Salesperson training is critical for firms, especially onboarding, as it helps new employees assimilate and understand the firm. A decentralised onboarding programme that incorporates elements of both institutionalised and individualised training is the best option. It encourages adaptability and innovativeness to enhance sales performance by 23.5%. When combined with a narrow span of control for sales managers, decentralised onboarding can boost sales by 29.6%.
Salespeople are the lifeblood of organisations, so their training is critical. The average firm in the US spends $1 million per year on training salespeople, and the average expenditure on a
salesperson’s training is 20% higher than on the training of other employees (according to the Association for Talent Development). One of the vital types of training that salespeople receive is onboarding, which aims to assimilate them into the firm and enable them to deliver value as quickly as possible. Given the criticality and expense of onboarding training for salespeople, a study tries to answer the question: What kind of salesperson onboarding training can lead to maximum return on investment?
The study found that decentralised onboarding programmes can increase salesperson
performance by 23.5%. Decentralised onboarding refers to a programme that incorporates both individualised and institutionalised aspects. These programmes are conducted at the level of regions or other localised sales units rather than at a central location. They combine institutionalised or formal, centralised learning (which is more systematic, causes a greater sense of connection to the firm, and leads to uniform assimilation) with informal, individualised learning (which incorporates personal characteristics, is context-based, and promotes innovation).
For instance, a centralised onboarding programme might provide the same template for
new customer acquisition throughout the country. A decentralised programme, on the other hand, would tweak the common template to fit local nuances and customer traits. It would also consider each salesperson’s strengths and weaknesses when training them to acquire new customers. Mixed socialisation tactics give salespeople role clarity and encourage them to be more creative and adaptive in their approach to their work, which leads to greater success.
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The study also found that the advantages of the decentralised onboarding programme were
magnified in cases where managers had a narrow span of control. Span of control refers to the number of subordinates a manager has. A narrow span of control (fewer reportees) leads to more time per reportee for coaching and guiding their innovative behaviour. More conscientious attention from the manager allows salespeople to adopt fruitful adaptive behaviours and make fewer mistakes, thereby improving performance. A narrower span of control can improve sales performance by up to 29.6%, whereas a wider span of control reduces the improvement to only 11.3% (a statistically insignificant number).
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Interestingly, the benefits of the decentralised onboarding were significant for salespeople moving from other firms but not for freshers. For lateral hires, the improvements were as high as 23%, but for freshers, the improvement was around 9% only. Freshers joining
from school/college enter an unfamiliar world with new challenges. They focus on conformity to reduce their sense of discomfort, sacrificing innovation. Hence, a decentralised onboarding programme has less impact on their performance. Experienced salespeople, however, bring their prior learning and skills to a job that has some familiar challenges. A decentralised training programme orients them to use their prior skills and experience innovatively, which helps them to excel.
This study has some interesting insights for firms and sales managers regarding the designing of their onboarding programmes. If they decentralise their onboarding, incorporating some elements of institution-level training and some elements of more
contextual and individual-level training, they can give a boost to salesperson performance. However, this practice will be more beneficial to firms making lateral hires. Since the effect of decentralised training on freshers is marginal, firms hiring both fresh graduates and experienced salespeople can continue with centralised training for freshers to help them feel more comfortable in the new environment while transitioning to decentralised onboarding for lateral hires.
To further boost the benefits of decentralised onboarding training, firms can modify their structures to give sales managers appropriate spans of control. Narrow spans of control will
amplify the effect of decentralised training, but too narrow a span of control can lead to under-utilisation of the manager’s time, which can have a negative impact on the firm’s revenues and offset the gains of the decentralised onboarding. Combining decentralised onboarding, especially for laterally hired salespeople, with an appropriate span of control for sales managers can give firms the maximum improvement in salesperson performance.
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