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Virtual Onboarding: 6 Best Practices for Effectiveness

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Onboarding for new hires can be a make-or-break opportunity to set the stage for their success long-term. In fact, organizations that have strong onboarding programs see an 82% improvement in new hire retention and a 70% improvement in new hire productivity, demonstrating the clear benefits of a standardized, comprehensive onboarding process.

With those benefits, however, come the various challenges that are associated with today’s evolving, digital marketplace. As remote work has become the norm for many organizations, so too has the necessity of a virtual onboarding experience that ramps reps quickly, effectively, and prepares them for long-term success.

For high-performance organizations, onboarding is a key opportunity to introduce and solidify the cultural foundation of the organization, while simultaneously integrating new hires within that cultural fabric. Equally important is its responsibility in priming the reps to be successful within their role as a primary driver of revenue growth for the entire organization.

In order to achieve this virtually, sales enablement should strive to incorporate these six best practices in their next onboarding initiative.

1. Update competencies to reflect digital selling formats

Before evaluating new hires on their level of knowledge or breadth of skills, it’s necessary to know what’s actually required of them within this new remote selling landscape. It’s likely that the competencies expected of reps have evolved as a result of digital selling requirements, so it’s important to update those accordingly before setting out to develop skills and change existing behaviors within specified onboarding sessions.

To get started, meet with key stakeholders and executives to get clarity on what competencies align to strategic initiatives and goals, especially as it relates to the skills needed to succeed in a virtual environment. Some of these digital selling skills may include elevated interpersonal communication methods, the ability to adapt quickly, and heightened mental endurance to overcome potential videoconferencing fatigue.

“Now, we’re trying to teach people about how to use video effectively, and how they should engage with their customer on it,” said Arielle Rosati, global sales enablement lead at Dassault Systèmes.

Since virtual methods are new to many organizations, they may not have sophisticated insights into the competencies necessary for the virtual world. Therefore, it is important for sales enablement practitioners to revisit the exercise every few months to assess which reps are having the most success and their behaviors to get a better understanding of what’s actually working well, and how to apply those competencies to the entire organization.

2. Have new hires create a personal action plan

Once competencies have been updated, it’s necessary to create a roadmap for new hires to develop those competencies relative to their current ability. The use of personal action plans can be helpful to set expectations and then guide new reps toward personalized goals. These plans should be developed with the assistance of managers at the beginning of the onboarding process, and then assessed at specified intervals throughout the entirety of their program to ensure reps are on the right track. Depending on the rep’s progress during these intervals, action can be taken to remedy their trajectory and improve results. Personal action plans can cover:

  • What skills do I need to achieve within this role?
  • What knowledge do I need to have within this role?
  • What behaviors do I need to learn within this role?
  • What courses of action will I take to achieve this?
  • What will be the evidence of action completion?

3. Provide clarity and frequent visibility into company values

When new hires go into the office or headquarters, they’re exposed to the organization’s company values more frequently through visual cues and symbols that are placed throughout the physical space. However, in virtual environments, the ability to remind reps of these values becomes more challenging, and requires a dedicated effort from enablement to incorporate throughout onboarding.

“I think one thing that really can help unite across [new hires] is really not just having clear company values but making sure that those are apparent throughout the onboarding process and that people can and actually articulate those,” said Lori Willbanks, global sales onboarding leader at Equinix.

Without these values, reps may experience uncertainty about their greater purpose and lack the motivation necessary to succeed in an isolated environment. One way of doing this is to tie each onboarding activity back to a core company value in order to demonstrate how the knowledge and skills expected of reps further the company’s vision. Upon completion of each activity, ensure that reps are able to clearly articulate how their role specifically supports these values and vision.

4. Create a buddy system to build unity and connection

One of the greatest obstacles of onboarding remote reps is ensuring they feel a sense of inclusion and camaraderie to their new organization and peers. It’s not uncommon for sales reps to have an extroverted nature, amplifying the potential struggles of hires who seek human connections within their new roles.

One way to remedy this is to create a new hire buddy system within your onboarding program, which pairs two individuals within the same cohort together throughout their onboarding experience. This is often especially useful for a multigenerational workforce that includes sellers of varying levels of professional maturity and skillsets. For instance, consider pairing a more tenured rep who may be less technically savvy with a new college graduate who may have more digital expertise to help guide them through new virtual selling tools.

“You’ve got the Baby Boomers that have this wealth of business experience and knowledge, and I think you really want to leverage that,” said Rosati. “And when you look at Generation X, you look at Millennials…they want mentorship opportunities. They crave that, they want to learn. So pairing any of them with a Baby Boomer, for instance, with all their business experience, their wealth of knowledge, that’s gold.”

Not only does this create mutual benefit in terms of competency development, but it also has the potential to improve morale throughout the onboarding experience by fostering peer-to-peer relationships.

5. Incorporate structured reinforcement programs to ensure retention

Due to the less dynamic learning formats within virtual onboarding processes, reinforcement is a key component to ensure that information sticks. Reinforcement shouldn’t be ad hoc, but a formal, comprehensive structure that covers very specific topics from onboarding. To get the most out of the reinforcement piece, consider these suggestions:

  • Dedicate several weeks to a reinforcement workshop post-onboarding. These can be optional so that reps who may need more practice or support in a particular area can get more specialized assistance
  • Have managers conduct weekly one-on-one coaching sessions with new hires to support reinforcement
  • Assist managers with the coaching process by providing pre-made guides that align to the new hire onboarding plan

“I’m a strong believer that the number one most impactful activity you can have in improving productivity for sales reps is good coaching,” said Mary Charles, director of sales enablement at Allego. “One-on-one coaching is a luxury, but it’s something we have to prioritize.”

6. Facilitate virtual networking events to boost peer correspondence

In the absence of networking workshops at typical in-person onboarding events, create ample online networking environments to help build community among new hires. Employees tend to look forward to these events, as it allows them to share their observations and experiences about how their onboarding is progressing. As a major benefit, networking sessions act as a bridge that connect reps to each other, promoting a positive, team-oriented sales culture. Here are a couple of suggested examples to get the networking ball rolling:

  • Create break-out rooms during educational sessions to incite intimate discussions around topics
  • For something more lighthearted, conduct post-session online group meetups with non-work-related games that allow reps to get more comfortable with each other

Onboarding reps virtually is no easy feat for sales enablement. With concentrated efforts toward competency improvement, morale and culture enhancement, and systematic reinforcement, practitioners can retain top talent and help reps reach productivity more efficiently. It’s critical to be open to creative methods while also focusing on the necessary outcomes for new hires as a result of the onboarding experience.

“Think differently when you’re creating your virtual onboarding experience,” said Willbanks. “It doesn’t have to be the exact same experience that the classroom environment was. Really look at what you’re trying to achieve and then work backward from that. People rise to the challenge — they’ll do whatever creative thing that you’re actually going to think through.”