Easily, the most noticeable shift of the pandemic has been the rapid rise of distributed or remote work. While vaccines signal the return to some sense of a post-pandemic normal, both employers and employees are showing a marked preference for remote work, which is likely to continue. Surveys have found that 70% of workers would be less happy, and nearly half will look for another job if not allowed remote work after the pandemic.1 Similarly, executives anticipate reductions of 30% and 20% in office space and business travel respectively as a means of cost-saving. Remote work also opens up talent pools across geographies that organizations can tap into.2
This tectonic shift raises significant questions when it comes to sales onboarding. After all, onboarding programs have traditionally relied on boot-camp-style events to carry new recruits through their basic training, shadowing experienced reps on the field, and face-to-face coaching to ensure skill-building. In the post-pandemic world, however, in-person, immersive training is no longer as viable. So, here’s what sales onboarding would look like in 2021:
- Learner-centric onboarding:
- Just-in-time training
- Experiential onboarding:
- AI-enabled analytics:
Traditional onboarding relies on classroom training and one-on-one mentoring in which the trainer or mentor controls the pace and direction of the training.
In virtual settings, however, flexibility is key. Customer facing reps must have the freedom to pick and choose the path of their training as well as how quickly they learn, rather than being forced into a one-size-fits-all program. However, such flexibility cannot be ensured simply by creating a repository of onboarding materials and expecting sales reps to find their own way through the relevant material. Instead, what is required is an active learner approach, where AI-enabled tools curate onboarding content based on the specific preferences and capabilities of each new hire. Further, to continually engage the learner and promote retention, the onboarding content should be structured in easily digestible bite-sized modules and communicated through a variety of different content formats to suit the learning styles of individual reps.
The classroom format of traditional onboarding also takes the form of one-off training events because of the logistics of scale. However, it is well known that sales reps retain little of such information even a few months later.3
Just-in-time training, by comparison, is continuous and iterative, and aligned to the actual sales process. It ensures that the training modules that reps receive correspond to the activities they are mastering at each stage of the sales cycle. Just-in-time training is particularly significant for companies that have product releases multiple times a year. With in-person events, such as sales kickoffs, which serve as important channels for providing product knowledge, presenting a challenge in the current context, just-in-time training, in a remote setting, ensures that reps have the necessary product knowledge to successfully pitch and demo to prospects.
In terms of aiding knowledge retention, research shows that active learning or learning by doing vastly outstrips passive learning methods, such as reading, audio-visual presentations, and demonstrations.4 However, with virtual sales onboarding, the ability for customer facing reps to put into practice what they have learned before speaking to live prospects is a key missing ingredient in most cases. This is a critical component and a cornerstone of an immersive experiential onboarding program.
Modern AI-enabled sales readiness tools allow customer facing reps to practice and record their sales pitches for a variety of sales scenarios and requirements, have their pitches analyzed at a granular level to discover what went right or wrong, and receive feedback and coaching from their managers on which specific skills to improve and how. Such experiential onboarding keeps learning closer to real-world situations and is easily accessible to the sales reps whenever similar situations arise. AI is an important component of this process as it can provide pitch analysis at scale and greatly increase efficiencies of managers who have to otherwise manually assess these pitches. What's more, the best pitches can also be curated into a library of top performing pitches that new reps can learn from. While many companies have implemented Learning Management Systems (LMS) for onboarding, traditional LMS platforms often lack the capabilities to support such experiential learning techniques. However, companies can close this gap by integrating their LMS platform with a sales readiness tool.
Given that most sales reps aren’t face-to-face with managers in the new normal of remote work, metrics are key for the sales organization to gauge onboarding effectiveness. On the one hand, effective onboarding requires tracking training completion by sales reps, as well as assessing knowledge retention through such tools as quizzes, checklists, and so on. On the other hand, going beyond these basic assessments, onboarding effectiveness also depends vitally on actual skill integration. By deploying an AI-enabled sales readiness tool, sales organizations can assess reps’ demo pitches on a range of key factors, such as topic coverage, tone/mood, delivery and pacing, and keyword usage, and, thereby, identify which sales reps are ready to pitch to prospects and which reps require more coaching and training.
There is no denying that the future of sales is virtual. Preparing your reps for this new normal has to start with an onboarding program built for the distributed sales force. This can’t be achieved by simply digitizing traditional onboarding material. Instead, organizations must embrace learner-centric onboarding practices, just-in-time training, AI-enabled analytics, and virtual pitch practice by leveraging new sales readiness tools and processes that reimagine onboarding for the virtual world.