Revitalizing Onboarding: The Untapped Potential of Stories

Michael Katz
June 15, 2023
4 min read

Picture this: you're a freshly hired seller, sitting in a neon-lit room or Zoom call, with the buzz of your fellow new recruits. 

The air is heavy with a deluge of information: company policies, messaging training, process training, certifications, quizzes, meetings. Weeks later, the flood subsides, and you're expected to hit the ground running creating new pipeline and selling customers.

But for many leaders, the reality is startling:

Outcomes and ramp times are wildly inconsistent - the average difference between top and bottom performers can exceed 50% in many organizations. And a staggering 80% of training content evaporates from memory within a month.

Despite curated onboarding programs, new recruits often stumble when the time comes to interact with customers.

So, what's missing from this picture?

The answer is the untapped potential of authentic, internal storytelling.

The Stories We're Missing in Onboarding

Stories are the lifeblood of an organization. They fuel connection, drive understanding, and cultivate a shared sense of purpose. 

Yet, for a variety of reasons, they're rarely used to their full potential in onboarding processes. With some much information to deliver, leaders often overlook the need to include them. Moreover, most organizations’ story landscape is incredibly scattered – and both new employees & training leaders don’t know where to start.

Consider the transformative power of these types of stories:

Sales Success Stories: Inspire new hires with tales of triumph that illustrate effective strategies and demonstrate how the team got a customer to prioritize their problem, and the value the customer believed it would deliver.

Customer Success Anecdotes:Real-world accounts of your product's tangible difference can demonstrate value and ignite passion for the mission.

Sales Failure Stories: These invaluable lessons provide understanding of challenges – and how they might be avoided in the future.

Incorporating these stories into onboarding can boost engagement and effectiveness – and even more…

The Benefits of Storytelling in Onboarding

Integrating stories into your onboarding process has benefits far beyond engagement, including:

  • Accelerated Learning: Stories enable new hires to glean wisdom from & “apprentice” in past deals – acquiring strategies to target prospects, plow through obstacles, and close deals.

  • Conversational Fluency: Peer-told stories provide effective “pocket anecdotes” for sales calls & digital communication, from discovery to close. These anecdotes can make new hires sound like they've been with the company for years.
  • Information retention: Stories support memory. In a memory study conducted after a group of presentations, Stanford professor Chip Heath saw that 63% of attendees remembered the stories, while only 5% could remember a single statistic.

  • Winning Cultural Immersion: Stories foster a sense of belonging and loyalty by connecting new hires to shared experiences & mission, and help point out the go-to people for specific expertise.

  • Enhanced Product Understanding: Through stories, new hires see your product in action, connecting features to real-world problems and solutions – not just boilerplate marketing.

Neglecting to incorporate such stories can hinder learning & retention, and create a longer road to local mastery—putting both the new hires and the company at a disadvantage.

How to Harvest Stories for More Effective Ramp

So, how can you inject stories into your onboarding process - and where can you find them?

  • Engage the Team: Encourage & build clear processes around sharing of sales success stories, customer anecdotes, and failure stories post-sale & during the full customer lifecycle.
  • Mine existing story content: Look for resonant narratives in your company's win-sharing channels, customer success channels, and case study folders – focusing on genuine human anecdotes of pain or value over formal, stilted case studies language that rely solely on metrics.
  • Create a Story Repository: Make these stories accessible to new hires in a searchable, filterable repository – allowing them to focus on their domain area.

Infusing Stories into Onboarding

Once you have these stories, you can ensure they’re built into your onboarding in a few ways:

  1. Reinforce with stories: Use anecdotes to illustrate points around messaging, behaviors, and knowledge. This will drive enhanced retention and future pattern recognition. For example, if you’re trying to drive specific competitive differentiators, bring forth a deal where that differentiator was used to lock out or defeat competitors. 
  2. Leaders lead with stories: Make sure domain leaders incorporate stories into their training sessions - whether their own or ones you’ve sourced from the team.
  3. Make stories accessible: Provide an easy way for new hires to consume these stories from day one. If you don’t have a dedicated system for stories, think about creating a booklet for new hires to refer to and learn from. 
  4. Incorporate them into interactive sessions and role play: Ask them to play one back to you during onboarding – as if talking to a customer. In a full role play, see if they can use a story to relate and ask questions, as they would in discovery. 

If your company lacks a repository of rich sales & customer stories, or mechanisms to capture them, our team at Kawin is ready to help you strategize and enrich your storytelling resources, free of charge.

Beyond Onboarding – The Continual Power of Stories

The power of stories extends beyond onboarding. They are a wellspring for ongoing learning and engagement – helping others emulate top performers, understand the changing market, and adopt others’ experiences as their own.

The best onboarding programs aren’t procedural – they thrive on a vibrant tapestry of stories that connect who you are, what you do, and why it matters, through memorable examples from your employees and customers.

Your stories must evolve as your organization changes. Embrace storytelling in your onboarding and throughout your company culture to elevate productivity, foster a deeper sense of belonging, and empower your team with a shared sense of purpose and passion.

Want us to explore this topic further? Let us know! We're always available for a 1:1 chat, and your feedback can help shape our future posts.

Michael Katz
Founder, Kawin