Episode 238: Jessica Hoffman on Accelerating Ramp Time to Productivity

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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 Jessica Hoffman from AlertMedia join us. Jessica, I’d love you to introduce yourself, your role, and your organization to our audience.

Jessica Hoffman: Thank you so much for having me. As you mentioned, my name is Jessica Hoffman, I go by Jess, and I am the sales enablement manager at AlertMedia. I support our enterprise and mid-market amazing alert-es which are our sales reps. AlertMedia is an amazing company that helps organizations respond to critical events faster with emergency communication software. In short, we help people save lives which is pretty cool. I very much enjoy working for AlertMedia.

I like to say my background is a beautiful winding road that led me to enablement. I always like to say that sales find you, but you don’t really find sales. I started back in the day when you could actually rent movies in a store. I don’t know if you guys remember that, but back in the day that’s what I did and I didn’t know it was sales but that’s what I was doing. Then, I went into banking, and financial services, and then I kind of stumbled into software sales and I was selling audit and accounting software, which was super exciting and I became really good at it in my first year. My passion has always been to help people. Fun fact, I have a medical assistant degree in my back pocket that I don’t use because I wanted to help people but realized blood isn’t my thing and a better way to help people is by enabling them to do what they do best just better. I helped train on the audit and accounting software and then I did onboarding and fell in love with enablement and I’ve been continuing to do some sort of that for the past five years in different organizations.

SS: I love that. Thank you Jessica for joining us. Now, on the point of onboarding, which you just kind of closed out on, can you tell us a little bit about your perspective on the key components of an effective onboarding program?

JH: Oh absolutely, I mean there’s so many, but to kind of break it down, I have like the key four components to think about. First and foremost, I’m super passionate about making it welcoming. We all know starting a new job and a new experience is super scary, so when you have new hires you may have somebody that has been experienced in the industry and some that might just have zero experience. This may be their first job out of college or this might be their job to retirement, so you have to kind of be that person to make them feel welcome and make them feel comfortable, which kind of leads into my second component here, which is when you make them feel comfortable, you have to give them a clear roadmap and expectations. What kind of skills, behaviors, industry knowledge, and tools are they expected to achieve in 30, 60, 90 days and then beyond and then not only what, but how is enablement going to help them get there? Giving them the kind of support that they need. Again, a new job is super scary and they need a person to go to, to ask the questions, and to be vulnerable with to truly succeed. I really focus on building those kinds of relationships and when you build those relationships, it actually allows you to seek their opinions after onboarding to evaluate the success and maybe where things need to evolve, which I’m going to get to in a moment.

Then, thirdly, leadership support. Leadership support is crucial to any sort of effective onboarding program. You need to work closely with the managers, supporting them and the new hires, identifying and agreeing on clear expectations and roles. What will enable my own, what will leadership own and what will we own together? We have a clear understanding that allows the program to run smoothly and allows the reps to understand those sorts of expectations and have the support to be able to do so. Then, lastly, which I kind of touched on in my second key point onboarding is ever-evolving. Onboarding should have key criteria metrics and frameworks, but things change, and platforms change. Right now we are seeing a huge economic change. So you need to be and yes, I am going to insert the buzzword here of agile, you need to make sure that things are relevant up to date, and that your information and the information that your reps are getting, that they’re getting to be successful. Those wrap up my four components of an effective program.

SS: Absolutely. You touched on this a little bit about how important it is to make onboarding fun and engaging. How does learning engagement help drive knowledge and skill retention?

JH: Shawnna, this is my favorite part. I love fun, I love being able to see what it does to keep knowledge and skill retention. When we get new hires, we’re all adults, we learn in so many different ways, but at some point, we all bring some sort of amazing experience and that’s how we learn. I really believe in teaching a concept rather than practicing that concept with peers to learn and grow with each other. I always say this to my new hires, but if you’re uncomfortable, good news, you’re growing and you’re learning I think the retention piece comes from the practice, but it can also be taught through the concept of a story. Concepts of stories are so powerful because it helps you relate and actually practice that in real life and I believe that that’s where it all comes from. For instance, my daughter is working really hard at soccer. She came up with short-term and long-term goals. That’s kind of the curse of having an enablement mom, right? Then she talked to her coach and her coach shortly to do it, and practice them here. Practice it here and then get really good at them and use them in the games, don’t be afraid to fail and I think that’s so powerful and applies to onboarding because that’s what we’re teaching our new hires and being able to relax them and with stories, they’re able to enjoy their own and then they have more knowledge, share better ways to bring it around and bring it around to that skill that they can practically apply to their job role.

SS: I love that. I think that that is fantastic. What are some best practices that you’ve learned along the way around maximizing engagement during the onboarding process?

JH: Yeah, absolutely. I touched on it a little bit by sharing my own story, but it’s getting in the trenches. It’s understanding the language, the business, the process, the sales cycle, and maybe you’re sharing a time that you messed up, you did something wrong and just being human. Then sometimes you share things that you did really, really well. Let them know and understand that you’ve been there. A lot of times when we think about sales and prospecting and calling and closing deals, we talk about personalization and customization for our prospects and our clients and this just rolls right into onboarding. It’s human nature to want to feel heard. Everyone has a life outside of the role that they are hired for. So what is their, why, why, sales, why this job, if you could figure that out, relate to it and if they can relate to it, you have better success with engagement. Last but not least, as I’m sure you guys can tell, I love to have fun, so having fun and I know this is another surprise, but typically salespeople are a smidge competitive, so making it fun by throwing in some Gamification, this will help that retention and that doesn’t stop at 30, 60, 90 days, that’s continuous. This is always a great way to throw in some fun as they navigate all the tools and resources that they have at their disposal and they continue to learn.

SS: I think that’s fantastic, especially in today’s business landscape, I think it’s increasingly important for business leaders to know how their investments in talent development and hiring are translating to performance, especially. What are some of the ways that you measure the success of onboarding and how do you go about tying that to performance metrics that your leadership cares about?

JH: When you’re measuring success, you look at the main KPIs, right? So from the first time to deal, demo, how many meetings are booked, what’s the annual sales price, pipeline book, these are all really big things that leadership is looking for and to make sure that you have an effective onboarding and also the time it takes to get them to that. As we measure this through the 30, 60, and 90 days and beyond, we also need to take a deeper look into why they are driving those big behaviors. Take a look at skills and behaviors and things like, are they bringing in multiple people, are they doing the correct exit criteria for moving a deal along if they’re not, are they getting stuck somewhere? Are they able to customize their talk track and demo to different stakeholders? Are they speaking the language? All of those things are taking the big first time to demo meetings booked and all of that and taking the skills and behaviors and making sure that was hitting on them in the onboarding to make them successful and make sure that they get from point A to point B quicker, faster and more efficiently.

This is where I am so very thankful for our tech stack is to be able to listen in to those calls to see those behaviors and tie them back and have more consistent success with that by being able to also bring this back to, as I mentioned before and the key components, onboarding is ever evolving. I mentioned our economy is a little bit different, which means that prospects buy a little bit differently. We have to make sure to continuously have those things, skills, and behaviors and our onboarding to make sure they’re successful so when leadership looks at the time it’s taking that it means what they’re looking for in their expectations as well and we can do that with just storytelling through data. When I talk about stories telling through data, it’s pulling all of these things of what’s the why being it, is there a skill gap? Are there a few reps that need extra attention or is it an overarching gap that we need to be able to fill and address onboarding? Is at the top of the funnel, where are we getting stuck? Is it at the bottom of the funnel? All of these things that you can find in data and your story tell it to leadership, you fix it, you evolve, you’re agile and you move in and to be able to continue to measure the success of your onboarding.

SS: I love that. Now you alluded to this a little bit but I would love to drill in. How can enablement, help accelerate ramp time to help reps become more productive more quickly within their organization?

JH: Enablement can help accelerate ramp time by helping them truly understand. I always like to think about it and I know I’m going to put a really technical term on the table, but when I put my butt in the seat what do I need to know? What is the need to know? I need to put myself in their shoes, right, I’ve been a rep, I’ve been there before and so when you’re a new hire you’re inundated with all this information. I like to think of it kind of like the mind-blown emoji that kind of comes up. We don’t want to do that to them, so what do I need to know during week one, what’s important in week two, week three, and beyond? We don’t want to cripple them. Enablement can help with this productivity by working extremely close to leadership and as amazing as enablement is we need support from leadership to accomplish this kind of success. Again, it goes back to what’s enablement role, what’s a leadership role, and what’s the rep’s role. As you continue to do that and not intimidate them, just make sure that they get what they need, the support they need. It’s kind of like coaching week one, this is the information, let’s get really good at it. Now, week two and that takes everybody.

SS: Absolutely. Last question for you, Jessica. With the current economic climate, retaining high-performing reps is obviously top of mind for a lot of organizations. What advice do you have for ensuring reps can continue performing and achieving success post-onboarding?

JH: Yeah, absolutely. I mean it’s kind of this weird setting that we’re in nowadays, but continuing to look at the data and any gaps where there’s maybe there’s something about a skill or behavior or product knowledge gap, and let’s do it before it’s a fire drill. If possible, get a training calendar out there so they know what trainings are coming up and make it relevant to them. When they are invested in the training, growing, and company, they will stay. Continuing to open that welcome environment. I continuously have scheduled office hours or role plays. Yes. I said role plays. I know how everybody can feel about those and even as much as people dread them, I always say it’s a great way to be prepared for the clients and learn. That’s where it goes back to having fun and welcoming mistakes and room for growth. so when they can make that call, do the demo, and or maybe have that pricing call, they’re prepared.

Also, following the same idea when they were onboarded. Teach and then practice. I think that when we think about success post onboarding, it’s having a clear path forward. Where do I want to be? As I said before you have new hires that might be their first job out of college or some that are looking for retirement, you also have people that want to move up in the company, so let’s give them a path and let give them the tools, the resources, and enablement they need to be able to get there. When I kind of think about all of this in a really big hole is that if there’s just kind of like this key takeaway, it’s that it takes a village. It takes a strategic village. Learning never stops, there are always ways to improve and it’s our job in enablement to identify that work with leadership, and work with our reps new and seasoned to deliver the most effective programs.

SS: Jessica. I think this is phenomenal. Thank you so much for talking to us about how you approach onboarding at your organization. I appreciate the time.

JH: Absolutely thank you so much, Shawnna. It was a pleasure.

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