Episode 114: Mark Eckstein on How to Onboard at Scale

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Shawnna Sumaoang: Hi, and welcome to the Sales Enablement PRO podcast. I am Shawnna Sumaoang. Sales enablement is a constantly evolving space and we’re here to help professionals stay up to date on the latest trends and best practices so that they can be more effective in their jobs. Today I’m excited to have Mark from Bizzabo join us. Mark, I would love for you to introduce yourself, your role, and your organization to our audience.

Mark Eckstein: Hey Shawnna, thanks so much for having me. So, as you said, my name is Mark Eckstein and I lead revenue enablement at Bizzabo. Bizzabo is an event management software company. We enable companies to execute virtual in-person or hybrid events to provide rewarding and impactful experiences for their attendees.

SS: Well Mark, I’m very excited to have you join us today. You and I have connected before, and during that time, you had talked about the robust onboarding program that you’ve built at Bizzabo. I would love for you to explain to our audience what are the core elements of your onboarding framework?

ME: Yeah, I’m happy to. I think the best way to go about this is probably to answer a little bit more chronologically. So, if I were brand new in enablement and I’m looking to really build out a new onboarding program from scratch, what would be the steps that I would take. With that concept, the first thing I would do, like with most things in enablement is I would start with discovery. Specifically, I would need to understand what’s the role that we’re looking to hire for, and what does success look like for an individual in that role? And once we have that understanding of what success looks like, we’re then able to backtrack and analyze what’s the specific knowledge, skills, tools, and organizational understanding that’s necessary for a new hire in that role to reach success.

Now, tactically, what this looks like is basically a few conversations between myself, enablement, the hiring manager, a few reps on the team who we deem as the most successful, as well as some relevant stakeholders from across the company. And those could be anywhere from CS, client services, solution, support. Just anyone who engages with this typical member of the new organization. So once we’ve aggregated what success looks like and what a new hire would need to be successful in that role from discovery, those actually become your inputs in building out the next part of what you’re going to do, which is building out the individual learning journeys for that role. So personally, I use a tool called Trello for the day-to-day program template for each role. It’s free, simple, and scalable. Now the learning journey itself is where the most amount of your effort and time really goes into when building out your onboarding program.

Now, I like to break that up into three macro sessions. So, the first one is going to be, what does everyone need to know what the organization? So, for us, this becomes your general onboarding program, the foundational part of the program that all employees go through. This could be anything from support, sales, IT, HR, doesn’t matter. Everyone at our company needs this basis of understanding. And for us, it’s the first six days of when you start at our company. It covers everything from a goals meeting with your manager, what are my expectations, what is the company looking for me to achieve and how do I get there, our overall company, what’s our mission and vision, our culture and values, the overall market in which we play with it. And so, in that case, how has it evolved over time and where do we see it going forward? Then we get into ICP, the ideal of our ideal customer profile. What are the companies in which we think are best fits? For what we provide to the market and they’re going to be the most successful with it. And then the individual personas at our clients and prospects. And for this, it’s the understanding of, I want every employee at our company to have an understanding of what are the goals for these individuals who, if I’m on support, I’m helping with the solutions ticket. If I’m on sales, I’m making a call too. And if I’m on CS, my goal is to make these people successful. And I think everyone at the company needs that baseline understanding. So, we embed it into the actual onboarding general onboarding program. And then finally we move into the last two parts, which is really competition. Where do we sit within the marketplace? Where do we win? Where do they win? And then finally our product. I put product specifically at the end of that general onboarding program, because for some roles you’ll find it gets a little bit distracting. So, if that’s the first macro section of what we’re looking to do when we’re building out a general onboarding program.

The second section is really when we get into that specific role. What does that need to know that they have? So, what are the skills, knowledge, and tools training for that specific new role that we’re now building out? And that ends up being the next seven to 13 days of guided learning for that individual new hire within our company. And then the third and last macro section that we’re going to talk about are feedback loops. And these generally encompass kind of two different parts. The first one is the assignments and certifications. How do we know if a new hire learned what we taught them and can effectively actually apply that knowledge and skills? And then the second part are the experience feedback loops. So these ensure that new hires are actually enjoying the experience of the onboarding program itself and if there is anything that we can do as program administrators to further improve it, that we’re hearing about it basically near real-time, you can fix it accordingly before the next new hire cohort starts. And for us, every cohort is about every two weeks. So, it’s a constant stream of new hires coming through the organization and therefore this constant iteration within these programs to rebuild it little by little and tweak it before the next one comes.

SS: I think that’s a fantastic framework, Mark. Absolutely fantastic. Now you mentioned several of the revenue facing teams that you support. So how do you go about tailoring the program though to make it a little more role specific.?

ME: Yeah, it’s a great question. It’s actually a little bit easier than you would think. So, every new employee still goes through what we discussed before, that general onboarding program, those first six days, and therefore in tailoring it to the specific new role that we’re looking to build out a program for it’s really just focusing on the role, specific knowledge, skills, tools, and organizational understanding that they need to know. So, each one of those “need to know” then turns into an individual lesson. A class, a quiz, an assignment, or a practice mock role play that are placed logically throughout that new hire’s learning journey or in our case, Trello board. Now, once you have this journey built out the first time, it now becomes a template and you just re-review that template with the relevant hiring manager or recent new hire who may have just fully ramped and is considered successful within that role today. And after reviewing the current template model for that specific role, we make tweaks here and there, and then it constantly improves the program with new iterations over time. The update to that underlying template really only takes about maybe two hours per role for every new cohort starting to ensure that they’re best set up even better than the last cohort to be successful post the onboarding program.

SS: I think that’s fantastic. Now I have to ask because with every onboarding program, I think retention is obviously one of the key concerns for sales enablement practitioners, because there’s so much information being given to these new hires all at once. So how do you ensure that your new hires are retaining the information as they process through the program?

ME: Yeah, this is actually the first part of a class that I teach on how to teach anyone anything. And it really goes with how knowledge retention works. So, most people forget 50% of what they learn an hour after learning it, 70% after 24 hours, and 90% within the first full week. So, when we’re talking about three or four-week onboarding program, that’s a lot of content to forget very quickly. So, knowledge retention becomes a very big primary goal within any program that we’re building. And therefore, when we think about how people, how the brain itself retains information, it has to be embedded into the program constantly.

So, there’s four specific ways that I track new hire knowledge, retention, and skill development. The first one is end of day cohort check-ins. So, this is basically everyone who joins at that same point in time and across all roles, we get together at the end of every day for half an hour and we talk about three different things. First, we focus on barriers. What are the things that stopping you from being able to progress within this program today? Maybe it’s software that they still need access to, or an individual meeting that they may need moved because of some specific circumstance. The second block of those cohort check-ins is really Q and A from the day’s lessons. So, you know, you went to a competitive landscape class today. Why don’t you rephrase for me and put into your own words, kind of where we stand within the market, where do we win against this specific competitor? And it forces them to then do recall, to regurgitate and paraphrase into their own words, what they learned from that day. Then the third and last part about that is really prioritization going on. So, looking at tomorrow, these are the classes that you have upcoming. What do you think you should be doing to be prepared for those classes and just gets them in the mindset of that next day, while still retaining the information and reviewing the information from the day that just happened?

So that’s that first of four ways. The second one is going to be team mentor, quick snapshot surveys on the new hires themselves. So, we pair up. Every new hire starts at our organization with a mentor, someone who is in your role today, who does their own daily check-ins with the new hire. And basically, you know, you’re a new person who’s starting in supporting here at our company. I’ve never done support. So, it’s really hard for me to give you very specific information on how a support person is going to be really successful at utilizing this specific tool. But when we pair you up with a mentor, who’s in your role, they can answer all those questions incredibly quickly and allow you kind of the baseline, so you never have to remake the wheel yourself. You just utilize the template that’s been really successful so far, and we specifically choose mentors who we deem as very successful within the organization. And this way they’re only passing on really high-quality information. That’s going to really build efficiency and effectiveness for this new hire.

The third one in which we track new hire knowledge retention, and skill development are assignments. These assignments are scheduled throughout every new hire learning journey, following important lessons in classes, it’s the immediate snapshot of whether or not, and how much of what they just learned, they understood and can actually apply. And then finally there are certifications, and these are more specifically for client prospect facing walls. The certifications are a series of quizzes and structured live practice role-plays that occur towards the end of their onboarding period.

SS: I think those are four fantastic areas to focus on for retention, Mark. Now we’ve talked a lot about a lot of the good that you’ve done. Now, obviously with anything, there’s a little bit of bad and ugly. So, what are some of the top challenges that sales enablement professionals can face when designing or implementing onboarding programs and what are the strategies that you would recommend to overcome those obstacles?

ME: Challenges, there are so many to choose from. So, I would say if I were to choose the top two challenges that you would deal with when building out kind of large programs like these and specifically onboarding programs. The number one challenge that you’re probably getting is the necessary time. So from all those relevant stakeholders that you’re either dealing with in the discovery process, and then to review the learning journeys before each new cohort, and then the time of the many subject matter experts who are the instructors within the program itself, that’s a lot of time that you’re borrowing from the organization to then give back to these new hires.

Now I’m a one-man team up until relatively recently. So, to teach four to six classes a day and develop content, which evolves as quickly as our business does, would be an impossible task for one person. So, we have instructors from across the entire company, ranging from the CEO down to employees who themselves just recently finished ramping, but are really good at one aspect of what you want to make sure is imparted on these new hires. So, the problem in which we’re talking about, or the challenge would really be time. Time from everyone across the organization is a very big ask. Now the way in which I go about overcoming that challenge and how I would suggest to other people is basically outlining first, specifically, what is it? Everyone needs a cover from every instructor. What are the specific things that I want to make sure and I want to make this as easy and simple for them as possible? I will link resources for them. I’ll schedule all their sessions. I’ll run, train the trainer classes so that they understand kind of the foundations of teaching and how to ensure that knowledge is retained and specifically how to teach skills relatively to knowledge differently. So, we impart all of that knowledge on them. And then we take away all the administrative work that goes along with being an instructor. And we say, we’re going to do that for you, we want to make your life easier because I know that taking someone’s time is an incredibly hard thing to ask of someone.

The second challenge is the content. So again, we’re talking about a business that evolves incredibly quickly and therefore it becomes very difficult to ensure that all content across all roles of onboarding, something like 120 hours of content per new hire, is constantly up to date. And there’s a cohort every two weeks. So, there’s a lot of opportunity for something to go out of date and then be rebuild into the new program. So, the way in which we overcome this obstacle are through various feedback loops. So, first there are the new hire surveys reviews of the overall program, and then ones that are placed every few days that are snapshot surveys of specifically the classes and lessons that you had within these two to three-day periods. And it’s really within those individual snapshot surveys that I get an understanding of, “What are the instructors that are doing an outstanding job?” That every single new hire, is just like, “I can’t wait for this class for the next cohort because I loved it.” And which are the ones where we get ratings, where we need to go, “Maybe we need to tweak how this class is taught. We need to change up how we’re imparting this knowledge or the type of content or instructor that we have to teach it.” And then finally, the last way in which we overcome this is by reviewing the overall program before every single cohort with that hiring manager. And we focus on what were the changes that we made, what was the feedback that I got inside of those surveys and what changes based on that, those inputs based on that information, do we want to make, knowing that this becomes the new template going forward? And it’s just those constant iterations that allow us to on an ongoing basis, make it a relatively light kind of task to administer it.

SS: That’s fantastic. I love that you guys are using feedback. I want to talk a little bit though about the partnership, obviously that’s required with frontline managers. What does that look like throughout the onboarding process?

ME: Yeah, so partnership with the frontline managers is incredibly important. The managers are the most important part of ensuring that these new hires are successful the moment they pass the certification and “go live.” So I try and make, again, the time commitment for them as light as possible, taking care of scheduling classes, reporting on new hire ramp progress as time goes on and making it simple and easy for them to give me all the information I need before, during, and after each cohort. But I think what we really want to get to here and correct me if I’m wrong is, is a deeper level of, “Okay, what is the manager involvement like on an ongoing basis within the program?”

SS: Yes, absolutely. I think that that would be fantastic for our audience.

ME: So, manager involvement starts at the stakeholder interview level. So, as it relates to that new role, so expectations and reviewing the current iteration of that roles program. Now, many of our managers are also instructors for the onboarding program itself and therefore, along with getting their feedback and aligning with them on the content structure and prep for their classes, then during the onboarding, I also update the managers on how their new hires progressing. Between the ways in which I interact with them and engage with them, the mentors that we have for them and the assignments and quizzes throughout the program, we’re able to give pretty good, healthy snapshots or qualitative reviews to the managers on how that new hire is progressing. And this way they’re aware of what’s eventually coming their way the second that this person does or does not pass their certification.

Now, when it comes to the roles where there is a certification. So, specifically those account executive roles, those customer success roles, the ones in which they’re going to be engaging with our prospects or our clients, the manager is also the one who’s responsible for deciding whether that new hire is ready to go alive or needs extra training. In which case we’ll usually, they’ll send it back to us and we’ll do an extra week of kind of in-depth, you know, mock reviews or whatever it is specifically that they’re tripping up on. We’ll give them a little bit more of a chance to kind of focus in on that individual aspect. Then post onboarding I’ll report on the new hires to their managers and leadership on how they’re ramping relative to the benchmark of expectations that we set very clear and transparently in the beginning, both with that new hire and then with the manager, we review on a quarterly basis to ensure that we’re keeping that both realistic up-to-date and forward-looking for where the business is.

SS: I love that. I think that those are five really great steps. So, Mark, in closing, and this has been a fantastic conversation. I have to ask the question around metrics and measuring success. So how are you doing that? How are you measuring the success of your onboarding programs?

ME: Yeah. So, I’m going to break that question up into two parts. So, there’s the success of the onboarding experience for the new hire and whether the onboarding program itself led to them ramping successfully. So, for that first measurement of success, what I’m looking at is really a trending satisfaction score of the overall program. So during the program, I’m tracking the new hires in their completion of assignments and mock role-plays, but to see their satisfaction score, it’s really a key KPI at the end of every single new hires program they take this in-depth survey that they go over the entire program, what stood out to them, how much they feel that they retained and really their enjoyment and satisfaction of the experience in which they had over those three weeks or a full month.

Now, the second measure of success, which is really success over ramp. And for this, I have milestone tracking for all client and prospect facing roles that I report to leadership on a monthly basis over a new hires ramp that includes both leading and lagging indicators of performance. So, I’ll use an AE as an example, an account executive, a seller role. So, I track on a monthly basis, a few metrics relative to expectations that we know would lead to them being successful in their role if they execute effectively. So, the first one your brand new, you just finished onboarding. It is your first live month. You are excited. And for that, I’m tracking your activity, the number of meeting books from that activity on a weekly basis, and then opportunities that are created from those meetings, then eventually on an ongoing basis, you’ll start seeing those opportunities, bear fruit from pipeline generation.

Then once we get that high-level up of what I can control as a new hire sales rep in my first live month, then we start on a monthly basis, start tracking conversion rates from those opportunities from early stages in Salesforce to later stages in Salesforce. And then finally we get to the tracking of pipeline coverage ratio to quota as they get towards late-stage and we really hit where a sales cycle would typically end. And then days to second close one deal, days to full quota attainment and average contract value for that individual rep. And then we take all that up, we add a qualitative score from the manager themselves, and then we benchmark it relative to what everyone else who is at this exact point ramp as this current employee is and are they outperforming, underperforming? And why do we think that is what are areas in which they’re doing outstanding jobs and that we can ensure that what they’re learning or doing really successfully scaled out to the rest of their team or the rest of the organization.

SS: This has been fantastic. Mark. I am so incredibly impressed with what you are building over at Bizzabo.

ME: Thank you so much for having me. I’m a huge fan. So, this has been a real honor for me.

SS: Thank you so much, Mark. To our audience, thanks for listening. For more insights, tips, and expertise from sales enablement leaders, visit salesenablement.pro. If there’s something you’d like to share or a topic you’d like to learn more about, please let us know. We’d love to hear from you.

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