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Three Traits of World-Class Onboarding Programs

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Part of working with enterprise sales teams is being able to witness the range of approaches to new hire training. With so many different potential avenues to engaging reps early and driving long-term learning, it can become challenging to identify what an organization does right, and what is stunting growth.

Luckily, when you look at the top programs, you can identify three distinct characteristics that make an onboarding approach best-in-class: longevity, cadence, and practice.

CommercialTribe has the opportunity to help a wide range of organizations build world-class onboarding, and to identify the broad traits that these approaches share. Generally, we advise clients to focus on three aspects of the approach when revising or planning for onboarding: eliminating the idea of a “program,” building a cadence and adopting practice.

The Traits of Winning Approaches

world-class onboarding programsWhat makes for a winning onboarding approach? As HubSpot’s Andrew Quinn shared, it depends. Generally, the true differences made by a great program are a reduction in time to productivity and an improvement to the productivity of each new hire.

When looking at programs that reach these goals, we found that world-class onboarding programs do not use one time programs, and instead extend learning beyond a set period of time and through a rep’s tenure.

The first rule of onboarding at a world-class organization is that you do not talk about onboarding. Instead, you onboard perpetually. Best-in-class onboarding extends far beyond the first 3 months, continuing through a rep’s tenure and updating as new releases, messages, or skills are introduced. The dynamo of new information forever spins, and reps are always learning.

When a world-class organization brings on a group of new hires, they certainly still put them through a few days or weeks of accelerated learning, but the program does not stop there. Even as they graduate out and reach full ramp, reps are engaging with small, medium, and large forms of learning, with ample time to practice.

No longer does enablement have to hand off learning to sales, nor does sales have to guess at the experience or ability of new hires and their impact on goal.

World-class onboarding programs base learning on a cadence of mixed learning approaches and touchpoints.

Mixing up the learning approach, from varying the length of time reps spend learning to the actual method of viewing and practicing content, ensures that reps continually engage and remain sharp. World-class programs do not rely on a single “bootcamp” or program to stand as a frontloaded source of rep learning. Instead, they break learning into individual elements – certification, quick spotchecks on knowledge, simple watch and respond exercises – and execute these strategically across the year.

Instead of spending two weeks in bootcamp and 30 minutes in coaching each month, reps spend minutes each day, week, and month perfecting a broad range of content – all while selling.

World-Class Onboarding Programs Incorporate Practice

World-class onboarding programs are cultures of practice. Simply put, practice becomes the single-most important element in the ongoing learning of reps, and these organizations encourage and enable their reps to practice.

Practice allows reps the chance to more thoroughly engage with any type of content, learn it deeply, and use it in everyday selling. It goes far beyond a one-time bootcamp or program and extends into every selling day. Practice can be targeted, with a formal certification course taking 30 minutes over a week, or light, taking the form of a quick skills check.

The important point is that reps have access to practice content, and are encouraged by sales and enablement to actually practice through their tenure.

Building a best-in-class onboarding organization takes work, but it is not reserved for the Fortune 500 alone. Any company, with a dedicated and prescriptive approach to building their onboarding, can see reps ramp faster, sell more effectively, and return on the training investment more quickly than ever.

The Power of Cumulative Practice

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Practice is an incredible tool for sales teams. What reps say is critically important to whether a deal closes or a prospect converts, and the better reps can share the right message, the more likely they are to see a positive outcome.

Yet, practice does not automatically get at what SiriusDecisions calls the #1 reason why reps fail to hit quota: the inability to articulate value.

Introducing practice to your organization is a great step forward to driving better alignment and understanding, but does not ensure that reps will remember or apply anything weeks later. Reps still forget most of the content within a few days.

Similarly, just because a quarterback reads the playbook once a month does not mean that they can apply the right plays over the season.

So what is missing? Repetition through cumulative practice.

Cumulative practice offers your team the chance to go beyond practice alone. The magic of practice forms only when practice is deliberate, repeated, and cumulative. This allows the greatest chance to truly cement concepts and to build upon what reps have already learned.

Back to the sports example – despite millions in endorsements and a demanding pro circuit, Rory McIlroy does not spend his free time signing autographs. Instead, you’ll find him on the driving range, practicing just as much as he did back when his career first started.

Why? The more often he practices and builds upon skills, the more likely it is that he will master more aspects of their game and win more often.

To truly accelerate learning for your reps, the chances to take concepts that they learned during onboarding or the latest product launch must be frequent. The most simple way to do this is to take whatever method you currently use for practice – perhaps a platform or even roleplay – and schedule it to be repetitious. Ensure that reps are engaging in practice every week or month, and create content to practice that builds upon existing skills.

CommercialTribe is proud that reps using our platform practice each scenario 7 times on average before submission. Yet, we’re more proud of that idea that the same reps are coming back into the platform repeatedly over their tenure to practice the same content again, building while learning something new. This dedication to cumulative practice helps reps produce incredible results – doubling pipeline values, boosting conversion rates across the pipeline, or hitting quota quarter after quarter.

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Video Alone Will Not Change Enterprise Sales Learning

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A great recent article in Training Industry – Video Bytes: Just in Time Sales Training – gets at a change happening across the enterprise: video is becoming the best medium for learning initiatives. The benefits of video are rather clear, with reduced travel costs, deep engagement, and reusable content, and the impact is certain to grow through the next decade.

But there’s a catch: video alone will not meet the needs of the changing enterprise.

Research from Corporate Visions backs up the case for video – while only 9% of companies surveyed are using video in a coaching setting, organizations broadly across industries are creating incredible volumes of content.

Why does video miss the mark?

Like any content medium, a video is only effective when it is watched and absorbed. Simply getting a rep to watch a new piece of video content does little to ensure that they engage with the material, take away thoughts and ideas, and implement them in the field.

With just video, the pressure is on the sales rep to seek the content, purposely review it as many times as they need to learn and take that new message into sales conversations. If those habits seem familiar, it is because they are common to top performers, those actively seeking to advance performance. Across the balance of the team, this proactive hunt is generally less active.

Chances are, reps will review the required content a few times, perhaps occasionally refreshing themselves afterward, but ultimately forgetting most of the new message. There simply is not a mechanism in place to make broad adoption of successful video commonplace or automatic.

What’s missing? Practice.

Practice, in contrast, gives sales dedicated opportunities to purposely engage with video and do so in a way that mimics what top performers are doing. The same videos that Training Industry rightfully recommends – short, topical, engaging pieces of content – are fit into a culture of practice, which expects sales to enter the platform, portal, or database, seek or be prescribed relevant content, and review it multiple times.

Rather than being just a replacement for standard learning whitepapers, video becomes a weapon of choice for Sales, Marketing, and Enablement to deploy messages and strategies rapidly, and know that reps are practicing, and then taking those ideas into the market.

We’ve covered the idea of building vs. buying a tool, but fundamentally, systems designed to execute video across the enterprise utilize workflows, lessons, or some form of practice to drive actual viewing and engagement. Building a tool internally often just means introducing a video database to the team, with the expectation that reps view, absorb, and apply – without a means of actually tracking adoption and ensuring a degree of engagement.

The result of deploying practice goes beyond video, lifting the suite of content used to share messages and skills with the organization. Yet, with the ability of video in particular to drive deep engagement, practice becomes an incredible ally in making messaging happen.

How is your organization using video? Is the delivery static or dynamic, requiring engagement?

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Video-Based Practice: Build or Buy?

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When evaluating the need for video-based practice in a sales training toolset, today’s market may seem confusing. After all, anyone can record themselves via an iPhone, save that file, upload it to a shared folder, and voila – video! But at some point, the technology reaches a point where your homegrown system has to be compared to a professionally developed platform, which can make all the difference in addressing the problem you are trying to solve.

There was a day not too long ago that CRM ran off of spreadsheets. Today, few companies would consider running their business off spreadsheets, and, like CRM, we may be approaching a similar tipping point with video-based practice solutions. Nevertheless, you still have two choices today: build or buy.

But are these choices really equal? We can peel back the full spectrum of costs associated with building a solution to see which option presents the most value.

Build

For larger organizations, the prospect of internally sourcing a video-based practice system seems promising. Video recording technology exists, and many of the typical components of a video platform are perhaps already created: content management, analytics, and commenting/feedback are all large parts of the solution.

In reality, while 70% of the work may be feasible, the last 30% is incredibly demanding, requiring domain expertise, time, and large investments. Organizations that we have worked with that have attempted to build their own solution more often than not drop the idea before even reaching a first prototype – after spending millions.

Beyond the features, though, are technical concerns that make a workable platform difficult to produce. While much has to be in place to make the system work – the basic view, practice, submit workflow, feedback tools, an in-house champion or training team, or even just budget – a well-constructed solution addresses the below broad considerations:

Recording and Sharing

Video practice solutions are built on the idea of the bi-directional video platform, which saves video content in a cloud-based platform, automatically sharing it with groups as needed, pairing it with content or activities, and allowing coaches to evaluate it. Even with webcams built into most computers, building a solution for teams to record video and share it across the company is time consuming and challenging. The recording technologies used in current-generation video-practice platforms are cutting edge, requiring dedicated R&D to reach and use reliably.

Analytics

A core part of a practice-based solution is the ability to track who watches content, how often they interact with it, and any performance increases that result. With an internal solution, these details are difficult to track – and costly to discover. While you can attempt to track practice through raw data alone, it is typically only possible to count how many times content is engaged with, and not by whom. This leaves a gap in your ability to understand intent and engagement, and ultimately to make more informed adjustments.

Security

With any enterprise tool, questions of scalability and security are paramount. Can an internal solution support a global or distributed team? Will it be secure and safe enough to support company intellectual property and information? Because sales messages and strategies are often the differentiator between a company and its peers, the idea of having these secrets leaked or shared inappropriately would be catastrophic.

Reliability and Scalability

A homemade system is at higher risk of breaking – without a dedicated team constantly developing it, bugs and long-term issues go unnoticed. When this happens, who is responsible for fixing it, and how? While it can be less expensive upfront to rely on existing tools, over the long term, in-house systems are more likely to fail and require more investment to repair, taking time away from an internal team trying to build the next product for you to sell.

Likewise, mass recording of video is not the same as mass consumption of video. Typical challenges include access to recording bandwidth and upload and routing speeds. With an internal investment, your IT team suddenly inherits support for an undocumented tool.

Cost

It is increasingly expensive to build an internal solution, due to the level of support, sophistication, and complexity present in most video-based practice systems. A team would look to a meaningful investment to build out a rudimentary internal system, which does not take into account updates, new features, or support and stability. Typical costs include research, development, licensing, team and training, bandwidth and storage, and time taken from marketable product development. Unlike an internal static content portal, video practice systems are dynamic, and will constantly require new investments in stability and administration.

Ultimately, the investment will require several injections of new support, directly financing a single-use tool.

All of these factors make internal development of a sophisticated, and thus effective, video practice platform unwise. The sheer volume of resources, time, and research will push delivery of the solution out across several years. By the time the system launches to your reps, it will be out of date.

When asking whether to build or buy a video-practice solution, we have already reached the tipping point. Unless your organization is prepared to become a provider of a video-based practice platform, it is far more effective to buy, rather than build.

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Why Video is the Missing Ingredient in your Sales Training Plan

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As an industry, sales training has relied on a mixed bag of the same tricks – kickoff, webinars, sell sheets, roleplay, etc – each designed to promote learning and more effective selling.

Yet, into the 21st century, the facts remain stunning: according to a recent survey by Corporate Visions, only 41% of companies ask their reps to practice skills and messaging, and 34% say no one is responsible for coaching and certifying rep proficiency. The lack of a more robust training process results in the same set of outcomes that we’ve experienced for centuries: not enough reps meet quota, company goals are missed, and attrition rates remain high.

What Makes Video Different?

The way a rep learns varies from individual to individual, with no clear learning path that an organization can set. That means that sales leaders and trainers need a captivating and adaptive method to offer the least resistance to training for the most people.

Video differs from in-person learning or static content by offering a visual package that the viewer can interact with. In sales training, gaining a bigger share of a rep’s attention and focus pays immediate dividends, with the message sticking more often. Research by Brainshark suggests that “seeing and hearing messages increases audience retention by 3-6 times” versus traditional methods, boosting the viewer’s engagement and comprehension.

Video can be easily updated and highly reusable, making it easier for the training organization to revitalize content and deploy it across the team without a large lift.

Adding video to your sales training toolkit can help reps of all learning styles actually absorb and apply the right skills, messages, and behaviors in the marketplace.

How to Use Video

According to the above research by Corporate Visions, only 9% of sales teams are using video to engage their reps in practice. The progressive teams relying heavily on this medium, including Corporate Visions, have found some early data that suggests best practices for video.

At the end of 2014, CommercialTribe pooled its usage data and developed The Activation Hypothesis, an analysis of a year’s worth of videos, practice sessions, and interactions. While limited in its scope and size, the research suggested several key criteria to help plan a video-based practice program.

1. Keep videos short: 2-3 minutes

Our data found that reps lost interest in videos that lasted more than 4 minutes. Presenting a lot of content at once makes video content hard to digest in one sitting. Keeping videos short means more engaged reps and makes content updates easier to execute.

2. Aim for 3-5 review sessions per video

While reps in CommercialTribe practice best-in-class scenarios as part of their training program, many organizations are still just delivering one-way video for reps to watch. In either case, the same data holds true – reps need multiple views to truly absorb and apply the content. Give reps ample opportunities to dive back into videos, and measure how many times they review the content. If they are reviewing at least 3 times (assuming your videos are short), chances are high that reps are learning. The long-term results are also clear: reps feel more in control of their own learning.

3. Create opportunities for application

The ultimate test is always what are reps doing with this information: do they actually bring it into their customer conversations? Measuring this can be tricky. Tracking interactions in salesforce.com can demonstrate the type of conversations reps are having, but you can’t hear what they say on each call. Having reps practice what they will do differently is the best way to gain insight into whether behavioral change has taken place or not.

Why Not Just Video?

While video offers the most cost-effective and scalable medium for training, it is not a full replacement for your training program. Successful sales training relies on a blended approach to learning and must be reinforced by sales leadership.

A comprehensive program uses video to be more accessible but continues to use traditional, classroom-based learning, roleplay, and joint travel sporadically. The result is a program that is pervasive, reinforced, and effective. Though most reps from the YouTube generation will respond strongly to video, it may not appeal to hands-on or literary learners, who could end up absorbing less.

Creating ample opportunities for learning, with a wide variety of opportunities to consume and apply, offers the best chance for reps to adopt and apply the right skills, messages, and behaviors.

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Your Sales Onboarding Videos are Too Long

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Sales enablement in the digital age means a whole new suite of resources available to impact learning and cater to changing habits. One of the most impactful methods of sharing information with your new hires is video, a chance for reps to actually engage with and absorb content. One profile shared by Brainshark highlights a 3 – 6x increase in learning retention with video, “compared to isolated audio or text/images alone.”

However, simply putting a video into the onboarding process is not enough. Often, reps get bored or distracted, missing the point of the exercise. Usually, this is not because of the rep, but because the delivery of the content itself is flawed: it is too long.

Analysis pulled from the CommercialTribe platform in 2014 provides a guidepost. We found that the most impactful videos were less than 3 minutes long. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise in the 140 characters or less world that we live in, but nevertheless, organizations still struggle with this concept in their delivery of information. Our finding also matches outside research on the subject, such as that from Rochester’s Philip Guo and edX, which suggests that ideal learning videos are shorter than 6 minutes.

The recommendation to “break lectures into small, bite-sized pieces” holds true. When those videos are intended for reps to observe and then practice (i.e. create their own), it’s even more important to abide by the 3-minute rule.

To reach our conclusion, CommercialTribe profiled its entire pool of usage data from 2014, determining not only the right length for the perfect training video, but also how curriculum, recording, and timeline work together to drive learning.

The benefits of small, targeted lessons are clear.

New hires absorb more

With a huge volume of content, HR materials, and skills landing on a rep’s desk in their first week, it can be hard to navigate through the noise. Keeping content short and concise helps reps pay attention and actually take home the lesson.

Reps can practice

Whether you use a practice-based training system or not, giving reps chances to review material and even repeat it as they would in the market is invaluable. With short videos, reps can more readily review it for proficiency and transition the information into their selling. Best of all? Reps can share and learn with their peers.

Content is recyclable

With large videos, it is easier for content to become dated or fail to be impactful. As a result, you have to throw away the project and start over.

When videos are short and focused, individual videos can be quickly updated or adjusted to maximize impact. As new products or messages launch, relevant units can be quickly replaced, avoiding the cost and effort of re-recording.

Three Ways to (Actually) Hit Your Sales Revenue Goal this Year

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If you’re like most VPs of Sales, you’ll soon turn your attention to hitting the 2015 number. As we shared recently, creating your 2015 plan, with help from Cracking the Sales Management Code, is a more systematic way to engineer to success. To review, we broke apart the plan into three parts:

  • Business Results – the goals handed to sales each year, such as Financial and Market Share targets
  • Sales Objectives – these are the levers through which you reach your Business Results. Think of Market Coverage, Product Focus, or Customer Focus as viable options.
  • Sales Activities – Sales Activities are actual sales force actions, such as Territory Management, Opportunity Management, or Sales Force Enablement.

Think of it as a hierarchy: at the top are the Business Results, like revenue. To build to this goal, you set several Sales Objectives, which depend on selecting the right Sales Activities to manage and engineer to your success.

Here are three potential Sales Objectives to focus on in 2015 to help to power revenue growth. The first is Product Focus, deciding which solution or product needs to grow in sales to achieve higher returns. The second is Market Coverage, the right ways to approach a new segment and activate new sales in unfamiliar territories. Finally, Salesforce Capability looks at you manage and apply tools like your sales process.

1. Product Focus

Everyone wants to sell more product and bigger deals, but the world has moved toward crafting specific solutions that are more customer-centric. Whether a new product, an undersold solution, or a high-value option, building the 2015 plan around a specific product goal can be an extremely valuable exercise.

The Sales Activity that helps drive toward a product goal is Salesforce Enablement, more specifically the training, content, and messaging that you already use to boost your team’s abilities. Getting reps and managers up to speed on a solution comes back to the right education process, with the right content to enable them to sell. Reps need to be able not only to articulate the product to the market, but also to put it in context of a solution, educating and solving a prospect’s issue. Using a practice-based sales training and certification program, can help ensure your reps are actually carry the appropriate product focus

2. Market Coverage

Entering a new market segment is a classic way to drive new revenue, but only if you understand that segments receptivity. New segments bring new messaging, new attack plans, and new challenges, all of which alter the Sales Activities you choose to drive.

To drive at a new market segment, reps need to alter their approach. Who are the existing customers in the space that you work with? Are there any specific needs that are unique to that space? By communicating you understand the segment and its unique challenges, you’ll penetrate it at a higher rate. Now you need a place to collect and disseminate your company’s distinct point of view in each segment.

Here, you’ll look similarly to Account and Territory Management to drive toward success. Both mean peeling apart the measures that define success with a particular account or territory. To build toward Market Coverage, look at metrics like net new meetings in the space or calls into the new market. Once you begin to track, you can work toward the Sales Objective.

3. Salesforce Capability

Salesforce Capability looks at how your team operates and how able they are to sell and convert. It includes the sales stages, the training, and the continuous development that creates a successful sales process. When approaching the 2015 plan, one effective way to drive toward new revenue is to review Opportunity Management, how the team actually handles the process of converting a lead to an opportunity and customer, and the difference in messaging in each stage of the sales cycle.

CEB research finds that reps will, when missing the right messaging, default to whatever they learned last, making it imperative to drill the use of the right messages at the right time. Different sales cycle stages require different messaging and approaches that reps may not be executing live. Without changing the message in each stage, moving from general insight and education to positioning the solution within the market and matching a need, the chances of the sales being lost or delayed surprisingly increase with each step.

Guiding the team toward a dynamic sales cycle requires both planning and education. Looking at the buyer and seller stages together, for example, helps your reps and managers to understand what a certain stage of the process looks like, what the appropriate messaging is, and how the buyer will receive it. Once a plan is established, getting reps and managers applying messaging requires training, both highlighting a path to success with the new system and giving reps the skills necessary to identify and activate the right messaging at the right stage.