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Guide to Onboarding Remote Sales Employees

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In an ideal world, you could simply hire new sales professionals, give them the lowdown on your products, services and sales techniques then cut them loose and watch the revenue roll in. 

However, most successful organizations understand that modest investments in onboarding and training will pay significant dividends. That’s why companies typically develop internal sales training programs, connect with third-party training partners or a combination of both. 

Of course, another vitally important consideration today is the fact that at least two factors — ongoing tech innovation and global concerns about health and safety — have heightened the importance of developing remote sales capabilities in addition to traditional in-person selling. This means it is increasingly likely that not all of your sales employees will be onsite at your company headquarters or regional branches, instead working remotely. 

Read on for a comprehensive look at tips, strategies and best practices for successfully onboarding remote sales employees. 

 The Importance of Onboarding Remote Employees

Newflash: Within five years, some 40.7 million Americans will be working remotely, a dramatic increase from pre-pandemic levels.

At least, that’s the word from a survey conducted by Upwork. The freelancing network platform also suggests that the ongoing expansion of the remote workforce has been “a catalyst for a fundamental, tectonic shift … in the way that businesses operate and manage their workforce.”

With remote workforce trends like this, it is easy to see why it is so important to devote close attention to how you train new remote sales employees. 

Offering a highly effective remote sales onboarding process is a must in order to “remove any roadblocks in the way of your team’s ability to learn the ropes quickly and begin closing deals,” according to sales meeting platform provider Demodesk, which says organizations that do so see “a 54% increase in productivity and a 34% faster ramp-up time to job role proficiency.”

Providing an outstanding onboarding experience for remote sales employees also expedites their ability to hit quotas and performance benchmarks while significantly reducing turnover. 

 Benefits and Drawbacks of Remote Selling

While some companies have been using remote workers for years, others are just beginning to move in that direction. Whatever the case, when it comes to relying on remote sales professionals it is helpful to understand the pros and cons of remote selling. 

Key advantages of remote selling include: 

  • Increased morale (because working from home can enhance quality of life)
  • Higher efficiency (because remote work eliminates potential time-wasters like travel and office socialization)
  • Greater access to top talent (because being able to hire from anywhere, rather than just in specific geographic locations, greatly expands the hiring pool)
  • Reduced expenses (because remote work enables companies to spend less on office space, utilities, etc.) 

Key disadvantages of remote selling include: 

  • Impact on mental and physical health (because working from home can create “feelings of boredom and isolation that can negatively impact an employee’s well-being and productivity”)
  • Loss of learning (because sales professionals learn a lot from “everyday office life,” not just through structured training sessions or meetings)
  • Distractions (because working from home can also present a minefield of potential distractions, especially for working parents or caregivers) 
  • Lack of community/communication (because remote work can create “communication barriers,” as well as an overall “disconnect” from the in-office sense of community and camaraderie)

Source: Sales Assembly

 Tips and Best Practices for Onboarding Remote Sales Employees

Adapt traditional onboarding materials for remote environments. 

You may have already done this. But at the most basic level, it will be necessary to ensure that all needed training materials are easily accessible through a remote environment. Adapting your traditional onboarding materials for remote employees also means building in relevant information about how the remote sales employee experience will differ from that of onsite workers.

Start early to help them hit the ground running. 

Do not wait until your remote employees’ first day on the job to begin the onboarding process. Though you obviously do not need to provide a dedicated office space for remote sales employees, you will need to ensure that they have all the equipment, tools and connectivity they will need. This can mean ensuring that they have user logins for access; sufficient Wi-Fi capacity; headphones and microphones, access to video conferencing tools, access to software used for scheduling, time-tracking, etc.; and hardware such as a company-issued laptop.

Provide a digital employee handbook.

Larger companies and those that have been utilizing remote sales employees for some time will likely already have this in place. If not, this is an opportunity to provide virtual access to an in-house handbook that covers not only onboarding information, but also helpful details about company policies, standard procedures for different aspects of the sales experience, company culture, HR guidance and more.  

Consider using a variety of mediums for remote training.

In addition face-to-face video teleconferencing, methods used to deliver onboarding and training materials typically include web links to important company information and printed materials in pdf form for new employees to read. However, you may also find it effective to create video or webinar experiences that help new remote employees digest all the information they need. 

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Prepare individualized onboarding plans as needed. 

Many companies may find it useful to develop onboarding plans that are unique to different groups of salespeople, or even to individuals. This may apply if a new remote sales employee is joining the team to work in a specific industry or vertical, to service specific existing clients or to cover a specific geographic territory.  

Strive to create a sense of belonging.

This starts by going the extra mile just to help new remote hires feel welcome and engaged. This is important because the remote aspect can cause employees to feel isolated or not fully connected to the team since they typically do not have regular in-office face time to interact with their onsite colleagues. Note: The next two tips address ways to help make this happen.  

Consider assigning mentors or employing the buddy system. 

“The use of a buddy system may accelerate the productivity of new hires and enhance job satisfaction making it easier for employers to retain individuals,” according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). Such programs can help “build an immediate personal connection between the new employee and the organization. In addition, a new employee who is made to feel part of the work group gains more confidence and is likely to become more productive faster.”

Introduce your newcomers to the rest of the team.

Virtual introductions can occur in a variety of ways. Many companies announce new hires through internal company emails that include what their role will be, a synopsis of their past experience and access to their resume and/or LinkedIn profile; this type of communication can be made more personal with interesting info about the new hire as a person rather than just an employee. It’s also important to connect newcomers to colleagues whom they will be working closely with; some firms do live Zoom chats to introduce newcomers to other team members in real time. 

Set expectations for success.

“This is more than just fulfilling quotas,” according to Demodesk. “You must set clear expectations around how your sales reps do their jobs, what goals to work towards, and why they are doing this work in the first place.” They recommend introducing frameworks like a 30/60/90 day sales plan to help set expectations during onboarding.  

Promote a customer success-driven approach to remote sales 

In today’s evolving sales landscape — now more sharply focused on customer experience — one additional challenge related to remote selling involves successfully building fruitful customer relationships when communication with customers is largely virtual rather than in-person. To address this challenge, some organizations also choose to engage remote sales employees in virtual training directly related to customer experience and customer success.

Communication. 

Clear, complete and consistent communication for new hires can be even more important for remote hires than for those who will be working onsite and therefore have easier, firsthand access to colleagues who can help answer questions or offer guidance. Quantum Workplace encourages companies to create feedback loops for employees, both during onboarding and after, and notes that this can be accomplished through such methods as new hire surveys, one-on-one meetings, and goal and performance tracking software. 

Continue to improve your onboarding process.

Focusing on ways to engage in continuous improvement can be helpful in nearly all areas, including how you onboard. For example:

  • Use the feedback you gather from new hires and others to fine-tune your onboarding process.
  • Adapt your training materials in response to shifting needs and circumstances. 
  • Always keep an eye on ways to improve your team culture. 

About the author

Fabrizio Battaglia is a partner in Global Partners Training, an innovative corporate training provider that helps B2B companies empower their employees with advanced business communication skills that add value across the organization.