The Ultimate Sales Coaching Process

Sales coaching is that thing that you always need to do and never seem to find the time to do.

I’m sick and tired of hearing sales leaders whine about how their sales reps need coaching then in the same breath making all sorts of excuses for why they, personally, can’t coach their sales reps.  Enough is enough!  Sales coaching is like getting exercise.  Stop talking about it and JUST DO IT.  Thank you Nike.

There are two objectives for this article.

  1. To incite a sales coaching movement of not just front line managers but also second level managers (people who manage managers and higher).
  2. To put forth the ultimate sales coaching process for reviewing calls and giving feedback.

First let’s talk about the movement.  I’m feeling an undercurrent in the community of revenue focused executives who finally get that you must listen in order to win.

  • You must listen to the voice of the customer unfiltered.
  • You must encourage front line reps to listen to their own calls with prospects and clients.
  • You must listen to how those reps comment on their own performance.
  • And you must listen to how your managers are coaching those reps to ensure consistency and accountability.

Did you pick up the key word?  LISTEN.  In sales aren’t we supposed to listen?  Coaching is all about listening and hearing.  The irony, hopefully, is not lost of you.

There are a lot of competing priorities for sales leaders these days.  What’s more important than listening and helping your team get better?

So what are you going to do about it?  Are you going to join this movement?  Make a commitment, in writing, to your team, yourself, and your boss that you are going to start listening and coaching for 30 minutes per week.  Stop being lazy.  Take action.  Just like exercise, magical things will start to happen.

This leads us to the second part of this article: the ultimate sales coaching process. 

I read this brilliant article by Jim Ninivaggi at SiriusDecisions called Asynchronous Sales Coaching – It’s About Time.  In it Jim tells us that there are two flavors of sales coaching – synchronous where the coach and the rep are working together at the same time and asynchronous where the two parties are working at different times.  The obvious problems with synchronous call coaching are:

  1. The coach needs to be available and present when the sales calls are occurring. Sales leaders are busy, so getting schedules lined up is tough.
  2. Assuming the coach is present, you are both hoping for something to happen in that particular sales call that is worth coaching – a coachable moment.
  3. Once there is a lesson learned by that one rep, how is that lesson scaled to other reps who weren’t present?

Synchronous call coaching is generally a really bad use of time – highly inefficient and generally not that effective.

Because of these problems with synchronous sales call coaching, Jim argues the time has come for asynchronous sales call coaching leveraging recordings.  You can capture legal recordings of sales calls, virtual meetings, and face-to-face sales meetings by following this practical advice on call recording laws.

For asynchronous sales coaching to work, you need a process.  It’s too easy for individual people, working on their own, to not hold up to their next action in the process.  You need accountability.

Having observed many companies implement a sales coaching process, here’s what we’ve seen as the best practice:

  • Step 1: Each week the rep identifies two of their own calls – one where they struggled and one they think went well.
  • Step 2: The rep pulls those two recordings, LISTENS, and comments on what worked and what didn’t.  Self-reflection and self-discovery, even for 10 minutes a week, makes an enormous difference.
  • Step 3: The rep shares those two calls with their manager.
  • Step 4: The manager LISTENS to the calls and looks at the rep comments.  The advantage to this process is it takes part of the burden of developing the reps off the managers and puts it on the reps.  Managers can review a call that a rep has commented on in a fraction of the time.  It also forces the reps to self-reflect.  The manager’s viewpoint is, “I will not give you coaching until you try to coach yourself first.”
  • Step 5: The manager provides additional comments on the call.
  • Step 6: During the rep/manager one-on-one, 20 minutes is allocated to call-level coaching.  Both parties have reviewed the call so they can jump right to the parts that really matter to re-listen together, then use this process to drive improvement:
  1. Rep self-assesses – they almost always figure out what they need to do differently on their own after they LISTEN to their own performance
  2. Manager leads with something positive – neuroscience tells us that leading with positive feedback causes dopamine to flow which opens the mind vs. leading with negative which causes cortisol, the fight or flight chemical, to kick in.
  3. Focus feedback on 1 or 2 things – we try to coach way too much. Pick the one or two things the rep can do differently and focus on those until the behavior changes.
  4. Practice to get them right – muscle memory takes time to create. Put chairs back to back to role play the same scenario until the rep gets it right.  Then have the rep focus on that area of improvement in their real sales calls, bringing back good calls where they get it right.
  5. Track progress – use objective criteria and a simple scoring system for evaluating how the rep improves over time. This is just like how a coach uses a stopwatch to measure and record a sprinter running at faster and faster times.
  6. Praise and repeat until habit – track progress and give positive feedback until the new behavior becomes a positive part of the rep’s routine. You know they’ve got it when they no longer have to think about it.

Management one-on-ones are fundamentally broken.  What do sales managers do during their one-on-ones?  Give advice?  Share war stories from their own selling past?  Worst of all go out for a cup of coffee and ‘just catch up.’

Why talk about sales Leads and Opportunities in the abstract trying to remember what happened on the calls when you can review parts of the game film together?

There you have it.  The ultimate sales coaching process.  If you do the above every week, I promise your sales force will achieve breakthrough performance.  You’ll have greater consistency in execution which will lead to hitting your numbers consistently.

What do you think?  What did I miss?  What would you take out?  Comment below to get the conversation started.  Sales is our craft.  It’s time to take it seriously.  Study sales.  Give it the respect it deserves.

Written by Steve Richard|ExecVision