Over the past year, we’ve had to rethink our onboarding, and even recruitment, programs for new sales reps. We’ve needed to find new ways to instill confidence from day one and to maintain ramp times or even improve them.

Yes, many of us, especially those with offices around the globe, were already transitioning to virtual onboarding - but the pandemic has accelerated it.

So, what does this look like in practice? We spoke to some top sales enablement practitioners to get a view of how they’ve adapted and asked them to share their onboarding ideas for remote employees.

Empowering reps reps to take ownership

Like many sales enablers, Thomas Cheriyan, who heads up Sales Enablement at OwnBackup, was forced to find a way to replace what he calls ‘learning by osmosis’, where new hires naturally pick up skills and confidence in an office environment by listening to their peers on calls and asking questions afterwards.

“Before COVID, sales enablement didn’t tell new hires ‘hey, you have to shadow these disco [discovery] and demo meetings’,” says Thomas. “Now, we do explicitly tell new hires as part of all the other onboarding activities that they need to.

“Within someone’s first two weeks here, they need to shadow five discovery meetings, they need to shadow five demo meetings, and this forces that new hire to build those relationships faster with their team, and to say, ‘hey, I see this meeting on your calendar next week, can you send me an invite so that I can shadow it?’.

“It forces them to be more proactive, gives them activities they can do independently, and really empower them to do what they would do naturally in an office setting.”

What he’s seen as a result of shifting to this model is that it entrusts reps to take ownership of their own development and improve their confidence to make real video calls - which means they’re ramping up more quickly, and are able to create and close deals significantly faster. As a result, this is a process that will become permanently integrated into OwnBackup’s onboarding process.

He says:

“I don’t think there’s anything a part of this process like we would tear back down. So from my perspective, if this new process is leading to better results, why would I tear it back down?”

Slack hacks

For Ada’s Sales Enablement Manager, Ashton Williams, effective onboarding starts with establishing the tools for communication: “We are a Slack-heavy company. So, in my onboarding, I’m actually creating a session on Slack because, if you think about diversity and inclusion, people aren’t always starting at the same space, and you need to make it easy for them to integrate into your culture.

“If you Slack the way we do at Ada, you need to start people off on how to use it, how to organize themselves, how to prioritize, and our overall etiquette for Slack.

“I’ve built a Slack scavenger hunt for our new people. So they can, you know, set a reminder, snooze a channel, download an asset, go find an asset, search people’s files, find someone’s pronoun, so that they can better get better acquainted with it right off the jump.

“I think every company underestimates that it’s super stressful when you start a new job, when the last thing you know how to do is communicate.”

Power hours

Adriana Romero is Director Enablement Solutions at LevelJump.io, and former GTM Enablement Manager at Clearbanc. At Clearbanc, she found offering an open forum at specific times allowed both new reps and managers to provide a clear and structured coaching strategy:

“We had a specific hour when there was an open Zoom link if new reps wanted to come in and ask a question - we did that twice a week. I even did a separate one for the managers, because we can’t forget that the managers also need a lot of support during these times.”

The last point is important: it can be easy to forget that moving from face-to-face to virtual means managers need mechanisms to help their team members minimize distractions, manage time and give working days structure.

Support from the get-go

“When you start a new job, you can learn by asking people in proximity,” says Tanya Jeffers-McAllister, Head of Advice Center and former Director, Sales Practice Effectiveness, at RBC Insurance. “Now, if you start a new role, more than likely you’re doing that from home. So companies have got to start thinking about their onboarding programs. It’s a very, very different dynamic.

“At RBS, we were definitely taking a look at some of our onboarding programs, to make sure we were wrapping our arms around that individual to make them feel welcome and give them the support right from the start.

“It could be very daunting, starting a new role and not having that sort of connection, even with your manager.”

A change in skill sets?

Tanya points out that this may even bring a new dimension to the skills and qualities she looks for when recruiting: “You may be looking for someone who exudes a sense of independence, or that has more confidence in the online space. So it’s starting to change sort of some of the qualifications that you’re looking for, for certain roles. Because you don’t want people to start and not know how to use technology because now you have to rely heavily on technology to do your job.

“It’s definitely a learning curve for some team members that are not necessarily very savvy with technology. So, when you’re hiring, what skillsets are you looking for that perhaps might be more important than they were before? And I think technology is a big one.

“Having presence on camera is not something everybody’s comfortable doing. Now it’s almost like public speaking in every meeting, because most meetings are on camera. How do you also bridge that gap?”

It’s also forced employers, via sales enablement, to bring even greater clarity about what’s expected of new hires.

Thomas Cheriyan, who has restructured his onboarding program so that new reps are explicitly required to shadow and document real-life calls, says: “We’ve absolutely put together this roadmap that does a great job of diminishing that anxiety level for new hires, because we’re laying out the expectations of what you need to be doing when you’re not taking training in our LMS or when you’re not in boot camp. This way, they get to own the training they’re expected to master.”

It’s not just onboarding that’s had to pivot. From coaching and training to sales kickoffs, scaling communications systems and processes is more of a priority than ever to maintain engagement and deliver consistent, effective messaging in a virtual environment.

Read more about how sales enablement has been adapting to the challenges of the new virtual environment - download the report Is Virtual the New Reality 👇