CFW Spotlight on Optimizely: Excellence in Training

Last year we examined the role that Employer Brand plays in attracting and maintaining talent, and a recurring theme in our conversation was the importance of training—both initially in onboarding and continuously as professional development throughout an employee’s tenure. We’ve found that among millennials in particular this rates among the top factors they seek in a new position.

Optimizely, an A/B testing and personalization platform for web and mobile, has created an impressive training program, and it’s paying off. The company, which employs nearly 400 people in New York City, San Francisco, London, Amsterdam, and Cologne, has no trouble attracting and keeping talent. Moreover, according to Greg Lazarus, Director of Corporate Sales, East at Optimizely, they’ve managed to maintain the same positive culture of ownership and collaboration that they once had as a small start-up. To learn a bit about what makes them so successful, we spoke with Optimizely’s Greg Lazarus, Rozlyn Greenfield, Sales Training & Enablement, and Amina Moinuddin, Talent Acquisition.

According to Greenfield, it starts with believing in the talent you hire. “We invest in world class sales people, so it’s important that we give them the skills and support that they need once they come on board.”

Starting with a boot camp to provide their new hires with essential knowledge to get them up to speed, classes are multifaceted and focus on learning product, space, pricing, and culture. They also include guest lectures from the VP of Sales and an opportunity to meet in person with current Optimizely customers. According to Lazarus, this is a highlight of the training program. “They get a better sense of who our buyers are and what problems they experience.” Greenfield notes that “customers love it too!”

The next step is developing a more customized plan based on individual employee needs. Optimizely provides ongoing classes and support as they continue to grow and develop their skills. The goal is to have new hires be so fully integrated at the end of 90 days that customers can’t tell the difference between a recently on-boarded employee and an employee who’s been there for years.

The value of the training program is particularly apparent when it comes to attracting new talent. Moinuddin notes that, “We invest in our employees’ long term success. We want them to focus on learning during the training program.” In order to accomplish this, Optimizely pays account executives the full monthly on target earnings during the ramp-up period. “We focus not only on the business, but on the individual.” By removing the pressure to earn during the training period, new hires can focus on learning their new role and mastering the subject matter.

Lazarus acknowledges that “it’s really difficult to get a job here. If you do, you’re above the mean.” His motto? “Hire hard, manage easy.” In other words, attract the best talent, give them the tools they need, and support them along the way. Feedback is central to this process. They add training based on what they hear from their employees. As Greenfield notes, “the newer hires always have it the best.”

Photo by Rawpixel Ltd/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by Rawpixel Ltd/iStock / Getty Images

While a well-structured training program is certainly a great way to attract talent, the main goal is still to impact the quality of work. Moinuddin finds that “all of our employees are now much more confident in their work, and it shows in their interactions with the clients.” Lazarus agrees. “Quality of work has gone up dramatically [since implementing the training program]. The training program builds a culture of winning and collaboration—wanting to be there and work with and for each other.”

Greenfield has heard similar feedback: “One thing that I hear from new hires in their first few weeks is how helpful everyone is. Everyone wants everyone else to succeed. That has a lot to do with the sales leadership and the culture that Optimizely has built.”

With all that goes into the Optimizely training program, it goes without saying that such programs can be costly. While most companies could benefit from a similar approach, not all can afford one. However, Greenfield notes that “if you can invest in people, it’s more costly to hire than to retain. So many times I’ve heard from salespeople, ‘Nobody’s ever trained me, so I can’t do my job.’”

Greenfield explains that the most expensive component of training is the logistics. “There are a lot of things you can do to cut out 40-50% of the cost: digital or online trainings, asynchronous learning versus synchronous learning, peer-to-peer learning.” She notes that millennials are particularly fond of peer-to-peer learning. “Peers can teach you in ways that you can’t get from a classroom.” Ultimately, she feels that it’s important to bring people together, and it’s worth the cost.

Lazarus suggests implementing a buddy program. At Optimizely, they buddy people up from different offices. “It doesn’t cost us anything, and it’s helping them grow and learn from each other….It’s not just a buddy for learning how Optimizely works; it’s a buddy to help you among your peers.”

With a training program like Optimizely’s, it’s not hard to see why so many talented sales people (or “sales humans”, to use Optimizely’s lingo) flock to join the growing start-up. The foundation of their program rests on strong leadership, confidence and trust in new hires, and immersion into a culture of collaboration, leadership, and integrity. Companies looking to build out their training program and improve their employer brand might consider following Optimizely’s lead.