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Understanding The Sales Onboarding J-Curve

October 12, 2017 / by David Bloom


If you’re anything like me, then you love the idea of starting something new.

A new job. A new friendship. A new course. Heck, even a new book. It’s an exciting period of time when anything is possible and nothing is set in stone. Where heroes are born and legacies are made.

What’s not to love?

Well, a lot actually. Starting something new can be really hard, even for someone who relishes the challenge like me. The truth is that any new task or journey will come with its ups and downs — it can’t be sunshine and rainbows all the time — and most people will simply revert back to their comfort zone whenever the going gets tough, no matter their position or experience.

In the sales world, this can be especially true of the onboarding process. According to Harvard Business Review, 33% of new hires look for work elsewhere after just six months of working at a new company. Furthermore, up to 20% of employee turnover occurs within the first 45 days. That’s a lot of potential sellers down the drain!


Trying to Understand the Onboarding Challenge

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit some old friends that I hadn’t seen in quite some time. After the obligatory catching up and reminiscing on classic times (who knew I had so many nicknames,) we dusted off the brandy and got right into our favorite topic of conversation: investing.

I know. Exciting, right?

From there we got to talking about the J-Curve in economics, which refers to a variety of J-shaped diagrams where a curve initially falls, then steeply rises above the starting point. As mugs clinked and the night wore on, this talk got me thinking on how this theory could be extremely applicable to the sales onboarding space, specifically the peaks and valleys of a new rep’s journey within a company.

And there it was, something NEW that I hadn’t thought of before.

In private equity, the J curve is used to illustrate the historical tendency of private equity funds to deliver negative returns in early years and investment gains in the outlying years as the portfolios of companies mature.




Here’s a new theory I’ve been working on with regards to sales onboarding.

Now, take the same economic concept of the J-curve, and apply it to a rep’s onboarding experience. Just like investing, reps go through peaks and valleys of emotional states when starting a new sales job, or even a new position, before hitting consistent return.


sales onboarding jcurve


In the chart above, the Y axis represents the rep’s attitude as being positive (+ve) or negative (-ve), and the X-axis represents time,

Every single sales rep goes through this onboarding journey, and many at different paces (faster and slower). And not everyone even has the stamina to make it past the lowest point. So, what are some of the thoughts and mindset reps go through while ramping?


7 Emotional Stages Throughout the Sales Onboarding J-Curve

Here are some considerations that a rep goes through in their journey:




1. Hire: This is where the honeymoon begins. If you did the due diligence and the interviewing well, then this should be a mutually exciting time. Sure, the training is intense and you’re not getting a lot of sleep, but on the flip side you’re getting adjusted to the work culture and starting to fit in. It’s a good time to be you.




2. Worry: You’ve returned from boot camp; the training wheels are off and if you’re lucky you’ve been assigned to a mentor who likely has their own problems to worry about. You get your territory, and while excited to get going you are still not sure about where to start. Then a solid rep on your team has a deal slip and let’s his emotion out. It’s not all gongs and whistles.




3. Valley of Doubt: The hardest part. You start questioning your decision to come to the company. Is it me? Is it my patch? Maybe I should’ve have opened that restaurant I always dreamed of, or gone back to school to pursue my masters. Can I do this? Will it look bad if I quit now? I wish I could sell this stuff as well as I could interview. Your mind is starting to get biblical, and “as I walk through the valley of the shadow of doubt” might as well be etched into your desk.




4. First deal: I’m on the dashboard. Feeling a bit better, maybe I can pull this off. Was it a fluke? My manager said I did it faster than the last guy, but my teammates are not all that impressed. The “new guy glow” is starting to fade and lose some of its charm, but there is still a light at the end of the tunnel.




5. First Quota: Yes, I can do this. My VP officially knows my name. Four people that I don’t know just told me that I have a bright future here. The sales enablement team have little hearts and birds circling around their head like they just met their soulmate whenever I walk into the room. I’ve heard that it typically takes eight months for a newly hired employee to reach full productivity, but I feel like I’ve done it in six.

6. Consistent Quota: I think I’m going to like it here. I just got paired to mentor the new guy. I know I’m getting better, but have I mastered the trade? I’m currently on cruise control but is that really all that I really want? Safe is good, but it’s the risk-takers who get sonnets written after them.

7. Crushing Quota: I am awesome. I’m asking for more options. Wait, don’t let it go to my head - the dashboard resets tomorrow and I will be back at the beginning with the other worker bees. I’m going to go teach someone else and become a manager. N’ah, the money is so much better if I crush my quota again next year.


As sales enablers and leaders, our objective is to get our new reps up the J-Curve as quickly as possible and to keep them from sliding back down. Often, we can do a better job at this.

We send reps off to a two-week boot camp and expect them to be ready to sell on Monday. We don’t follow-up to check how their mindset is. We expect them to hit quota in 3 months, when our sales cycle is 4 months.

The list goes on…

We need to be cognizant and focus on the programs and tactics that will help shift the onboarding curve from the red line, to the blue line (see below), getting reps out of the valley of doubt sooner, and getting them to first deal and first quota faster.


sales onboarding jcurve faster ramp


If we spent more time acknowledging and thinking about onboarding as getting the rep’s emotional state and mindset ready for sales cycles, and not just as an information overload that’s self-serving for the managers, then we’d all be able to ramp faster.

When we develop onboarding programs, we need to take into account the peaks and valleys that reps are going through. They’re going to be the most confident and excited right after boot camp. However, 30 days after they’ve “onboarded,” they feel the least confident and prepared to do the job.

This is where, as sales enablers and leaders, we need to focus the most attention for our onboarding programs. This is where reps will need the most support, the most hand holding, to get to that first deal.

Once they’re on the dashboard, and they get to the second deal even faster, you know you’ve done a good job onboarding and you can move on to on-going training programs.

But not a minute before.

What stages are missing? And what are you doing to get your new reps up the Sales Onboarding J-Curve?



Want to learn more about how to design onboarding programs that gets you through the J-curve ramp faster? Check out our webinar: "How To Design A Sales Onboarding Program for Faster Ramp".

Topics: Sales Enablement, Sales Onboarding, Sales Enablement Best Practices

David Bloom

Written by David Bloom

David Bloom is the CEO & Founder of LevelJump, a sales onboarding and enablement solution built on the Salesforce platform. Prior to founding LevelJump David built and sold a corporate training company and held a variety of sales and marketing leadership roles at Fortune 500 life sciences and technology companies including Salesforce.com, GSK and Pfizer.

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