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Remote Onboarding – Best Practices

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Onboarding new salespeople is critical for many reasons; it sets the tone for their experience and success within your company, dramatically impacts how long they will stay, and helps them learn your company, customers, and their role. If done correctly, the onboarding program helps them get up to speed and productive quickly, retains talent, helps you identify promptly who is not a good fit, and sets clear expectations for the salesperson and the sales leader. Among the many things being disrupted right now, onboarding has become remote for many companies. This adds a new challenge to an already often misunderstood process.

Most Companies are good at 'Orientation' 

Research by Glassdoor found that organizations with a robust onboarding process improve new hire retention by 82 percent and productivity by over 70 percent. Whereas according to Urbanbound, some organizations will lose 20 percent of new hires within the first 45 days of employment due to ineffective onboarding. You don't want to lose all that time, energy, and talent, before they are able to remember everyone's name.

Most companies are good at showing salespeople where they sit, getting them set up on their computers and phones, walking them around the office, and introducing them to the team. Many companies have their new employees shadow more tenured employees for a period of time to learn about their roles and how things work. In fact, according to Sapling, new hires will have over 50 activities that need to be completed during their onboarding period.

However, after the initial meet and greet within the office and paperwork, things start to drop off. There are rarely systems in place to validate whether the new employee has retained all of the things they have learned and whether they can apply those things. HCI states that most organizations have stopped their onboarding process after the first week, leaving new hires feeling confused, discouraged, and lacking resources. That is not how you want your new salespeople to feel.

What Makes Seamless Onboarding

The best onboarding programs are structured with clear milestones, assignments, and a coaching plan to give specific feedback on the skills needed for the role. It helps to set up the coaching relationship with the sales leader and salesperson based on specific deliverables. While onboarding programs can vary in length, they are at least 3-6 months, in some cases, longer. According to Atrivity, it typically takes eight months for a new hire to reach full productivity. So, goals and milestones tied to onboarding are imperative for the first nine months.

Having a timeline of when milestones should be met and assignments completed helps new hires plan and prioritize their time and projects. They should be given enough information so that they can schedule meetings and follow up on the assignments themselves, owning their learning. The critical ingredient many onboarding programs miss is validation. Just because you told them, doesn’t mean they remember or know how to do something. Set a benchmark for level of proficiency and validate their learnings.

A study created by Dr. Paul White workplace relationship psychologist, business consultant, and author of the book The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace — surveyed 130,000 on-site and off-site employees to see what motivated them the most when it came to their professional goals. The study found that remote workers tend to be more independently driven, with only 38 percent of those placing value on positive validation from an employer. On the other hand, 48 percent of employees who go into the office consider positive validation from an employer to be a motivation for doing well at work.

Now that onboarding has become more virtual for positions that were intended to be in the office, it brings about some challenges, but also opportunities. Top things to consider while onboarding virtually:

Communication and Expectations

Communication is even more critical when your team is remote. Questions you'll want to figure out are; How should they be spending their time? What are their weekly and daily goals? What are things they need to ask you about before proceeding, and what are things they can move forward with on their own?

When setting up expectations, it's crucial not just to verbalize them, but to document them as well. Send a recap of your conversations in email. Make sure to have a timeline or due date on when specific deliverables need to be completed. Ask questions and have your salespeople repeat back what the expectations are to ensure they understand what you are saying. Don't forget to provide positive feedback when they meet or exceed these expectations. It's a great way to reinforce behaviors you are looking for as well as helping your new hire feel valued. If you want more information on feedback, please check out our blog, "Are You Giving Too Much Negative Feedback?"

Validation of Learnings

Knowing your organization's principles and processes are essential for your team, especially before they meet with customers. Identify what you want the team to learn with specific assignments. Assign who will be the person to do the validation. Sometimes it will be you as the sales leader; other times, it could be someone from another department, or someone on your team. Make sure whoever is the one validating, that they understand the criteria.

With most meetings being virtual now, it's a perfect time to practice calls with your team. Virtual ride-a-longs with customers are a great way to see how your salespeople are doing. You will be able to see how they interact with clients, have them share how they thought the call went, and coach effectively. Many times, sales leaders rely on how their salespeople think the call went. In our experience, salespeople can often have 'happy ears,' or feel it went much better than it did. In some rare cases, people are harder on themselves, and the call actually went better than they thought. You can give feedback based on specific things you saw in the call, tell them what they did well, and help them see areas they can work on.

Utilization of Time

Make sure your team has enough to do. You don't want to overwhelm them with the proverbial fire hose, but you want to make sure they have enough to keep them active and learning. There are a lot more distractions when people work from home. Not just social media, trying to learn the latest statics on the virus, but also the comforts of being at home, or in many cases having children, pets, and spouses at home as well.

There is a lot to balance and each situation is different. Help your team prioritize their time. Use MITs (Most Important Things) with deadlines to keep them focused. Some days will likely be less productive than others. As people are settling into this 'new normal', how can you help them make up for what didn't get done? Maybe daily activity plans need to be updated and increased to get back to where they need to be for the month and the year. Increase in realistic amounts – challenging but achievable.

Working from home is likely to stick around with the current pandemic.  If you want more information on working remotely, check out our blog, "Is Your Remote Sales Team Feeling Disconnected?"

How you handle your onboarding says a lot about you and your company. Invest the time and resources to make an onboarding plan that will help your new hires be successful and is a positive reflection of the sales leader you are and the company in which you work. Your new hires will be grateful and will become happy, successful members of your team.

About Elizabeth Gese

Elizabeth is an Owner, and VP of Business Operations at Pivotal Advisors. She has over 18 years of leadership experience in sales, marketing, and procurement. Through many fluctuating changes in the market, Elizabeth kept her teams focused, positive, and united during these disruptive transitions while continuing to deliver reliable results. If you want to find out more about Elizabeth check out her profile here.
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