Episode 151: Eilidh Reynolds on Making Onboarding a Pivotal Experience for New Hires

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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 Eilidh from Relative Insight join us. Eilidh, I would love for you to introduce yourself, your role, and your organization to our audience.

Eilidh Reynolds: My name is pronounced Eilidh, and I’m obviously never offended if people get that wrong. I work for a company called Relative Insight as the VP of sales enablement. To cut a very long story short, Relative Insight is what we call a comparative linguistics platform. We’ve actually been around for 14 years, but the first 10 years of that, the software was used to catch bad guys online. So, what I mean by that is the software would overlay on huge amounts of text, be that from chat rooms or forums or high school internets and was used to identify linguistic outliers. What I mean by that is adults doing a very sophisticated, but not quite perfect impression of a young person speaking online. That’s what it did for the first 10 years.

Four years ago, we were updated and adapted to help brands and agencies better understand audiences, trends, competitors, anything they’re interested in, still by where you can put any language data in there so we can understand anything that’s written down – be it from the likes of social media forums or also traditional research. That could be focus group transcripts, that could be survey opens, anything you like, we can put that in there. As well as that, we use comparison to identify things in language that you wouldn’t know to search for.

SS: Having two young children, I am glad that there are organizations like yours out there. Now, you mentioned on LinkedIn, and this is definitely one of the reasons I wanted to chat with you, that one of your core responsibilities is helping Relative Insight expand its global commercial team. From your perspective, what are some of the necessary steps that sales enablement can take in order to help ensure that they’re delivering very impactful onboarding at scale?

ER: Absolutely. I think one of the first things to consider is you should be endlessly open to feedback from any new hire. I always think in the world of coaching and enablement, it’s a really important message someone taught me in the early days here, is it’s impossible to imagine not knowing what you know. Organizing a really sensible structure and flow of onboarding sessions, you automatically build that. Obviously, this is a startup, so I built a lot of the onboarding structure that we have here, but I came from the industry, so I know a lot of the things that already happened here.

Every round of new starters that goes through the onboarding that we run at Relative Insight, we let them know that it’s not personal if they give us bad feedback on certain sessions or the order of sessions. We’ve actually hugely improved our onboarding through making really sensible changes that people have given us. The other two things, I think it’s specifically what makes it impactful is a blend of different sessions. Our onboarding is split into from us and from you. The from us is sessions run either by different teams in the company, or I work with the People team for that, or specifically ones within your role, with your manager, or with me. But then the from you sessions are activities we want people to complete and when to complete them by. It’s a bit self-starter as well, and not so much sitting, listening to endless sessions or hearing my voice, which I’m sure all new starters at Relative Insight are sick of after the first three weeks.

The final thing we do a lot of here is there’s a surprising amount of a parallel between new people starting at Relative Insight and new clients starting with Relative Insight, because it’s all people who know a bit about the company and are quite excited about it, but haven’t really gotten into the weeds of it yet. We have an amazing audience marketer here who does a lot of standard sessions for new clients, such as we have Comparison University which you can graduate from. I’m a graduate, very proud. All our new starters join Comparison University and sessions that new clients are actually joining, to learn exactly what new relative insights customers land.

SS: Very fascinating. I love that you allow some of that pace learning in your onboarding program as well and are able to repurpose a lot of that material. Now, when designing onboarding programs, there can be challenges along the way, particularly as you’re scaling quickly. From your perspective, what are some of the top challenges that sales enablement professionals can face when they’re designing or even implementing onboarding programs?
Do you have strategies around how to overcome those obstacles?

ER: Yeah. I think one main challenge we face when designing an onboarding program from scratch is definitely that there’s multiple stakeholders involved. I always see sales enablement as a supporting function. All the people who work in the commercial team at Relative Insight are my clients and all of the senior people in the commercial teams will have an opinion on how our onboarding should be done best, what sessions they should run, what sessions I should run, how it should be put. There are multiple different teams.

In commercial, we have marketing, we have new business, then we have retention teams, and some people need to go through certain sessions with everyone and other ones split out. I also am responsible for training managers how to run the sessions appropriately. I think that there’s lots of different moving parts with onboarding and everyone cares just as much as the next person about how quickly people ramp when they’re new to their teams and rightfully so. I think the only way I’ve found to overcome that is, I’m really lucky at Relative that I report straight into the CRO and he completely backs sales enablement. I also work closely with the CEO who also fully supports sales enablement. When designing the onboarding, I was able to just request full ownership of it and say, I want to work with the People team, and I want to build it all myself based on my previous experience of helping to build onboarding programs. Then, I promise I will be constantly open to feedback on any changes that need to be made throughout it. I think just having it as my project, the other people could have opinions on media. It’s easier than having lots of people around the table with different ideas, so that’s one of them.

The second thing is, I guess everyone’s going to say this, it’s measuring the success of an onboarding program. There are obviously very simple ways to do that. But also, maybe a richer longer tail of qual and softer ways to measure it. I think it’s also working with my clients or the sales leadership team and sales managers and account management to decide what success would look like. What do you want this person to be able to do after a certain amount of time? I had an interesting one recently where it was a sales manager who hadn’t hired anyone new for a while. They just weren’t sure what good would look like at different stages. We had a very open dialogue of, this is what’s normal at this stage for people to understand, and this person’s actually here in measurement to that. I think that open dialogue and clear guidelines of what success is in a softer way that isn’t just complete quants is another way to make that work.

SS: Absolutely. Now, if you don’t mind, I’d love to dive a little bit deeper with regard to thinking about key objectives and to your point, metrics of success. One way that a lot of people think about onboarding is to accelerate ramp time for new hires. I think the catch there is, everybody, even within maybe the same organization, might think about ramp in different ways. How do you define ramp time and what are some of your strategies to accelerate ramp time for reps?

ER: Absolutely. I think one of the things I’m a strong advocate for is only focusing on what you can control right now. We have a structure at Relative Insight where we hire at the bottom and promote from within. We hire junior sales commercial associates, who then become our BDRs here and they move up to then become our BDMs, and then our managers. Most of the people I’m working with haven’t worked in a sales environment before or have a small amount of sales experience. So, I think to say to them, time to first deal, while I think that is an important metric, when you’re new to a new job, you can’t really wake up and make sure your BDM closes a deal today. You can’t control that. What you can control as a new commercial associate or a new SDR is you can control making sure you do the right amount of work that day. Then what you can also control is when you look at that amount of work. I hate setting an exact activity level to do every day, but we can obviously see how many activities people are doing. I do constantly just say, just do an amount of work that it looks like everyone else is roughly doing. We obviously have a sales automation tool where we can measure that. They can control that in the early days. Great. You’re now doing as much work as everyone else. That’s the first tick.

Then I want people to look at their open rates. So, have you got the lowest open rate in the team? Are you targeting the right people? Here’s your personas. Make sure it’s the right job titles. Then, let’s tweak your email subject line or let’s tweak the opening line of your email. Then that’s another metric you can work on in terms of ramp time is getting your open rates up, then your reply rates by effecting the body of the emails, then your success rates from the reply rates. Then, moving on to how you conduct yourself in your first call with clients.

I think the way I measure success is very incremental. I then think people can see the successes are not just time to first deal, which can take longer and can make people feel like they’re not impacting it now. My way of doing it is always to break it down into lots of small measures that are incremental and build up to that lovely first deal.

SS: I love that. I think that sets expectations well along the way for the new hire on what the expectation is of them. Now, other than ramp time, how do you measure the success of your onboarding programs overall?

ER: As I said in the first point we talked about is the qual feedback is absolutely essentially at the end of the day. We’re onboarding people and we need to be people when we’re checking in with them on how it went. That’s definitely important. Our onboarding in the first two weeks is pretty set in stone. This is what everyone will go through. When you start in this, we’ll send you your onboarding doc with all the sessions and all of that. At the end of the two weeks, we have a check-in session where we take feedback on how it’s been to see if I can improve it or iterate it for the next round of onboarding.

But secondly, the third week is bespoke to what that person needs and what their manager thinks they need. So, definitely measuring constantly what that qualitative feedback is. As well as that, we have a progression document. We’re very much about creating a culture where you know what you have to do to get to the next level. We’re very lucky to have lots of very driven people here. It’s cool to stay at the level you’re at, if that’s what you want. But if you want to see from day one, the kind of things you need to work on to be promoted, our progression document has some softer skills on there that we want people to meet before we’d consider them for promotion.

Of course, we have your standard “hit your KPIs, hit your target”. It’s still a commercial environment, but we also have things like we want you to always have completed your actions from your one-to-one. So, whatever your managers told you to do that week, by the next week, you always have to have done it because we really prioritize a culture of coachability and being open to following instructions and being collaborative in that respect.

We also have another, which I love personally, obviously being in enablement, which is you have to have lead by example training sessions. You have to have proven application of new methodologies that are taught in them to show that you’ve listened in training sessions and have gone out and applied it, and being open to feedback about it. We’ve got lots of Slack channels for feeding back new methodologies that have been taught. Measuring success comes in definitely the little metrics we all just talked about, definitely feedback from them, but also our onboarding is about building long-term colleagues and friends that all follow certain approaches that we have within the company as well. There are all those softer skills we look at as well.

SS: I think that’s fantastic. Now, I want to dive into that a little bit more as well, because I think one of the points that you’ve made is that Relative Insight is very focused on culture. I noticed in a blog post that you did that one of the things that you focus on is kindness. That’s a very unique company culture and company value. What are some of your strategies for ensuring that new hires feel included and immersed in that culture?

ER: Firstly, I feel so proud to work at a company that puts being kind as one of its values. I think that’s so, so important. Life’s hard without working somewhere with really nice people and promoting kindness. I think that’s a fantastic, so I’m flying the flag of Relative Insight for how proud I am of that. There’s lots of things that I try and implement. I’m very lucky to work naturally in a culture that is absolutely unbelievably, naturally supportive, even before I started working here. The culture already existed before I even started. I’ve been here a year now, so I can take no credit for that. That’s all down to my colleagues. But I have brought in a couple of things that I think should help.

One thing that was actually already here before I started is there’s weekly shout outs, which are quite lovely, something quite funny, some quite serious, which are really nice. I don’t know if anyone else felt the first week of this year was particularly tough. My friend in marketing and I created an award ceremony called the FBAs. It was the First Friday Back Awards, and we did a poll for lots of different awards for all of our colleagues, which was lovely. There was a broad mix of wins of lots of different people from lots of different teams contributing as well.

Particularly for onboarding, with April who works in our People team, we’ve launched a buddy system. From day one, we have people internally who volunteer that want to be buddies. When a new person starts, we pair them up with someone who isn’t their manager and isn’t in their direct team. It’s someone they probably wouldn’t talk to any of the rest of the time. Once a week, in real life you would go for lunch with them, but now we’re just grabbing a virtual coffee and you can talk to them about work if you want. You also can talk to them about actually anything that you like. I know we have one buddy pair here who go for a walk together and ring each other once a week, which is really nice. Then finally, we also have a new SDR club, it’s called The Buds for a multitude of reasons, it was decided internally and I think it’s quite lovely, where if you’ve been here for six months or less, we just have a little club where once a week we sit down and we talk about things that maybe you don’t want to go and ask someone else. Maybe you’re like, “Oh, how does this part of the software work? Or what on earth is an API? What does that actually mean? Building all these lists together. There’s also a really nice little new starter supportive community there as well.

SS: I love that idea. In fact, we might, we might need to borrow that even within our own organization. Now, last question for you, and this goes back to the notion of scaling. How can sales enablement help maintain an organization’s culture as it grows and expands, particularly as you start to span global teams and work cultures might be a little bit different?

ER: I think it can be easy because sales enablement is a bit of a different pillar in the company. You’re there to support everyone and help everyone and instruct everyone and coach everyone. It can be easy to become an island. I think one of the first things is for sales enablement to be a part of the company and culture yourselves if they’re asking for volunteers to do certain things, or if they’re asking people to apply for certain questionnaires or be visible. I like to really contribute to the organization’s culture myself, because I think it’s leading from the front and that’s very important. I also think, as I’ve said throughout this, being open to feedback is completely instrumental. We have an office in the U.S. and of course they can’t join our morning kickoff meetings because it be about four o’clock in the morning for them. Making sure someone’s there to run through everything with them so they don’t feel like as much of a satellite and constantly making sure that they know it’s okay to be like, “Hey, we would like to have something like this more at our time.”

We’re actually in a weird position at the moment where one of our employees is in Hong Kong. Because of COVID, they can’t get back to the UK, so they’re actually working almost through the night. We’re currently trying to align calendars to people in Texas, all the way to people in Hong Kong with quite a small team. It’s also telling people that if the timing’s absolutely ridiculous for you and it is midnight wherever you’re based or four o’clock in the morning, that’s fine. We’ll organize something at your time.

I also think, much like in a SaaS company when you win a new client, their first few weeks with you is absolutely pivotal to their success with you as a client. It’s the same as a new hire. I think onboarding is completely pivotal to being really amazing. I’ve had some really fun sessions recently with my CRO and April who runs our recruitment of how we can try and make starting work at Relative Insight one of the best things that ever could happen to you? So, really fun, really different. We really care. We’ve hired you because we’re really going to invest in you and making sure that the culture, the fact that we really care and we’re really invested in this, is there from the second you first speak to us, before you’ve even properly interviewed for the job. The long answer sort of distilled down would be to be involved in the culture simply means that I have to be involved in the culture and anyone I hire in the enablement team here does as well. We have to spider across and work with so many different teams within the company to make sure we help every team be involved in the culture. We mirror that and make sure that it’s all aligned.

SS: I think that’s a fantastic approach, Eilidh. Thank you so much for joining us today. I enjoyed learning from you.

ER: It’s been an absolute pleasure. Thank you for having me.

SS: To our audience, thanks for listening. For more insights, tips, and expertise from sales enablement leaders, visit salesenablement.pro. If there’s something you want 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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