It is not an easy task to onboard an employee remotely. You hire someone to hit the ground running, and the lack of face-to-face connection right at the onset is a huge challenge for both the organization as well as the employee.
Gallup found that 88% of the organizations don’t onboard well. And it becomes more tough to onboard an Account Executive (AE).
An Account Executive is a salesperson. Specifically in SaaS, an AE usually works with a Sales Development Representative (SDR) who develops initial interest with prospects and sets up the first sales meeting. Then the AE takes up the discovery call, demos the product, and closes the deal.
For most companies, an Account Executive is among the first few touch points for a prospect with the brand. With every interaction, the prospects are either taking a step further to become your customer, or moving away.
So, you need to make sure that your Account Executive is knowledgeable about your product, is able to handle objections, and is good at building rapport with the prospect, and more. Yes, it takes some ramp-up time before your new reps get up to speed on how things work in your organization. But before you get into the ramp-up, you need to have a robust remote onboarding process especially given the current remote work environment.
Benefits of proper onboarding for a remote Account Executive
Before we dive into how to onboard an account executive remotely, let's discuss why you should. Implementing a proper remote onboarding program, helps you reap the following benefits:
1. Accelerated time to Account Executive productivity
An account executive’s role is directly tied to revenue outcomes. If a new AE isn’t able to effectively and consistently contribute to revenue, it slows down the company’s progress. Interestingly, companies that have a standardized remote onboarding process tend to have 50% greater productivity in a short period of time compared to companies that don’t.
Onboarding programs shorten the learning curve—for example, it becomes much easier when organizations have already documented the process to accomplish a given task and the right people to contact when they have questions. It establishes a lot of clarity and accelerates productivity with utmost effectiveness.
2. Increased job satisfaction and mutual trust
When your account executives are working remotely, the need for them to be reliable and self-motivated is higher than ever. You won't be able to interfere or check on them every now and then. You need to be able to trust their judgments on the go, and that they'll perform the necessary tasks. And that’s another key area where remote onboarding can set the base.
For instance, an onboarding program can quickly help establish alignment between the new account executive and the organization in terms of the company's values, the outreach process and standards, how to demos effectively, etc.
Tighter alignment leads to higher job satisfaction and efficiency. Additionally, aligned AEs are more collaborative across functions such as marketing, customer success, and product.
3. Decreased turnover
New hires experiencing badly planned or executed onboarding tend to conclude that your organization is poorly managed and that it was their mistake to have taken up on the offer. And that pushes them to jump to premature conclusions.
On the contrary, data from ClickBoarding show that new employees who experience proper onboarding are 58% more likely to be with an organization after three years. Investing heavily in recruiting and training new team members can lower your employee turnover and thereby positively impact the organization’s bottom line.
Key expectations from an Account Executive
Traditionally, the primary expectations from an Account Executive include growing customer accounts, eliminating competitive threats during discovery calls, and expanding customer accounts. But now, there is another layer – it all needs to happen remotely.
Yes, AEs used Zoom and Google Meet and were involved in remote selling much before the world went remote as well. However, there's a lot of difference between the remote selling that happened via Zoom within your office space vs the remote selling that's happening now from your home, with kids and other possible distractions in the background.
Skills expected from an AE
- Communication—The ability to clearly communicate verbally during online meetings as well as in written form across a variety of customer personas.
- Problem-solving—Resolve the pain points of a prospect than trying to shove your product down their throat forcefully. The problem-solving skills also need to extend to managing their team effectively and setting up their peers for success.
- Sales experience—A good understanding of the overall sales process
- Cross-functional collaboration—The ability to effectively work with product, customer, success and marketing teams.
- Project management—Managing progress across multiple customer and prospect accounts and the ability to track and execute deliverables in a timely manner.
- Analytics—The ability to read and interpret data to understand their team’s performance and forecast realistic goals.
- Negotiation—One of the key qualities of a good negotiation is where both the parties feel that they have gotten a fair deal—whether it’s a new client contract or renegotiating a deal within an existing account.
- Leadership—Ability to coach and mentor their team, set goals, and drive the overall vision.
Addressing the gap between skills and established practices
On one side, you expect the above skill sets from your account executive while on the other hand you have a set of established practices within your organization that’s really working for you—which you want your Account Executive to adopt.
For example, we often hear that the average open rate for cold emails is 30%. But at Avoma, our programs have an open rate of 80%-90%. Therefore, every time we have a new account executive on board, we want them to adapt to our processes for the best effort-to-result ratio.
Some of the other factors you might want to consider while bridging the gap are:
- Existing relationships with each account
- Your account handoff practices
- Your account expansion plans for existing customers
- Your strategy for account expansion in general
Effective remote onboarding can address a lot of gaps between the skills possessed and objectives to be achieved. It ensures that new AEs understand the expectations from them and fosters important cross-functional relationships—much needed for tight execution in a shorter time frame.
Steps to onboard your remote Account Executive
Onboarding your account executives remotely doesn't have to be complicated. Simply follow the four-step outline below and you'll be able to get your new AEs up and running in no time.
1. Getting started with onboarding
When you onboard remotely, you need to go the extra mile to try your best to make up for the lack of face-to-face connection. Your remote onboarding process should include more than a quick introductory meeting and a bunch of documentation that talks about your company’s culture and values. It needs to be specific to the AEs. For example, on the first day, give your Account Executive an overview of their training program with specific details such as major training activities, short-term goals, the list of meetings scheduled for the week, etc.
Let's consider a few key onboarding milestones you can set for your new AEs:
- Before the first day: Finish off the formalities such as signing legal documents, sharing employee handbooks, and other important materials to the new AEs quickly.
- On the first day: Let all current remote AEs and SDRs know that the new hire has joined their ranks. Host a team-wide Zoom meeting to get everyone acquainted. Next, go through and explain your "first week" schedule. Consider using Google Document or a project management tool like ClickUp to make it possible for everyone to view or modify it, including the new AE.
- During the first week: Your new AE's first week will probably feature a lot of training. Make sure they feel comfortable in their new role. Allow room for flexibility. Give them the opportunity to ask questions and offer suggestions to tweak their training program. Offering flexibility shows them that they’re a partner in the process, and not a passive participant.
2. Comprehensive product training and the domain nuances
Product training and understanding key target personas are a major part of your remote onboarding program as your AEs need to know the right product stories and use cases for each target persona. For instance, the way your product might be used by a sales rep might be way different from the use case for a customer success manager.
That said, product training and the use cases aren’t enough. You need to make sure you don’t miss touching upon the expected foundational sales skills, nuances of certain target domains, industry know-how, etc. Even though your AEs come with prior sales experience, their approach with their previous company might be very different from yours.
Give them an overview of what has worked for you until now and some of the mistakes you have learnt from. Most important—never assume they already know how things should work. Give them the tools needed and a process for them to follow and succeed at their job.
3. Accelerate your onboarding by enabling asynchronous learning
One of the ways to accelerate onboarding is to enable asynchronous learning. Typically, most AEs tend to shadow existing salespeople on their sales meetings to get a grasp on how things work. And with mere shadowing on calls, it typically takes three months before an AE is able to independently demo the product or handle sales calls completely.
You can accelerate the learning by listening to the calls of past reps asynchronously without having to schedule anything. In fact, it's a great idea to create a playlist of different types of calls, such as customer onboarding calls, sales discovery calls, customer support calls, etc., to understand the questions asked by your existing customers and how they are handled by your seniors in the organization.
Here’s an example of the ‘discovery calls’ playlist we created for our new hires. Think of this to work like your Spotify playlist—where you can keep adding calls of a specific type to the list and listen to it asynchronously during your jog or gym time.
4. Create opportunities for mock sales presentations
There's nothing better than putting your learning into practice. Conduct mock sales calls and role plays, even if it is for AEs with experience. The idea is to iron out any gaps in terms of product understanding, objection handling, etc. Therefore, exercise care in crafting these exercises so that they simulate real-life scenarios AEs are likely to encounter. And at the end of these sessions, offer honest and encouraging feedback so that the new AE is ready to go on real sales calls soon.
5. Offer sales coaching based on live calls
Sales coaching works best when it’s highly specific. Nothing beats feedback specifically based on a real conversation with a prospect. Using sales coaching tools like Avoma, you can provide feedback asynchronously by listening to your AE’s calls or by going through the call notes and analytics. Thus, you can be very specific on what the AE is doing right and where they need more improvement.
For instance, if you feel that a specific objection could have been handled differently by your AE, then you can highlight that particular part of the conversation transcript, tag your AE and add a comment as to what could have been done better.
Let your AE know about this style of sales coaching as part of your initial onboarding plan so that it doesn’t come as a surprise for them. Also make the sales call accessible to everyone in the organization so that you enable a well-knit feedback loop.
6. Use an LMS and other tools to accelerate the onboarding process
Extend the asynchronous learning with automation to make the onboarding process more efficient. Set up a learning management system (LMS) where the AEs can go through and complete the training modules on their own. The idea is to help AEs work autonomously and be responsible for their own professional development. And that in turn can help you optimize the onboarding process for the long term.
Also encourage your AEs to look at their call analytics and understand their talk patterns, so that they can learn and improve upon it. For example, one of the things I realized as part of analyzing calls is the amount of filler words I use during my calls with prospects. I understood that I use “you know” a lot and have become more cognizant of it ever since.
7. Set an SLA between AEs and SDRs, and Customer Success Handoff
For a new AE, taking over an existing account can be one of the most nerve-wracking tasks for a variety of reasons. To ensure the transition is smooth for both the AE as well as the customer, you need to put together a transition plan in place.
New AEs should have access to all relevant account information such as CRM records, summary notes of all previous conversations, and anything that would be helpful to go through before getting on a call or meeting.
Another key part of the process to go over is the sales-customer success handoff. In most SaaS companies, the AEs do the demo, discovery and sales closing, and then it’s a customer success person who takes over the customer onboarding. So there’s often a confusion on aspects such as who is responsible for account expansion, upsell and cross-sell, etc.
8. Set ambitious yet reasonable milestones
Most AEs are ambitious as they have had success in the past. So, give your AEs ambitious yet achievable goals to start with, along with a clearly defined timeline to meet them. One of our short-term goals was to cut down the sales ramp-up time and we managed to bring it down from three to one month, and we did because of the process described above.
9. Make cross-functional collaboration a must
During your onboarding, introduce AEs to people across marketing, customer success, product development, and other teams. Then when the AE needs to consult with someone from another team, they’ll already have a connection in place to help. Doing this with all new sales hires not only breaks silos but fosters great asynchronous collaboration across teams across geographic locations via tools such as Slack, ClickUp, etc.
10. Give your AEs the bigger picture
AEs are valued strategic thinkers and contributors. So their training and onboarding shouldn’t be confined to product and sales processes. You need to enable them by sharing your long-term vision and the company’s mission so that the engagement and alignment is much higher.
We got to do it together...
Most businesses are going to be remote for a foreseeable future. And yes, onboarding and team building isn’t going to be the same as it used to be. We got to go that extra mile to establish the connection with one another, and support each other to accomplish the collective goals.
Remember that onboarding isn’t a one-time deal. It’s the beginning of an amazing synergy. It’s rewarding to journey together – we just need to build that trust and relationship.