Episode 2: How to Master Virtual Onboarding


Marissa Gbenro
Marissa Gbenro
Director, Content Marketing
Shamis Thomson
Shamis Thomson
Podcast Transcript

Marissa Gbenro: Hello and welcome to the Win-Win podcast by Highspot. Join us as we dive into changing trends in the workplace and how to navigate them successfully. I’m your host, Marissa Gbenro.

Gartner recently reported that 41% of employees are likely to remain remote post coronavirus pandemic. So what are some best practices for training, specifically onboarding, for a remote workforce?

I’ve asked my friend Shamis Thomson, Hootsuite’s Manager of Global Sales Enablement, to join us as we explore this topic. Welcome, Shamis, and thank you for joining us. Can you introduce yourself and your role to the audience, please?

Shamis Thomson: Thank you so much for having me, Marissa. So, my name is Shamis. I am on the sales enablement team here at Hootsuite. I’ve been at Hootsuite for seven and a half years and on the enablement team for the last four and a half. I focus on supporting our entire revenue organization within the sales enablement team, currently sitting in our sales operations department.

MG: Thank you, Shamis. So, since the start of the pandemic, virtual training and onboarding have become so much more important for organizations, but particularly for sales, who are the main drivers of revenue. And because of that, it’s really important that they get new sellers up and running as fast as possible and as effectively as possible.

I know onboarding is an area of interest for you because, again, it can mean the difference between a great seller or one who struggles to hit quota for a few months or quarters, even. Can you tell us what your biggest onboarding goals are for the next six to 12 months?

ST: Yeah, it’s a good one. We have a lot of ambitious goals around this, and I think the move to virtual has really caused us to have to look at this a lot more closely. One of the things that I’m really keenly interested in better understanding is how our onboarding efforts set up our ongoing employee experiences and, ultimately, their development, and how we can further tailor those experiences to really give them what they need in a much quicker way. That’s going to be one of the big focuses for 2021.

MG: Do you feel that with this move to make sure that everyone can get what they need a lot quicker you have seen anything in particular that has helped you accomplish that goal? Is it tools? Is it processes? Where have you found success with making sure that your sellers or the entire org that you support are getting what they need as timely as possible?

ST: So I think it comes down to a couple of things. It’s really about visibility and communication. You know, having visibility through our technology and understanding how people are potentially experiencing that onboarding experience. Then, in turn, being able to reach out and connect with those individuals and better understand what that experience is like and what we can do to continue to refine it and improve upon it has been a key win for us today.

MG: I know Hootsuite culture is really important to you guys and supporting the growth of your organization. How have you found success in nurturing company culture while also supporting that growth mindset culture?

ST: Culture, for me, is really about beliefs and behaviors. One of the most important things to focus on first is really what you’re measuring. For example, think about one of the best measures of revenue growth actually is LTV or lifetime value, right? From the customer standpoint, it’s really prioritizing that customer experience, and culture often stems from the top. We’re fortunate. We have a new leader, Tom, who is our new CEO and he has a real focus on the growth mindset and bringing that into the conversation, which in turn is helping us revisit our values and where we’re reinforcing them in the business.

MG: It’s always really nice when you have a leader who shares the same values and it’s coming from the top down, right? You don’t have to worry so much about driving this initiative alone because now it’s coming from the top and you get to say, “OK, we all have this vision. Now it is a company-wide initiative and I’m not just over in the corner tinkering and doing it on my own — I have some support here.”

You mentioned a little bit about visibility being important. Can you dive into how you cultivate visibility and accountability in your onboarding program in particular?

ST: Yeah, of course. Visibility and accountability might be my two favorite words. Visibility really comes down to what you can see from the data you have available. We’re often limited to subjective qualitative data, which in turn is often filled with a lot of bias. Getting that quantitative data really allows us to start asking better questions, getting to more root cause more effectively.

We’ve used Highspot, actually, in a number of instances to help us do this and really just shine a light into areas that are relatively dark and that’s been fantastic. Accountability may be the more challenging of the two, and I think it really comes down to trust.

You need to be able to establish trust before you can get anyone’s accountability. It sort of inherently stems from the individual and  I often say trust is the currency of movement. If you want to move forward, you need to establish trust. If you find yourself moving in the wrong direction, it’s likely an area you need to revisit.

So, from my experience, sometimes it’s going to involve working through stakeholders who already have that trust in place in order to reduce the amount of time you have to spend developing it yourself. Not to be limited by the circle of trust that you, extend that into the stakeholders you work with as well.

MG: Can you share an example of someone new, such as a new leader you haven’t worked with before — how are you gaining that trust so that you can hold their team accountable or hold their frontline sellers accountable? Everything is distant from what it used to be and being able to have these conversations in-person and meeting someone and building that trust in-person I think is a lot easier than virtually. What are some recommendations that you have?

ST: Don’t do it alone. It’s about establishing that sphere of influence around the people that you want to work with. Trust is earned over time and it’s earned through exposure and experience that you have. So recognize where there are opportunities to work with other people that are already in that sphere of trust and influence and work closely with them to align around what the common goal is. It will only expedite your time towards trust with the individuals you want to work with as well.

MG: I love that. When you mentioned visibility, you talked about one of the metrics of success for culture being lifetime value. Can you dive into the top three metrics that you look at for success when regarding onboarding? How does our audience discover what the metrics of success are for them and what have they been for you?

ST: There’s a there’s a lot of things you can measure, and measurement and tracking are maybe two sides of a coin. When I think about measuring success I think about it from the context often of the average contract value, time to close, pipeline, velocity, things like that. Obviously, we talk a lot about ARR and SAS, but I think LTV is another one that more organizations are recognizing is important.

When I look at the tracking site, it’s a lot more about leading indicators as well. Seeing how engaged our reps are, what is the volume and frequency that they’re engaging with the resources that we provide to them, the training, or the content.

It’s a good indicator of sort of the level of investment that they’re putting into themselves. Another area that we look at is how are they showing up? We use things like call intelligence and other platforms to help us get an indication of how well they’re adopting the material and the training that we’re providing to them. Then looking at effectiveness, win rates, and are they approaching the right opportunities? Are they making the right kind of decisions and digging into those areas?

MG: Have you found that any of your metrics have shifted or changed since moving to a fully remote workforce?

ST: I would say there is a natural sort of evolution and I’m not sure that that the virtual side is necessarily been the driving force behind that yet. But I’m suspecting as we continue to evolve our approach into 2021, there may be some more learnings that we’ll have around that. Today there hasn’t been anything that sort of stands out as, “Oh, now that we’re virtual now the measures change.”

MG: That’s really interesting. I think because so much has changed as a result of virtual life, but so much has stayed the same when it comes to, “Hey, these are the things that are important and this is still our north star.” That continuity for me personally has been very satisfying and helped a lot with this transition to say, “OK, my job has shifted in the way I’m going about it. However, my key metrics of success, my KPIs, the things that I need to accomplish on a grand scale, have remained the same.” I think it does take a little bit of the stress off for managers like yourself to say, “Hey, we still have the same goals. It just may look different the way we go about executing them.”

How do you know if certain actions that are being taken by sellers, certain behaviors are necessarily the right ones? How do you make that correlation between a seller sending 50 emails a week that may have equated to them meeting quota? How do you go back to the metrics and behaviors and connect those two with performance?

ST: I look at it from a couple of perspectives, one is looking for those early warning signs. For example, looking at the data and tracking or monitoring it to see if a particular group hasn’t adopted at the rate that we see for the broader cohort. That’s a bit of a flag that we can then chase down in a more specific way when it comes to measuring. Though typically we’re more focused on more official things that we’ve already gotten placed.

So, I think about the sales process, right? And how are our teams adhering to our sales process? Those are very quantified, measurable steps that involve both ourselves and our customers and really help us understand how we’re moving along. That’s probably where we do most of our measurement relative to that, but there is value in the tracking and those early warning flags for us.

MG: So, Shamis, I think you and I both understand and know the importance of training and onboarding for sales teams, especially now more than ever. Taking a step back and kind of getting broad, can you just share your thoughts and insights on why onboarding is so important? If we’re speaking to a sales leader, what value do you really see when looking at metrics, behaviors, and performance tied to onboarding?

ST: I’d say onboarding is very important. It’s the first impression that someone has of your organization. It can really set the tone for what that individual’s experience is and becomes. So getting that right is critical. Living in this virtual world, there is more consideration that we have to have around how are we improving that experience and adapting that experience to this environment. There are things that we would have relied on previously with face-to-face interaction and all the benefits of that.

I think that we need to recognize that this is also an opportunity for us to go deeper in terms of how we are tailoring that sort of corporate orientation and onboarding into these longer periods. So maybe onboarding was weeks before and now it’s months, or maybe it was a couple of months and now it’s several months. It’s looking at a longer tail to what onboarding is and how we can tailor that more to each of the different teams as well as individuals within those teams.

I think it’s a really good opportunity for us to recognize that we don’t want to put top performers through an experience that is meant for struggling performers. That’s going to chase them out the door. So this is a real opportunity for us to go deeper.

MG: I completely agree that it has to be tailored, especially if it’s a longer tail program. If I’m a top performer and I consistently hit my numbers and the training I’m going to for three hours a day is about engaging customers, that’s not really content that I need to consume.

When looking at tailoring programs, are you going by, “Here are the three buckets that we think are the most important and the sellers that fall within the buckets, therefore they will go to these individual lessons?” How are you deciding who should do what as far as continued education and tailored onboarding programs?

ST: I think the important piece here is to allow people to sort of self-select to an extent into this. Through their actions and their behaviors, the people that want to lean in more should be given more. People that maybe aren’t taking the opportunity to dive into what they’re given, we need to recognize that as a different type of experience that we need to align around.

Whether it’s bringing in more of a buddy system to support those individuals that aren’t as engaged and trying to find other ways to bring them in and get them more engaged. And conversely, with folks that are leaning in, how do we get their IP more distributed within our organization? How do we connect them with other parts of the business that want to hear from our sales organization? And make sure that they’re given that opportunity to sort of share their expertise within the business and reward them that way.

MG: You said something and a light bulb went off. As you said, it’s self-selection to a certain extent and the participant, the seller, whatever their job title may be, has to want to be there. And how do you get these sellers or managers on board and subscribe to what you’re putting down? Essentially, if they’re detractors who don’t really think that they need this they’re tenured, they’ve been selling for 15 years and they don’t need one more onboarding program. How do you win them over and get them really bought in on recommendations that you may have?

ST: I think one of the areas is just showing results. Seeing is believing for most when it comes to overcoming the objections of critics, I think you just have to find ways. Sometimes you have to get creative, but you have to find ways to show them and they’ll see and recognize that there’s an opportunity just waiting for them if they want to take it. We’re not in the business of standing behind people and pushing them, but we’re absolutely in the business of leaning down and pulling people up who want to be pulled up.

I think that it’s important to recognize that we’re all — well, most of us, I imagine, suffer from a resource constraint in our roles, and with a finite amount of bets to place you want to make sure you maximize your results. I am going to bias towards helping those that want to be held probably more. I’d love to help everybody, but my default is to help people that want to be helped first.

MG: I love that term that you used: “I’m in the business of pulling people up who want to be pulled up.” I think that’s actually pretty powerful when looking at training and onboarding — you can’t force anyone to do anything. What you can do is if someone is struggling and they want to get better or figure out where they’re falling flat, then I’m all bought in and I know how to help you.

I think that often with training, onboarding, and any change management role, I can’t help you if I don’t know what you need. I think that’s really at the heart of when you said tailoring programs and training to what the rep in front of you really needs to improve on.

I loved that idea of, “I can only do so much.” So, Shamis, what has helped you in building an effective and efficient onboarding program?

ST: Some of the things that have been really beneficial for us in our development of onboarding programs have really been gaining that visibility into what’s working and what’s not working. It can seem like a kind of an obvious thing. But for our processes, we didn’t have any kind of real granular visibility into just how effective was our onboarding efforts. So by starting to leverage the technology — and Highspot was critical to gain that visibility into how our new owls were going through their onboarding experience. The level to which they were going through and engaging with the resources provided to them. It really allowed us to start to see the connection between the people that were embracing that experience and the people that weren’t. In turn, we were able to work with our business leaders to build out on that more and put more structure and build accountability into that process.

That really solidified that trust element that allowed us to continue to build and refine our efforts there. It really started with just gaining visibility into what’s working and what’s not working. I think maybe if there’s one thing I would leave on, it would be that learning is a learned skill. It’s important to recognize that because it’s something that can be developed and coached, but it’s not something we can just assume everybody has developed already.

MG: Can you dive a little deeper into your experience with that?

ST: So for me, there are really two qualities that are really important in what goes into a successful rep. Emotional intelligence, which is really about interpersonal skills and the ability to control pressure and stress and adapt to the uncertainties of the job. Another area that we don’t often spend a lot of time on is curiosity. The notion of the curiosity quotient. This is, to me, one of the areas where it really stands out because one of the things that identify people that have a higher degree of curiosity is their willingness to invest in their own level of understanding and knowledge on a subject.

They tend to go far deeper than their peers that lack that level of natural curiosity. That’s easier for us to identify from one standpoint, but it’s also about how they show up in conversation too. It’s the way they approach a discovery conversation with a customer. Ultimately combining these two things leads to a better buying experience. When I say learning is a learned skill, it is, but it’s a very identifiable skill and it’s one that I’m always looking for.

MG: Have you found that curiosity and emotional intelligence are the hallmarks of a great seller or someone who’s just going to be very successful within a training program?

ST: Both. I think they are hallmarks of great salespeople, perhaps they’re not requirements per se, and we haven’t made them requirements yet from a traditional selling context. I think that’ll change over time, to be honest. I think as we continue to move into this buyer’s world, we’re going to start to recognize that these are actually the new things that we want.

You know, we’re not looking for closers and all these more historical things that we’ve associated with what great sellers look like. I think the future of great sellers is the current great learner. This virtual forward environment.

MG: I think you are absolutely right — the future is going to require someone with a decent to high emotional intelligence and curiosity because you no longer get the luxury of being personable in person. You have to be personable on an email, over Slack, on the phone. You lose some of that charisma that you can turn on when you’re in-person and shaking someone’s hand. You have to be able to translate that through emails and phone calls now, and you have to be more curious to go find your own answers now that you can’t turn around and ask Shamis anymore.

Gartner recently said that they’re expecting 35 to 40% of sellers not to return back to the office and remain remote. If that is the case, 35 to 40% of people who are selling virtually right now will remain selling virtually. Curiosity and emotional intelligence is going to be detrimental to their success.

If I were to list a few takeaways of a great onboarding program based on this conversation, they would be visibility, accountability, and trust.

ST: Completely agree with that.

MG: Well, Shamis, thank you so much for your time. This has been an amazing conversation and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. It’s always a pleasure to work with you and thank you for joining the Win-Win podcast.

ST: Thank you so much, Marissa.

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