From in-person to virtual: remotely onboarding new SDRs

Posted May 21, 2020

Ken Amar headshot

By Ken Amar

SDR Manager at Outreach

In the year and a half that I’ve been an SDR team lead at Outreach, I’ve onboarded more than 90 SDRs across 13 different hiring classes. But since sheltering in place began, I’ve had to onboard 2 classes remotely, and this looks like our new normal for the time being.

While it’s not an easy endeavor, the good news is that once you onboard a team remotely, it becomes much easier the next time, and the time after that. The even better news is that you can use the lessons I learned to create your own remote onboarding program and tailor it to your needs.

In this article, I'll provide a step-by-step description of our current remote onboarding processes, what I’ve learned since going remote, and how you can implement these strategies at your company too.

Step 1: Build out your Curriculum

At Outreach, the first week of onboarding is a Bootcamp--eight hour days for four days of intense training to acclimate the new hires to Outreach and their integral role as SDRs. Bootcamp lays the foundational blocks for the SDR role. A well-planned and successful Bootcamp allows you to ramp reps up faster and more efficiently, so for every remote onboarding Bootcamp I run, I spend about a week beforehand building out and modifying my curriculum for the week.

Build out your days by having everything planned out, to the minute. Generally, sessions should be around 30 minutes to an hour. Group similar sessions together, and build in “themes” for the day. In the screenshot below, here is an example of how we group persona teaching together, and introduce the concept of a persona, what they care about, and the types of Sequences and content to target them with, and end by having people practice calling each persona.

It’s important to note that when making your own curriculum, to incorporate as many guest speakers as possible. It's a great change of pace, and keeps the energy high.

Step 2: Get Your Logistics in Check

After building out your day-to-day, build out a checklist to handle the logistical items during Bootcamp. In my experience, one of the hardest things about in-person onboarding was the logistics--booking rooms, gathering the materials, ordering lunches, etc. all required a lot of preparation ahead of time.

While a lot of logistical stresses go out the window with remote onboarding, a few get magnified. It’s absolutely crucial to be on the same page with the IT department, as they are involved with the procurement and shipping of tools to new hires. A late or delayed shipment of laptops, for example, can be disastrous. Be sure to set up a process with your own IT team to make sure your new hires have their equipment before their first day.

A lot of the logistical planning for live onboardings are not applicable to remote ones, so when building your own checklist, consider questions like account distribution, IT tools, and guest speakers. Some of the items we now check off include:

  • Zoom accounts and IDs
  • Calendar invites for each day
  • Welcome email
  • Call-competition bracket built
  • Accounts assigned
  • Quizzes transitioned from paper to Google Forms

Step 3: Create your Decks

Build out a slide deck with all of the materials and lessons from Step 1. The slide decks I’ve built for live onboardings have sometimes been hundreds of slides, so I’ve cut down on the slides to make room for more interactions, including guest speakers, videos, and exercises that require participation.

When you do use slides, remember 101 rules of a good presentation: limit the amount of information and text on the slides. Focus on including as many visuals as possible. It’s important to note that one of the most important goals in any onboarding is to excite the new hire about the opportunity ahead of them, so I spend a session talking about career progression, and the many pros of being an SDR at Outreach.

Step 4: Book and Schedule

After building out your curriculum and slides, set up each session as a calendar event. One of the biggest lessons I learned was to have one continuous Zoom meeting with the same ID throughout the whole day, otherwise you’ll end up with people in the wrong Zoom meeting and it will take a lot to get everyone in the right place.

Using the same Zoom ID also makes it super easy for your guest speakers too. Darren Poznick, Regional Vice President of Sales at Outreach, is one of my favorite guest speakers. Every Bootcamp, I set up a session with him where he teaches our new hire teams about his background, our company, and how to sell to sales leaders. Having guest speakers really impacts the energy and flow of onboarding, especially when remote, so ask your internal leaders to offer their perspective and experience about what makes your company unique, and their ideas about what greatness looks like.

Pro-tip: I color code the guest speaking sessions a different color from the rest of the day so the team can preview who they will be meeting with beforehand.

Finally, it seems basic, but use calendar reminders to your advantage. To help me with pacing and timing my sessions, I set up a 10-minute reminders before the next session is scheduled to start to speed things up or transition to Q&A before we move onto the next topic. I also block off 30 minutes to an hour to the end of each day since onboarding can run long, and makes me available for the team to answer questions or clarify anything before I have to make my next meeting.

Step 5: Welcoming the Team and Building the Energy

Approximately one week ahead of Bootcamp, I’ll send out an email to the new hires and include a short blurb on the logistics of the new virtual onboarding and how to set up their Zoom.

While a welcome email might not have been that important before, it’s critical now to use this email to set the tone and recreate the same energy and excitement that we used to have in-person.

While bringing out the gong doesn’t have the same effect on video calls as it does in person, I have developed some tricks to build-in interactivity and recreate the same level of energy and excitement.

  • Adjust your teaching format. With everyone working remotely, you’ll have to adjust how you deliver information. To keep new hires engaged, integrate questions and open-ended exercises, like role-playing prospecting and objections, have polls on Slido or Slack, and have guest speakers who offer different perspectives.
  • Cameras on! It’s very hard to gauge engagement throughout the onboarding process, so I highly encourage everyone to have their cameras on. It helps build connections and helps people put faces to names.
  • Slack together! Have a consolidated Slack channel for all of the new hires, and use this as the place for all questions, concerns, and materials.
  • Get to know your team! Spend the first 10 minutes and the last 10 minutes doing a group bonding activity, such as having each person present 3 interesting facts about themselves. It’s important to build in these group bonding activities, especially during remote onboardings since people don’t have the ability to interact face-to-face.
  • Build in interactivity. With everyone working virtually, you need to keep the team engaged, otherwise it will feel like a lecture. Create mini quizzes, run live demos, and hands-on time for the team. Have reps share their screens and walk through concepts and ideas. It’ll keep the team engaged and constantly learning.
  • Shout outs! At the end each day, I'll send out a recap and some shout outs along with the schedule for tomorrow.

Step 6: Standardize and Scale

Make sure to have a regular cadence after Bootcamp of training and learning. Having a rhythm will make it easier moving forward, and I discovered that once I had my organization and preparation set up, it has since become a near flawless process.

While the preference will always be for live onboarding, the ability to seamlessly remotely onboard reps gives our company great tactical flexibility and allows us to recruit a diversity of reps across backgrounds and geographies.


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