona identification. Testing reinforces a thorough understanding of the stages of the buying process. Mentors assist new hires in uncovering and directing “micro-decision” questions.  And it is all customized to the specific personas and their buying process.  


Make the Switch – Focus on the Customer

Don’t just assess the people, assess the program. First, download the Customer Focused Onboarding Scorecard. The 10 questions pinpoint the most common flaws in onboarding programs. In a few moments you will know where you stand.




Building a customer-focused program can be easy – if you have the content. This means that the research into personas and their buying processes is complete. Sequence this content first in the onboarding program. New hires will naturally want to dive into the details of solution features and benefits. Focusing on the customer early in onboarding sends a strong message.


If the Persona and Buyer Process Mapping is not complete, you must accelerate it. Click here and here for tools to get started. Help is also available here to transform onboarding into a powerful competitive force. Use the scorecard now and start making the switch right away.