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Onboarding Salespeople: Socialization Approaches

Onboarding Salespeople: Socialization Approaches

Phillip Wiseman, Michael Ahearne, Zachary Hall and Seshadri Tirunillai

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Teaching Insight:

A decentralized onboarding program can develop salespeople into higher performers than a centralized onboarding program can, partly due to its ability to foster in newcomers a more innovative and adaptive approach to their role.

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Full Citation:
Wiseman, Phillip, Michael Ahearne, Zachary Hall, and Seshadri Tirunillai, (2022) “Onboarding Salespeople: Socialization Approaches,” Journal of Marketing,

The effective training of salespeople is crucial to a firm’s success; there is arguably no more critical type of training than a salesperson’s onboarding. In this study, the authors leverage a natural field experiment in which a firm’s newly hired salespeople can undergo onboarding through either a decentralized program or a centralized program to examine the relative impact of each program. Drawing on organizational socialization theory, the authors consider whether an onboarding program that incorporates both individualized and institutionalized socialization tactics (the decentralized program) can develop salespeople into higher performers by encouraging them to take a more innovative and adaptive approach to different facets of the sales role. The findings reveal that salespeople who underwent the decentralized program achieved approximately 23.5% higher sales performance than those who underwent the centralized program. The performance benefits of the decentralized program were amplified for salespeople whose managers had a narrower span of control. In addition, these performance benefits were appreciable for those salespeople transitioning from another job but negligible for those transitioning from school. A scenario-based experiment enriches the field experiment’s findings by showing evidence of the theorized mechanism underlying the sales performance benefits observed: the fostering of an innovative role orientation.


Special thanks to Demi Oba, Ph.D. candidate at Duke University, for support in working with authors on submissions to this program.

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Phillip Wiseman is Assistant Professor of Marketing, Rawls College of Business, USA.

Michael Ahearne is C.T. Bauer Professor of Marketing and Executive Director, Sales Excellence Institute, University of Houston, USA.

Zachary Hall is Associate Professor of Marketing, Texas Christian University, USA.

Seshadri Tirunillai is Assistant Professor of Marketing, University of Houston, USA.