A Tough New Skill We All Need Now: Onboarding SDRs and AEs Virtually

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Every day brings news and change around Covid-19 and its impact on the economy, our customers, and the business climate.  We’re working to adapt to new circumstances almost daily, and looking to help our customers do the same.

We have been a remote-friendly operation from the start, (having people in Canada, Mexico, USA, and me being away in Edinburgh) and decided recently – like so many others – to go 100% remote.  

As everyone else is going virtual, a new concern arises: virtual onboarding. Yes? No? And how.

Now, I would have been the first person to vote AGAINST going 100% remote in ‘normal’ times -as I know all the benefits of being in an office with others.  Such as onboarding new people (especially salespeople). But – I’ve changed my opinion, and actually now want our company to stay 100% virtual (or 90%+), regardless of what happens with Covid-19.   Main reason: before, I felt we had “haves” (people in offices) and “have-nots” (remote workers). Now: our team’s information and connection is now more democratized. Also, other 100% remote companies say running remote forces you to be a more intentional, well-run company.  Yep.

But onboarding and managing salespeople virtually is still a new skill for both managers and the salespeople.

Even in person, onboarding a new SDR/AE is hard enough! 

So I asked around on LinkedIn to learn from others’ experiences. What worked, what didn’t, and their best advice to rock the virtual  onboarding process. 

It’s fair to say we got a mix of opinions, ranging from various tips and to-do’s to proceed with hiring virtually, and the definite negative to hiring right now. 

Ryan Donohue, Head of Sales at Govzilla, has been building remote SDR and AE teams for a couple of years now, and he assures us it’s a trip! 

We actually met about 5 or 6 years, when Ryan was working at Agility Recovery. I came on as a consultant to help them build their SDR team. 

Govzilla is a fully remote company, and they have been onboarding remotely since day one. Ryan was brought into the company in October 2018, to scale their sales and commercial team functions: sales, SDR team, Customer Success, etc, and so he openly shares his experience onboarding and managing teams remotely. 

We feel like we have a lot more flexibility in a fully remote workforce, it allows us to hire people from all over, so our talent pool becomes exponential.

What does the onboarding process look like for Govzilla? 

It actually starts before they make the hire. You have to hire the right people, or it will logically be a drag to manage them remotely, mostly because they will need the office environment, that easy communication methodology. But there are some steps you can follow to make sure you hire the right person according to Ryan:  

  1. Understanding who are the personas that you’re looking for. Establishing the role and maybe looking for someone who has done remote work previously. Also looking for someone who is very self driven, people whose hand you don’t have to hold, and who wants to figure things out on their own. There’s a few ways that you can find this: 
  • Reference checks. 
  • Do they read? If someone reads, and reads interesting books, or books to help up their game, that’s typically a sign of someone who is self driven. 
  • During the interview: what kind of questions do they ask; and do they ask a lot? If they don’t ask questions in the interview, they won’t ask questions once you hire them. And if they don’t ask questions, then you don’t know what they’re doing, or what they’re thinking.

As far as the onboarding process goes, it is planned from day one. “We have the onboarding planned weeks in advance, calls setup with all different departments to help them understand who we are, what’s our culture, what we do, how we help and serve the market, who are the customers, what are their challenges and pain points in the industry, and how that correlates to what our product does,” Ryan explains.  

We have a playbook created for each different role, to walk them through step by step. There is so much knowledge, data, and information for them to digest that they get a very holistic picture of everything that matters about their jobs and to them being successful in that role.

And let’s be honest, after training, people will retain at best 50%. And if they don’t have a reference guide to go back to, it will be really difficult for them to stay up on your company’s process. So planning out the onboarding and making a playbook is just as critical as anything. 

Make sure you have the Rep’s calendar booked since day one, so they know what they’re doing minute by minute for the first 2 weeks. That gives them a sense of security as well, because they’re new, they don’t know what the heck they’re doing, so giving them a focus really helps to ground them. 

These are some additional key points to keep in mind to have a successful virtual onboarding in Ryan’s own words: 

1- During the interview process, if you have even the slightest shred of doubt that the candidate might need constant hand-holding or attention, pass. A good way to spot check yourself, ask their old boss if they think that the candidate might have worked better remotely for them, and why. 

2- Communication. A daily morning check-in is not enough, and if you don’t have technology like Zoom (or any other software that allows quick and efficient remote communication), then it’s best to put off building a remote team. 

3- Tracking metrics properly. Setup your metrics tracking before training and call recording technology. You can in some instances listen to your rep make outbound calls through Zoom, but you won’t be able to hear what the prospect is saying which kind of defeats the purpose.*** Being able to listen to both sides, and coach your rep is imperative to ramping them faster. 

***We actually have a solution for that! Last year we were onboarding some SDRs down in Cancun, Mexico. These were inexperienced candidates, who had never done sales, let alone cold calling, and we had no one to physically onboard them. So we came up with a solution in order to coach them through their first calls virtually.

This method was done with Zoom and Outreach.

  1. Get on a Zoom video call. 
  2. The Rep in question needs to click on “Share”, and pick “share audio only”, (unless you need to screen share, you can do both).
  3. Rep makes the call through the calling platform.
  4. All Zoom participants will be able to hear any audio coming in through the Rep’s computer. 

There you go! Now you’ll be able to hear both ends of the call remotely and coach your reps. 

Jenny Vance, Chief Revenue Officer at Curvo Labs, recommends leaning on virtual meetings and moving to lots of role-play, which is a step skipped in most onboardings, virtual or not. 

She agrees a lot can be accomplished remotely: 

1- Shadowing. Join Zoom (or whatever software you’re using for video calls) while the rep is making calls. If calls are tabled for now due to sensitivity in a particular industry (like Healthcare, for example) then have two reps do mock calls together. 

2- I go, You go. A manager can start by reviewing the rep’s response to an objection and then, before any commentary, the new rep takes their turn. Once both are done, regroup and discuss. Then, rinse and repeat the process. Please note that this only works when the scenario is very tight. This can also work for complex calls and complex scenarios by breaking it down into manageable chunks. 

3- I go, You go (screen control). Bring someone up to speed by pairing them with a rep to learn the CRM and tech stack process. Have the new rep watch a few call logs and then while the experienced rep is calling, have them take control of the screen to practice logging real results themselves. 

4- Have a happy-hour with the team and do topic questions so the team can learn about each other (and relax a little!) 

If the onboarding process goes well, the next step is managing your reps remotely. 

Tim Hickle, Head of Demand Generation at Woven, tell us about his experience managing 3 SDRs remotely, and here’s what he learned in his own words: 

Daily calls WORK. For the first month or two, we had a daily video call every single day to check-in on progress for onboarding and prospecting tasks.

Role play, role play, role play. Being remote is actually an advantage here, because you can role play cold calls in a more realistic setting than in-person.

Spend at least 15 minutes every day talking about non-work items via the phone. You can schedule this while you’re doing the dishes or other household activities, just make sure it happens. If you make that emotional connection and build trust, the activity will follow.

While managing a remote team is challenging, you get access to a much broader candidate pool for hiring. You also can scale a lot faster because you’re not limited to hiring within your city. Moreover, the challenges associated with a remote workforce allow you, as a manager, to level-up your communication skills, so your career path benefits as well.

One of Tim’s secret weapons to managing a 100% remote team, is “getting teams to optimize their work so that everyone can operate independently, without intervention from their managers or teammates. This allows everyone to log on to work in the morning at their leisure, work at their own pace, and prioritize their day based on their energy levels.” 

We can all agree that these are difficult times, that we must overcome the obstacles, rise above, and adapt quickly if we want our companies to survive. For a lot of us, continuing to hire people is a necessity, even so if we must now do it remotely. 

If you decide to onboard and manage your teams remotely, make sure you have strategic plans to keep up the communication with your reps. You won’t be in the same office to high-five each other, and you want to make sure that your reps feel like they’re heard and have a voice. 

Information knowledge is powerful. If you’ve never built a remote workforce, don’t be afraid to reach out to people who have. Building an SDR/AE team in an office is hard enough, doing it remotely is a whole other story. If you need help figuring things out, or are unsure of what steps to take next, we can help! 



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