Maximizing Engagement in Onboarding Programs

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Engaging onboarding programs help new hires gain necessary skills and knowledge more quickly, leading to increased confidence in the organization’s deliberate training and support, as well as their ability to exceed in their roles. In fact, 80% of those who receive effective onboarding perceive their organization’s performance to be strong.

Research has also shown that a standardized onboarding process brings new hires up to speed 50% faster, accelerating their ability to more quickly and efficiently contribute to achieving desired goals. Effective onboarding can also dramatically reduce failure rates, as well as increase new hire retention by 50%. When companies maximize engagement in their onboarding programs, employees feel empowered by the investment in their experience and success—resulting in higher job satisfaction and greater commitment to the organization.

Tasked with optimizing the streams of critical information and resources aimed to support and elevate a new hire’s early days with the organization, sales enablement is one of the largest influences on a new sales rep’s success.

Here are four ways that sales enablement can utilize an integrated, engaged onboarding approach that enables their employees to feel invested in the organization and add value with their work.

Peer-to-Peer Learning

For revenue organizations, peer-to-peer learning leverages institutional knowledge and facilitates a method to share it so sales reps can learn from others during their onboarding process. When exposed to proven tips, best practices, and vital feedback, new hires can quickly develop a mastery of products, skills, and selling scenarios while engaging the sales team in the design, creation, and value of onboarding.

Sales enablement teams can expedite peer-to-peer learning by facilitating the exchange of knowledge and content sharing. For example, recruit high-performing sales reps to record videos of a skill in practice or a sales pitch that helped them move a competitive deal forward. Or, schedule team meetings where reps reiterate the important takeaways they learned in a recent training and explain how they will use them in upcoming selling situations. Practitioners can then catalog the most effective responses for distribution to new reps and incorporate these best practices within the onboarding curriculum to reflect what reps are experiencing in the field.

Nurturing active communities of practice through the company’s internal messaging platforms can also help expose new hires to relevant perspectives regularly. In a community of practice, members engage in a process of collective learning in a shared domain. New reps can discover a repertoire of resources or join discussions for a skill or area they want to refine, participating dynamically without taking up too much of their time.

“If they are onboarding, they want to hear from the sellers that are three to six months ahead of them to ask what the right things are to focus on,” said Cameron Tanner, head of sales enablement at Amazon Web Services. “For example, ‘if I could learn one thing sooner it would be x’, ‘if there was one person I wished I had spoken to sooner it would be x’, ‘if there was one tool I wished I had learned faster it would be x’, ‘if there was one report I didn’t quite understand or data point I wish I knew sooner it would be x’. I think you can tease out those lessons learned in an onboarding scenario and you can create communities of learning.”

Mentorship Programs

Mentorship programs give new reps a go-to resource and lifeline when they simply need colleague support, as well as foster a culture of collaboration in the organization. To ensure formal mentorship programs are effective, enablement should set clear expectations for both the mentor and mentee so they understand how they should interact. In addition, it is essential to carefully create a structure that makes it easy for both parties to participate so that reps do not feel that their productivity is burdened.

Rather than your typical one-to-one mentor/mentee relationship, Doris Sims’ “Creative Onboarding Programs: Tools for Energizing Your Orientation Program” recommends considering a mentorship program in three tiers: buddy, advisor, and mentor.

  • Buddy: A buddy program helps new employees feel at home and understand organizational culture and norms. When done properly, frontline managers will find that their onboarding check-ins with new reps are less about low-level operational issues and much more about how they can add value.
  • Advisor: An advisor is another rep that is still ramping but a few months ahead of the new rep in tenure. The advisor ensures that their partner knows the essential information about the product and processes in order to be productive, while maintaining their skills and filling in knowledge gaps along the way. It is important to limit this time to a few hours per week to keep it very focused and tactical. Advisors can also help enforce feedback and transform behavior by observing reps in practice scenarios.

“The advisors are encouraged to attend those assessments because then if you have a new hire that’s floundering, it drives accountability,” said Marcela Piñeros, vice president of go-to-market enablement at New Relic. “Managers look back to the advisors like, ‘What’s going on?’ But the cool thing there is that if new hires ask an advisor something that the advisor does not know, the advisor ends up going out to try to find that answer.”

  • Mentor: The mentor role is occupied by the top performers. Enablement must establish relationships that equally help mentors develop the skills they need to level up and become a leader, without taking the mentor away from valuable selling time. For example, mentors can provide beneficial guidance without disrupting their daily workflow by opening up the opportunity for mentees to shadow them on sales calls. Or, new reps can schedule 30-minute fireside chats once a month to ask the mentors for advice on specific topics.

“Instead of making the mentor responsible for some of the tactical training and baseline information elements, free up the mentor to be able to provide more strategic guidance,” said Piñeros.

Enablement can help ensure new reps feel supported and advocated for across multiple levels through mentorship programs during onboarding. With different roles devoting their attention to the specific needs of a rep in a very focused manner, it allows them to continue selling while giving reps the special attention they need to improve.

Frontline Manager Support

When engaging frontline managers in onboarding programs, practitioners must work to ensure that all managers align with enablement’s onboarding objectives in order to improve new reps’ deficiencies and reinforce the right behaviors.

While some reps may be slower to ramp and others will knock it out of the park, managers cannot stray from the cohesive, milestone-based onboarding process in order to provide all reps with a consistent experience. According to Mark A. Stein & Lilith Christiansen’s “Successful Onboarding”, the effective delivery of manager support can result in the following benefits:

  • Amps up the performance review process for the first year
  • Makes early career support collaborative
  • Offers a flexible system with multiple safeguards
  • Has a layer of organizational protection, as everyone makes mistakes—the new hire should have somewhere to go to get support when they do
  • Takes steps to centralize and systemize informal career conversations
  • Encourages new hires to create career development plans
  • Encourages new hires to take ultimate responsibility for their own careers

Practitioners and managers should collaborate to pinpoint onboarding checkpoints, metrics, and reviews to drive accountability. At each checkpoint, the rep should be presented with a scorecard that matches the ramp goals that were established at the beginning of onboarding to ensure they remain on track. Further, each meeting should end with clear action items that the rep needs to complete before the next checkpoint meeting.

This can help establish expectations for new rep participation in the process and set time-based goals for content and skills mastery, guiding reps in managing their onboarding requirements in order to prevent content overload and reinforce learning. As a result, the manager gains a better understanding of the rep’s progress toward their goals and can provide coaching on how to progress in gap areas.

“The reality is that most managers see enablement as one more thing on their to-do list, they don’t see it as their job, as a direct piece of what their job is,” said Piñeros. “We’re becoming more and more judicious of really editing back the content and figuring out if there isn’t an ‘aha’ moment within those first two minutes, we’ve lost them. So what is…that most critical nugget that they’re going to get and be like, ‘Oh okay, this is going to make my life better, this is going to make my team more effective, this is going to be easier.’”

Role-Specific Tracks

By creating role-specific tracks with specific skills and criteria, enablement practitioners provide new sales reps with landmarks to illustrate a clear path forward and increase a new hire’s chance for success. Tailored learning paths are especially helpful in supplying a holistic, consistent approach for evaluating reps during their onboarding process.

“Onboarding really has to be personalized and specific to the role that you are trying to coach and teach,” said Bill Parry, director of enablement at Redwood. “Many times, people create an onboarding program by assembling the kitchen sink and just throwing it at the person and saying, ‘okay, there it is. Just go learn it.’ And one of two things happens: they figure it out painfully or they say, ‘forget this, I’m out of here’. And that can be very exhausting and costly.”

Enablement should create a core competencies framework to create learning experiences that lead to tangible behavioral outcomes that can be observed, monitored, and coached individually, even after reps leave the onboarding programs. Such frameworks include foundational and role-specific competencies required for their job, as well as competencies and weaknesses proven during the hiring process, in order to define how to actively measure new hires’ learning and progress. This alignment creates clearer behavioral assessments and skill tracking—crucial for crafting the specific verticals or territories for new reps to target.

“On the enablement side…that empowers us to curate a more targeted onboarding and ever-boarding experience for the teams we support, along with much more meaningful certifications or assessments and coaching opportunities throughout the process,” said Devon McDermott, VP of global enablement at CM Group. “What that does is ensures that we’re focused on continually developing and empowering the teams we support to make sure that they’re executing flawlessly and be leveling up and seeing progress in the organization.”

Role-specific tracks keep new hires focused on the essential work they should prioritize by pointing them to ways they’ll make rapid progress on these goals. This also teaches them how to “score” wins in ways that are consistent with the organization’s culture. Early-wins not only help reps ensure they are meeting productive goals, but they also help reps remain motivated along the way.

Companies vary widely when it comes to how much effort they put into targeted onboarding, with major consequences in terms of time to performance, derailment, and talent retention. Incohesive, unpersonalized onboarding does little to prevent the problems that can arise when reps start working with new colleagues and grappling with unfamiliar cultural norms and expectations.

By treating peer-to-peer learning, mentorship programs, frontline manager support, and role-specific tracks as fundamental to their onboarding strategy, enablement can help develop engaging onboarding programs that harness sales reps’ potential more rapidly and reap the rewards sooner.

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