Christina Helm, BDR Manager, Chorus.ai
As they say: Timing is everything. That can be a good thing or a bad thing. Or it can be both, as was the case for me earlier this year.
I joined Chorus.ai in January 2020 as the Business Development Rep (BDR) Team Manager in our company’s Boston office. Several weeks later, just as I started feeling like my feet were solidly under the desk, having successfully recruited 5 new BDRs & grown the team 40%, the world changed dramatically — not just for me, but for everybody.
The COVID-19 pandemic had businesses scrambling to set up remote work arrangements for their teams. And I suddenly found myself facing an unexpected and significant challenge: I had to onboard five new BDRs for Chorus without any physical space for convening and training.
This would be my very first onboarding program to oversee at Chorus — and for the company’s largest class of BDRs ever, no less. Of course, the plans I had meticulously created did not account for the fact that we would need to onboard five new team members located throughout the Boston area who were now working from home indefinitely.
So, I had to pivot fast and transform what would have been a traditional face-to-face, four-week program into a process suited for the new world of remote work we were all pushed into, essentially overnight, due to the pandemic.
No pressure, right?
Spoiler alert: We did it
Since good news is in short supply these days, I’ll cut to the chase and tell you that the remote onboarding program was a success. It was a huge team effort, but we did it. We completed the program in the allotted time frame, graduating the entire class of new BDRs. Even better: four of the five rookies were already booking meetings before the last week of training was over!
So, how did we do it? I’ll tell you … but first, let’s talk about the process of onboarding itself. If you’re going to create a successful onboarding program for any work environment, you need to have the fundamentals in focus. And, in my view, any good BDR onboarding program must equip new hires with knowledge in three essential areas, which I refer to as deliverables:
Deliverable #1: Prospecting knowledge
BDRs should learn about buyer personas, what an ideal customer profile (ICP) means, how to do outreach, and how to establish processes for outbound and post-bound calling. In other words, they should come away from the onboarding process with a clear understanding of the system for prospecting.
Deliverable #2: Product knowledge
BDRs need to know the answers to these questions:
- What is the product that we’re selling?
- What does it do?
- How does it solve the customer’s problems?
- What space are we selling into?
- Who are our competitors?
- How is our product truly different and why?
Deliverable #3: Team knowledge
New BDRs need to be melded into the existing organizational structure through team-building. This is critical because team-building facilitates the other two deliverables outlined above. This area is one that I’m most passionate about (see Google’s ‘Project Aristotle’ & the concept of psychological safety to understand why).
The first two deliverables — prospecting knowledge and product knowledge — need to be attacked theoretically, first, then instructively, and finally, practically. And that final stage is the trickiest to achieve in a remote environment.
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Team-building from the outset
Now, let me break down the process we used to onboard our new BDRs successfully, and hit on all those key deliverables.
First, we recognized the importance of keeping team-building squarely in focus. As any fully remote team can attest to, it’s tough trying to build a cohesive team culture with a group that hasn’t met each other in person or can only interact face-to-face by video.
Fortunately, we already think a lot about the team-building aspect at Chorus before we even hire our BDRs. Existing team members are invited to participate in both the recruitment and interview processes for hiring BDRs. The team plays a huge part in who gets hired, in fact.
I reinforced team-building by assigning each of our new BDRs to an existing team member who served as an effective and engaged mentor throughout the onboarding process. I spent quite a bit of energy pairing up new hires with their BDR buddies because, frankly, not all existing team members make good mentors. Having the right mentor is essential.
Using playlists in Chorus.ai to teach theory
Once the new BDRs were paired up with their buddies, it was time to commence with onboarding. Our remote onboarding program had the same timeline as more traditional face-to-face onboarding: four weeks.
We organized the training as follows:
- Week 1: Theoretical - High-level prospecting, product knowledge
- Week 2: Instructive - Prospecting boot camp
- Week 3: Instructive - Process boot camp
- Week 4: Practical - Getting their feet wet
Imparting the theoretical content to BDRs in Week 1 was relatively easy to do remotely since it involved a lot of watching “How to” video content, such as our Head of Sales Development Becc Holland’s super-informative “Flip the Script” series.
Then, through video conferencing sessions, I walked the team through the basics of our company, the market, the buyer, and so on. Towards the end of their first week, I like taking new hires through several customer use cases to show how the Chorus.ai conversation intelligence platform solves problems for customers, just to start getting them excited about the possibilities of the product itself.
The platform also came into hands-on play for us as a team during the theoretical training in Week 1. We had created playlists in Chorus.ai to support the theory. So, for example, the BDRs could learn about buyer personas from a dedicated playlist. Another playlist referenced onboarding calls for Account Executives. We also created a playlist focused on discovery calls for different buyer personas. The playlists were a great way not only to teach theory but also to have the new BDRs interact with our product and really get to know its key features.
Adding structure and driving engagement
Creating structure is a challenge when you’re working remotely. So, I made sure the team met as a group twice daily by video — in the morning and at the end of the day — just to create the impression in their minds that they were experiencing a “typical” day working at Chorus.
It can be overwhelming for BDRs to absorb so much theoretical content in that first week of onboarding in any situation. So, another way we added structure to the onboarding process and drove BDR engagement was by breaking up “how-to” sessions with discussions.
The secret to making those discussions work when you’re all-remote, though, is by being deliberate about asking questions. People have a tendency to be quieter in a remote meeting than they would be in a live group session and it’s difficult to see body language. So, if no one steps up, I recommend going around the virtual room and giving prompts to motivate dialogue. I also split the groups out into Zoom Rooms for smaller group discussions.
Another tip for onboarding BDRs in a remote environment: Ask them to “show their work.” This also leads to better engagement. For example, early in the onboarding process, I tasked each new BDR with “selling themselves” to me on why they should be my friend. I told them that if they didn’t know their own product (themselves), how could they know Chorus.ai’s? This also gave them the opportunity to practice Becc Holland’s heavily personalized approach at a high level without requiring any substantial product knowledge.
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Mixing up the tempo and having some fun
If you want to drive engagement and team-building, you also have to keep things fresh during the onboarding process. So, we tried to mix up the tempo of the sessions and weave in some fun elements.
For example, I scheduled BDR-led standups on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of each week. The BDR leading the meeting had carte blanche to do whatever they wanted to do. That included yoga stretches, showing amusing YouTube videos, or just riffing on something that had worked for them in outreach and inviting the group to critique it.
One especially fun segment of onboarding we introduced was our very own version of “MTV Cribs.” Each day, one team member would give a virtual tour of their home, introducing their pets and significant others. It’s the sort of bonding that might happen organically if you work in an office, but we were able to replicate it well in the video format.
Getting down to details in Week 2
By Week 2, the team was really starting to come together, and it was time to kick off the first boot camp. The most important element of this boot camp: two existing BDRs help run each session throughout the week, while I help to guide each session & make sure everything is covered. Here’s an overview of how we structure that week:
- Day 1: General knowledge - including Chorus.ai’s company/sales org structure, our sales process overview, goals & compensation plans, ramping expectations, and promotion paths
- Day 2: Accounts & ICP (Ideal Customer Profile) - following instructive sessions about prospecting for accounts, I asked each BDR to identify four accounts that they thought matched our ICP and segment. This led to a discussion about why they selected each account and the pros and cons of each.
- Day 3: Contacts & ICT (Ideal Customer Title) - we introduced a practical aspect, asking BDRs to find appropriate outbound contacts for the accounts they had selected.
- Day 4: Prospecting Methods (Email & Cold call structure) - we focused on the selected accounts, and how to do outreach by email and phone following the process created by Becc Holland.
- Day 5: Roleplaying - on the last day, we entered the role-play phase, using those same accounts and scripts, and then dissecting each BDR’s performance. The Chorus platform allowed us to track improvements as we practiced throughout the day.
Tapping expert insights and working out the kinks in Week 3
Week 3 gave the BDRs some facetime (screentime) with the visionary, Becc Holland, herself (a dream for BDRs everywhere). During their second boot camp with her, they were able to build on what they’d learned in Week 2, digging much deeper into Becc’s process, asking questions and bouncing ideas off her and the rest of the team.
This week of training also involved advanced product knowledge (competitive differentiators, integrations, etc) as well as a heavy amount of practice, with new BDRs going outbound to their four selected accounts. That helped them to work out last-minute kinks in their process before they went live.
The Chorus.ai platform was extremely useful for our Week 3 training. When BDRs finished their prospecting calls, we asked them to distribute recordings of any connect calls to the team. We then dissected each call as a group. These “film reviews” were a powerful way to track progress throughout the onboarding process. They were also useful during the first few weeks of outbound calling because we could look at them again and again and compare them to recent calls. (These calls are also the basis for a Chorus Scorecards methodology that we use to certify our BDRs.)
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Putting learning into action in Week 4
Week 4 is where the rubber met the road. Our new BDRs received their actual accounts and went through the whole process on their own. Our best metric to date is the fact that four of our five new BDRs set up actual meetings before completing their onboarding. That’s a huge win for us and an indication that not only did everyone take the remote training seriously, but they also listened, learned, and most importantly, internalized.
One thing we emphasized strongly in our remote onboarding process was the importance of active listening. In the current environment, with so much disruption and uncertainty, there is such a need to really listen closely to prospects, and above all else, show empathy. Prospects may not be ready or even interested in buying our product right now, and that’s OK. But it can be challenging to teach that to BDRs who are just embarking on their careers and are eager to succeed.
When I realized my very first onboarding program for BDRs at Chorus would have to be done remotely, I admit I was worried. Thankfully, I had a really great team of existing BDRs supporting me. Plus, the Chorus.ai platform has made it so easy for our whole team to work remotely — from the integration with Zoom and reviewable call recordings to call snippets and searchability. I feel like I learned a lot from the experience myself, and gained insights that will help me create an even more effective onboarding process for our BDRs in the future — in any work environment.
Christina Helm joined our Boston office in January 2020 as BDR Team Manager. She brings to her role a wealth of BDR experience that she has earned since graduating from Colgate University in 2015. We appreciate Christina’s willingness to dive in, make the best of a challenging situation for the BDR team at Chorus, and achieve impressive results right out of the gate.