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What’s the Best Method of Onboarding Employees? Treat Them Like Customers

How to Onboard Your New Employees Like a Marketer

Many businesses may not realize that the marketing strategies that engage customers can also be applied internally to engage employees and improve retention.

Businesses think a lot about how to engage customers at every stage of the purchase journey — from awareness building, to consideration, and to committing to purchase. But what many businesses may not realize is that the same marketing strategies that engage customers can also be applied internally to engage employees and improve retention.

Did you know that most new hires decide to stay or leave a company within the first six months?

Even if they stay longer, research shows that they often make up their minds early on. This is why we believe we can no longer get away with a single day of orientation, a handshake, and a push into the “deep end.” Successful onboarding is a process that lasts weeks (even months). Otherwise, companies run the risk of losing good talent.

We believe that high-quality employees are worth investing in, so four years ago we refreshed Salesforce’s onboarding process by starting with a marketer’s mindset. Now, Salesforce onboarding engages new employees for their first 180 days with the company, starting seven days prior to their start date. We provide key materials and information in bite-sized pieces rather than all at once, and our new employees tell us they love it.

This has become a key factor in growing our company to more than 36,000 employees globally, so we’d like to “lift the curtain” and share how we did it. After all, employees are the heart of any business and by investing in them, you also invest in your product, customers, and future growth.

Create a “trickle” campaign of helpful content

The onboarding process at Salesforce is a mix of learning (what you need to know to excel in your new role) and culture content (what our company values are and how they show up in our daily work) tailored to each individual and delivered at the right time. This requires a lot of work, though. Many HR departments don’t have the bandwidth to do this for every new employee.

In order to scale this at Salesforce, we knew we would need technology so we turned to our own marketing platform, Marketing Cloud, to build a more personalized and data-driven program.

The system offers features like “Multichannel Journeys” to customize content delivery according to an employee’s attributes and preferences. This is what one of those journeys looks like for onboarding:


This is a common template we use for a Salesforce employee’s first week with the company. Each step is an email, SMS, or push notification offering a mix of helpful content to help new employees get up to speed. It includes videos, surveys, checklists, collaborative documents, polls, and more. The employee can engage with this journey on any device and it’s dynamic, which means the journey continuously improves based on feedback.

Optimize and personalize your content delivery

Human resources departments should think about customizing the delivery timing on each step in the onboarding process. At Salesforce, something like the first-week journey is followed by several weeks of content that build upon each other, slowly delivering more detailed information to help the new hire be successful.

Building a personalized journey is called “Journey Orchestration” in Marketing and is done within Journey Builder using an easy drag-and-drop interface that visually shows the timeline for each step. Here’s what that looks like:

You’ll notice that each step in the journey is strategically spaced out. In this example, new hires receive an automated, personalized message followed by either an email, push notification, or SMS text — which is then followed up by a survey. The intervals between the messages can be adjusted to optimize the timing of onboarding messages, as well as the content delivered. We also make use of the standard A/B testing in Marketing Cloud to help us analyze new ways of engaging employees.

Over time, we’ve built upon this new hire journey to reach employees in different stages of their career, including people starting in a new role, becoming people managers, and so on. We also engage the people around our target employee to further support them. Hiring managers and “Trail Guides” (new hire mentors) receive content specific to their role in supporting someone through the onboarding period.

Track your success

By measuring these onboarding journeys in Marketing Cloud, we’ve been able to prove the value of approaching onboarding in this way. The main metrics we track are open and click-through rates on the emails we send in order to prove that the content is relevant. Since the launch of this program, we’ve found that open rates stay above 90% on average.

We’ve also seen an impact on the number of questions — or “cases” — we receive from employees. Since the launch of our onboarding journey, case volume is down by 30% because we’re anticipating common new hire questions. For example, we send an explanation of the Salesforce payslip one day before they receive their first paycheck. This also helps new hires avoid spending time searching for answers or filing tickets with our support teams.

Engage with your employees as you do with your customers

We’ve found that personalization and scalability are key to providing a positive onboarding experience to new hires. By integrating Marketing Cloud into our onboarding process, we’ve been able to create, optimize, and tailor what used to be a one-day orientation into a six-month-long journey. This has also allowed us to tailor our onboarding curriculum to different learning styles and ensure the program will work now and into the future.

If you’d like to optimize the onboarding process at your company with Marketing Cloud, learn more about its capabilities and features. Marketing Cloud will also be on display at our upcoming Connections conference in Chicago, IL from June 17-18. Check out the event website to register to attend.

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