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Onboarding Reps For Sales Excellence with Kiva Kolstein & Alea Homison {Hey Salespeople Podcast}

August 13, 2019

Is your sales onboarding process so thorough that it could be compared it to Marine boot camp?

The people that come into AlphaSense’s sales program are expected to prepare for battle coming out of the new hire onboarding (no push-ups required though). Kiva Kolstein and Alea Homison are AlphaSense’s CRO and VP of Sales Strategy, respectively. Together, they have established a formula for onboarding that leads to excellence from their sales hires. As you might imagine, a lot is accomplished in their 3-week program!

Don’t miss this podcast that details the process, from the program structure to the responsibility leadership takes on for development.  Onboarding is not a one-sided activity!

AlphaSense podcast

Listen to this episode to learn answers to questions like:

  • How do you create an onboarding process that “forces” people to learn?
  • What are some specific activities to include in onboarding to ensure success? (Hint: there will be homework!)
  • What should leadership’s commitment be to new hires?
  • What are some common “misses” when selecting new sales reps?
  • How do you address comp during onboarding and ramp?

Listen here, and keep reading for some of the highlights from this episode below.

Accelerating Rapid Onboarding

Jeremey: I know you started to form some of the seeds of your thoughts around accelerating rapid onboarding early on. I’d love to hear what your perspective was then, and how it has evolved.

Alea: I’ll start by just taking a quick step back. When we think about talent development and strategy and enablement, we think about it in three programs. The first is certainly our onboarding program, which is three weeks for us. Second is our new hire performance ramp, which is another 12 weeks coming out of onboarding to make sure we’re continuously supporting and accelerating the ramp of those new hires. And then we have a third program of ongoing sales effectiveness. Essentially, the mandate is how we optimize talent across the entire sales and service organization, whether you’ve been here 10 years or one day.

How my thought process has evolved is really getting into the weeds. For onboarding, how do you dive in and make sure that you maximize the benefit and impact of those three weeks? On paper, that may seem like a long time, but in reality, it’s not a long time. How do you prioritize the sessions you’re putting forth in front of new hires? How do you think about the format of those sessions, the right people for those sessions?

Also, I think most importantly, and what recently I’ve been spending more time on is, how do you kind of force that learning? How do you through interactive sessions, tests, presentations, role-play certifications… really accelerate the forced learning so that people aren’t just sitting through sessions taking notes and digesting that information on their own timetable?

Can you create steps in the process that put a little bit of anxiousness and fire in the belly with respect to, ‘Okay, I don’t need to just sit here in this session and absorb this information, I need to know this information.’ We talk a lot about becoming obsessed with AlphaSense and our personas and our industries and our product in that onboarding. How do you facilitate and develop a program that really amplifies and accelerates them?

Leadership Involvement in Onboarding

Jeremey: Leadership involvement in making sure that onboarding is successful as a huge priority for you, Kiva. How have you personally been involved in that onboarding process and/or the design of the program?

Kiva: I worked very closely with Alea to design the program in the beginning, and then to tweak the program over time. We often find something should be pulled forward or something should be removed. But I think most importantly for me, as far as my involvement in the program, is setting expectations upfront. Meeting with the new hire class on that very first day to explain what is expected of them, and what they should expect of us.

We talk a lot about commitment to your own professional development and the seriousness with which we expect them to take the next three weeks. That time will speed up very quickly after these first three weeks are over. This is the last time they will never have any other responsibility at AlphaSense, other than unto themselves, other than learning the product and the people and the process.

We make very clear that we want them in early and out late, that they’ll be presenting in front of management and peers, and that it’s a fairly intense new hire onboarding. For me in terms of my involvement, with the exception of the session or two that I run, it’s making sure that is understood upfront.

We tell a story about a commercial that used to air in the 80s for the Marines. A ragtag group of guys walks into the marine recruiting office, and the scene cuts to their boot camp. They’re crawling in the mud under barbed wire while being shot at and all sorts of images like that. At the end of the commercial are these three guys standing stick straight in their beautiful blue marine uniforms with their silver swords at their sides, prepared for battle. To some extent, I like to think of that as what we’re doing for these folks who come into AlphaSense from all different places and are expected to prepare for battle coming out of the new hire onboarding.

Jeremey: You guys talked about incredibly high expectations in early out late and then painted a picture of the few, the proud, the Marines. What are some of the trials that new hires need to go through in the AlphaSense onboarding program?

Kiva: It’s a ton of project work. Its certifications on objection handling and discovery and the deck and the demo, making sure they deeply understand how to articulate value by persona. We’re selling to so many different verticals and so many different functions, it’s important to understand how to communicate the value of the platform to the different functions within each of these different verticals. That takes some time.

Avoiding Hiring Mistakes

Jeremey: You select for certain characteristics when you hire, for example, coachability and drive. I’m sure that every once in a while someone sneaks through. If you reflect on where people snuck through the process and didn’t turn out to be as coachable or as motivated or have that fire you were looking for, where do you think the miss was? What adjustments would you make to your selection process to find those?

Kiva: One big miss is where someone looks really good on paper, but then falls down at the first hint of adversity. When you peel the onion back a bit, what you find is they’ve had it easy. I go all the way back to their childhood and on through college. I look at where they got their MBA and their first few jobs after college. What you find is that most of life has come easy to this person. Working in a high-growth, high-velocity startup where very, very big expectations thrust upon every single employee… when they face that first hint of adversity if they’ve not already built the tools to overcome, they fail.

During the interview process, making sure that we spend some time talking about personal or professional adversity and how they built the tools to overcome is a really important part of the interview process. When I’ve missed that or forgotten to do that, it’s bitten me in the end.

The other I find are folks who have ‘sold gold in a gold rush.’ On paper, it looks as though they’ve been very successful. And I guess they have been in terms of how well they’ve done at each of the companies they’ve worked for how much money they made, President’s Club and Winner’s Circle and things like that. Again, when I peel it back a bit and look at who they were selling to or the company that they were selling for, it was usually not the underdog or the company looking to displace an incumbent. It was the dominant player in the space.

We need folks who come into this company having worked for underdogs, who have the sort of resourcefulness and grit and desire and fire in the belly that is required to work inside of environment like this one, where we don’t yet have it all figured out. There’s an expectation that you come in with a fresh perspective, a new set of eyes and ears, and you desperately want a seat at the table to help us think through some of the challenges that a company of our size, at our stage faces.

Alea: The one thing I would add to that is coachability. It’s probably not a surprise that we’re such a learning-based culture here at AlphaSense. One of the things that I think is so special and makes me love coming in every day to work with the sales and services team here, is the fact that you have folks that have been doing this, and doing this well for a long time, but aren’t satisfied. They’re pushing themselves day in and day out to be better today than they were yesterday.

That coach ability piece for us is really important. One of the things that we’ve added in the past couple months to our interview process, which I think has been a bit of a game-changer, is we actually have individuals pitch us AlphaSense. Specifically, we give them our intro deck and we give them a quick demo, then we have them pitch us that deck and demo back to us. Not an insignificant task.

In addition to that, where we can start to gauge executive presence and other things like that, we also walk them through feedback. We use a ‘build upon and think about’ structure. There are build upon things that we thought the individual did well and think about areas that they could consider doing differently to be successful. We’re heavily looking for how that individual is reacting to that feedback to give us tangible data points around coachability.

THERE’S A LOT MORE AFTER THIS! Listen to the full podcast for more on building teams and creating community

If you have a passion for the art and the science of sales, are looking to further your career, or just want to hear some great, practical tips, ‘Hey Salespeople’ is the podcast for you. Subscribe so you can follow along as Jeremey interviews the brightest minds in modern sales to bring you immediately actionable advice. Listen and subscribe here.