salad-1264107_640Last week I attended one of the premier conferences for entrepreneurs. The conference packed tremendous value into a short time with presentations by such super stars as serial entrepreneurs Devin and Melanie Duncan and UGG founder Brian Smith. I couldn’t have asked for a better learning experience.

Yet before the last slide for the last session was shown, I slipped out the side door to catch an early flight home. I felt, and am pretty sure looked, like a wrung out dishrag. I simply couldn’t absorb a single piece of information more. I figured I’d get a copy of the slides and watch the recorded session at a later date when I could actually get something out of it.

Want to guess how long the conference was? Two days. That’s right, two measly days. Lest you think I am some sort of super wimp, I want you to know that I wasn’t the only one who slipped out early or sported the glazed-eyed look of the proverbial deer in the headlights.

Quick question for you. How long is your sales onboarding? And, if after two days of information cramming I was toast, how do you think your brand new sales reps feel after you subject them to two or more weeks of sales onboarding?

I was able to slip out early. While your sales reps may be obligated to remain with their butts glued to their seats, I think we can all agree that there are other, just as effective, non-physical ways of checking out. Candy Mania, anyone? If your sales reps are checked out, how much are they really getting out of the training?

Let’s take a look at what goes on that makes learning such an exhausting experience. During the conference, I was engaged in the following activities:

  • Sitting, listening, and paying concentrated attention for extended periods of time
  • Deciding on-the-fly what to include in my copious notes
  • Deciding also on-the-fly if, when, and how I might use the information being presented in my day-to-day work
  • Exchanging additional ideas with my fellow participants during breaks and meals

All of these activities are mentally taxing. And, when I don’t get to learn a little/apply a little, it is akin to eating all of the week’s meals on Sunday and then burning the calories for the next 6 days. Sounds awful, doesn’t it?

The same applies to your sales reps. If you stuff them with information, I can guarantee that a bunch of it is leaking out and more never even makes it in.

I feel you. You’ve got 2, or even 3, weeks for sales onboarding. How can you make it a more effective learning experience given this constraint? My recommendation is to set it up like a series of meals. This means you do a little training (eating) followed by a little application (calorie burning). And, when I say application, I don’t just mean role-plays and other classroom activities. I also mean real work assignments.

Your onboarding might be structured like this:

Monday Morning Learning
Monday Afternoon Application
Tuesday Morning Learning
Tuesday Afternoon Application
Wednesday Morning Learning
Wednesday Afternoon Application
Thursday Morning Learning
Thursday Afternoon Application
Friday Morning Summary and Q&A
Friday Afternoon Structured Shadowing

In this way, you can conduct your onboarding for weeks without burning out your sales reps.

At the end of the program, I recommend assigning reps to work in teams to complete a project that gives them a chance to use as much of what they learned as possible. For example, you could ask them to conduct a mock sales call or prepare a mock sales presentation.

This structure allows new sales reps to absorb what you are teaching and incorporate it into their work routine. Isn’t this, after all, the purpose of sales onboarding?