How Allstream went virtual with sales training

COVID-19 has put an end to live trainings for the foreseeable future, so Teresa Nelson, Allstream’s Sales Training Manager, set up a web-based training program to virtually onboard new sales employees. Here’s how she made the sudden switch to virtual onboarding.

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In mid-March, when businesses temporarily locked their office doors and employees set up shop at home, everything from in-person meetings to large-scale conferences were affected. But it also meant that new hires slated for training were suddenly left to start a new job … from their living room.

Teresa Nelson, Sales Training Manager at Allstream, heads up onboarding and training of new sales employees across North America. Live trainings typically take place once a month in one of Allstream’s key markets over the course of a week with a small group of new hires.

Since the coronavirus has made that impossible for the foreseeable future, Nelson has set up a web-based training program to virtually onboard new sales employees. The sudden switch to virtual onboarding has been “weird,” she says, “because the onboarding was created to be live.” In order to make it effective, she had to make a few changes.

“I think about what that experience is like for our new hires. They don’t know anybody and they’re sitting at home, with no one to ask questions of. That’s such an odd experience,” says Nelson. But using web conferencing and collaboration tools like Webex helps to bring a more personal aspect to a work-from-home training environment.

Logistical challenges

The first challenge was logistical. During a live training, everyone flies to the designated location and starts training at the same time. But when moving online, Nelson had to consider what would work for new hires scattered across time zones in two different countries.

The training also includes subject matter experts, from Allstream SMEs to vendor partners, and those presenters could be based in any time zone across North America. Her solution was to run the online training sessions Monday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to mid-afternoon PST to accommodate for new hires and SMEs in other time zones—with lots of breaks throughout.

Going with the flow

Another challenge in switching over to an online format is that there’s a natural flow to live training. “I had to think about how long the sessions would be,” says Nelson. “Our product sessions are typically one-and-a-half to two hours at a time, so we didn’t adjust that too much, but I tried to break it up with smaller sessions before and after.”

Also, some presenters aren’t as comfortable online as they are live; an incredibly dynamic live speaker might find it hard to be as engaging online. “I use my hands a lot, I move around a lot,” says Nelson. As she’s adjusting to online training, she’s looking at how she can make sessions more dynamic, potentially using features such as live polling and interactive whiteboarding.

Boosting engagement

Interactive virtual onboarding

One of the biggest challenges is keeping participants engaged throughout full days of online training. “It’s exhausting looking at a computer all day,” says Nelson. So instead of doing all the talking, “we try to get other people to share.”

Nelson intersperses presentations from SMEs with interactive training on live systems (such as customer relationship management). “It helps break things up because you can make those trainings more personal and we can look at areas they’re interested in,” she says. Online quizzes are used to test their knowledge of products and see how engaged they were during training sessions.

Virtual networking

During a live training, new hires stay at the same hotel, go for dinner together and oftentimes engage in social activities like bowling. “You can’t do that online,” says Nelson, “so you have to allow more time for conversation during the online training.”

The social interactions that complement live training can help a new hire feel they’re part of the team, so Nelson says it’s important to try to incorporate some of those elements into online training.

She’s looking into ways to do this, such as sending trainees a gift card to a local sandwich shop so they can have a virtual lunch together. She also hands out a welcome pack on the first day of live training, so she’d like to find a way to replicate this in a virtual environment.

Training post-pandemic

The biggest challenge for Nelson is “not having that face-to-face connection,” she says. “It’s that personal connection you get when you’re doing something live.”

To make this process easier during COVID-19, she ‘meets’ new hires over the phone before they start their job at Allstream. Nelson introduces herself early to help them feel welcome and get an understanding of what to expect from their sales onboarding. Day one on the job, she works with each new hire to get them set up and ready.

While Nelson doesn’t expect online training to ever replace live training, some learnings will likely continue post-pandemic. But until that day comes, the right mix of technology and interactive learning can help new hires feel part of the socially distanced team.

To find out more about Allstream business communication solutions for effective remote working capabilities, please contact Allstream.

Images: filadendron/iStock; Tempura/iStock

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