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Measuring Success: The Logic and ROI of an Outstanding Onboarding Program

By August 6, 2018 No Comments

The goal of an outstanding onboarding program for your newly hired sales executives, business development managers, account managers and other sales related roles is to create the conditions for them to succeed.

An onboarding program is also a business decision, and an investment. Is it worth to put in place an outstanding Onboarding Program? Wether you are more cost oriented, or more benefit or impact oriented when it comes to money decisions, this contents will help you do the math in the right way. Hopefully you come to the conclusion that putting in place an Outstanding Onboarding Program for your Sales Executives is one of the best and most strategic investments you can do.

The Challenge

“Swim or sink” this is now an old school (I mean very old) school statement referring to what some companies think when onboarding new employees: Limited or inexistent guidance, support, or tools, people are put to their jobs to figure it all out. On the opposite side of this, we find a shared responsibility and collaborative scenarios.

The swim or sink approach  for new sales hires is a practice not hard to find in companies big and small, new and old, and it is more a “don’t know better” than a being mean approach.

Yet, independent of the reasons and corporate culture aspects behind, investing in an onboarding program should be a business decision, so wether you favor one approach or the other, having the right elements to measure impact will help you make your case. A business decision not backed by its corresponding ROI makes the outcome extremely difficult to evaluate, explain or justify.

Why measuring and metrics? You hire people and bring talent to your organization because that will help you succeed, right? But how do you define/measure success? Without specific metrics and their corresponding data points, managers and their organizations will hardly know when things are working and into which extent, when it is too little, when is it enough, when to stop…

One of the metrics frequently overlooked in sales organizations, specially during the first stages of their maturity, is the success of an onboarding program. In other words, having an outstanding onboarding program in place, and consistently measuring its success would be a mark of more mature sales operations.

Wether your new sales hires do not get a formal onboarding program, or you have one in place but not sure how effective it is, measuring what matters will help you take action.  Take these four metrics to start.

Success Metrics to Assess an Onboarding Program

Retention Rate.

% of employees that stay in the company after Y1, Y2 and Y3 (at least). Y1 (the first 12 months after hiring) is the one directly related to the Onboarding Program, although Y2 and Y3 are greatly impacted by it too. Ideally you want the Retention Rate to be 100% or close, for when “many” employees are leaving the company (either voluntarily or when they are terminated),  is very costly for the organization. 

Consider for example the cost of a sales executive dramatically missing sales targets, this compromises sales results for the year (individually and for the team), if the employee is terminated,  HR will set off the termination procedure (with its associated costs), and start looking for new candidates (ideally with no delay, even before the previous Executive is still on the job), new job-postings, interviewing, and other costs and time of hiring, the new onboarding period at reduced productivity…  If you have a clear idea of how much does hiring in your company costs,  consider the “wasted” resources put on the employee leaving plus the resources necessary to find a replacement. When it comes to sales operations, it is not hard to draw a line between a high turnover rate and the actual growth rate of the company: A high turnover in sales operations lags a company and delays strategic goals sometimes by years, with all the consequences that this entails.

The situation is delicate, but specially dramatic in small sales operations, startups and established businesses alike, where as we know timing and speed are everything. Letting go an underperforming Sales Executive can represent losing 50% or 100% of the sales force, and frequently business owners and co-founders have chip in and leave other strategic stuff undone.

How to calculate:  Suppose you hired 5 sales people last year, and at the end of Y1 only 3 remain in their jobs. Your retention rate would be 60%

a/b = RR


a represents the number of employees that stay at the end of Y1

b represents the total hires of that period/batch.

3/5 = 60%

Performance Success Rate.

Simple, the number of Sales Executives that reach their goals, over the total number of hires of that period.

Suppose you hired 5 people last year, and 2 of them reach their quota by the end of their Y1, the Performance Success Rate of that “batch” would be 40%.

c/b = PSR


c represents the number of employees that hit their goals

b represents the total hires of that period/batch.

2/5 = 40%

Overall Hiring Success Rate.

This is a composite metrics (I love them). It blends the two metrics we just described, that is, the percentage of employees that stay on the job (Retention Rate) AND the percentage of new hires that hit their goals at the end of Y1 (Performance Success Rate) by simply obtaining an average number.  

For example:  You hired 5 sales people  during last year, 3 of them remain at the end of Y1, and only 2 of them reach their quota, then your Hiring Success Rate would be 50%

The calculation would look like this:

[(a/b) + (c/b)] / 2 = HSR   or       

(RR + PSR) / 2 = HSR


a is the number of employees who stay on the job after Y1

b represents the total hires of that period/batch.

c is the number of employees who hit their targets

We divide by 2 to obtain an average between RR and PSR, in order to “blend” them as follows

(40% + 60%) / 2 = 50%

Understanding how many people stay after 12 months, and how many actually perform as expected is a reflection of how successful the Onboarding Program is. However these metrics should also account for the performance assessment of both their direct manager of new hires, and the HR team involved with the selection and actual development/deployment of the program.

Employee NPS.

Remember that you design an onboarding program based on your hypothesis on how you can facilitate success for your new hires. Without the feedback and actual validation of employees undergoing the program at best you will be doing an educated guess of what works and what doesn’t. NPS and other data-points to assess employee experience are a valuable asset for you to create amazing initiatives.

Talking about good investments, invest the right amount of resources to create an amazing NPS questionnaire/survey that ACTUALLY gives you data to validate and make decisions. Involve Human Resources and if necessary an expert. Lousy surveys -besides being useless- have a very negative effect in employee morale and engagement.

Customer NPS.

Similar to the previous one, and probably more commonly used out there. When Sales Executives interact with customers, it is fair to ask customers about their experience. Keep in mind that you don’t want to ask customers how this or that executive are doing:  The Feedback that makes sense and the one you want will indicate you the efficiency of your onboarding process, the sales process you have in place, the customer journey you have defined, and specific aspects of the executive performance and communication, like customer focus, problem solving and priority setting.  

Consider here too that putting in place an Outstanding Customer NPS program (people are calling this more Voice of the Customer programs) is well worth it, for if you don’t ask, or ask the wrong questions you will be focusing on trying to solve the wrong problems.

Take Action

Providing the framework for you to make a business case is an invitation to test your own reality, or that of your company and sales teams. Remember that a practice you have, a policy in place, a procedure you use, they are all based on hypothesis, and hypothesis that are not tested (frequently enough) inevitably grow outdated. Inefficiency in sales operations, and poor performance are frequently based on focusing in solving the wrong problems. Running these tests would actually be incorporating a Lean Approach to your sales operations. Click To Tweet

  1. Know where you are:  Without knowing the starting point, goal setting is fuzzy and confusing (for you and your teams). Obtain data for these metrics from the past: gather information from your team, from peers, your CRM, your customers and the People and Culture teams (still commonly known as HR). Historic data will give you: (a) a reality check on how things are right now in terms of performance/success, and (b) a baseline to set goals for new onboarding processes. Additionally, gathering information to understand efficiency is a great conversation topic with other stakeholders, grasp the opportunity and make the most of it.
  2. Understand where you are: Put the results together, are there trends? Does it all look balanced? Do some data-points reflect evident onboarding flaws? What should the numbers be? Is there market data to benchmark your team’s performance? What would C level or investors think about this numbers? What would your competition think of these numbers?
  3. Set goals now: Setting new goals, and designing the initiatives to achieve them is the most strategic definition of your work. Without this component you may be only “managing” 
  4. Make decisions and set off new initiatives: setting new goals necessarily implies for you to create the specific conditions,  and design the plans and initiatives to validate them, and here’s where you (re)design the onboarding program: the set of tools, knowledge, guidelines, alliances etc, you will PROVIDE new hires as a condition for them to PERFORM. In my experience, the whole success of onboarding lies in the idea of giving before “taking”.
  5. Make it a priority. I don’t necessarily mean make it a top priority, although it might all be… Make it a priority means put it in its right place and order in your team/division/company priority list.  Priorities are understood, shared and… scheduled.
  6. Involve everyone that needs to be involved: Strategic initiatives and changes are never a 1 person effort. Without the support and engagement of your peers, reports and other teams you’ll hardly get where you want.
  7. Set mechanisms to keep on track: Test your new hypothesis by monitoring them in real time. For granted, expect that deviations will occur: the value of monitoring in real time is the opportunity to take action and correct deviations before they become critical. Monitor, get real time data, share data Wether you are the formal/hierarchical leader of the team, or a functional/legitimate leader, your job is keeping the pulse so that things are on track to achieve goals.


Try it, practice and iterate, variate it, make it yours… measure your performance and good selling, great onboarding, and success!

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