Call Coaching is Not a One-and-Done: What Other Experts Get Wrong



I recently read an article from another sales software organization which claims you’ll see a miraculous turnaround in just 60 days after ONE great coaching session with a rep.

It’s utterly preposterous.

30+ years of research on how adults learn discredits the above claim. It’s fake news.

Rep behavior change doesn’t happen overnight.

Think about your own experience as a revenue leader. Is this what effective coaching looks like?

  1. You listen to a call where the rep talks way too much and doesn’t ask enough open-ended questions.
  2. You tell the rep “Chris, next time ask more open-ended questions.”
  3. You whip out your phone to play Fortnite for the rest of the day believing that in two months you’ll see that rep closing more deals from your coaching session.

C’mon, really? Does anyone actually believe that?

And this isn’t just my opinion. Have a look at the research on how all of our brains learn.

How Adults Learn

In order to master something, we have to revisit the information or repeat the skill over a period of time with sleep in between. Repetition and sleep are the keys to growing the neural networks it takes to really master new behaviors.

All too often, however, we see this pattern:

  • The rep tries something new that they just learned
  • They fumble around a bit and fail to ask the question or make the statement with confidence and conviction because the skill is new
  • After 5 or 6 attempts at the new behavior, the rep unconsciously decides “That method doesn’t work”
  • The rep stops trying the new skill
  • As the rep sleeps, their brain decides to prune the related neural connections–this is the driving force behind the Forgetting Curve
  • The next day, the rep goes right back to their old habit of pitching and not asking questions

We have to break the pattern, but many of us don’t know how. Very few organizations teach their leaders how to coach.

We’re Coaching the Wrong Way

I’ve experienced this problem firsthand as a rep, as a business owner managing people, and as a consultant working with over 200 companies. Once upon a time, I was naive enough to believe you could effectively coach by telling. And when no one teaches you how to effectively coach calls, what do you default to? Telling.

But telling doesn’t create lasting behavior change in reps.

In fact, telling your reps what they are doing wrong puts them on the defensive. No matter how gently you try to tell them to correct a behavior, there’s a good chance their natural reaction will be fight or flight. In the context of call coaching, people get defensive (fight) or shut down (flight). It’s not the rep’s fault, it’s human nature.

I learned my lesson and after years of teaching others how to coach, I found one simple axiom that sums up the right approach:

“People value more what they conclude for themselves than what they’re told.”

—Tom Snyder, FunnelClarity

Who decides if the rep is going to change behavior?

The rep, of course!

Human beings will only change if they make the decision to change themselves. This is why you can’t force someone to do something like quit smoking, start exercising, learn to play the piano or ski, whatever, you get the point.

How to Drive Behavior Change

The trick to effective coaching is to not try to change the rep. Instead, determine if the person is really open to coaching.

As a coach, once you know that you have a person who has the desire and will to change, then the process of getting better can begin in earnest. If they lack the desire and will to get better, you’re wasting your coaching calories.

After the commitment to change is made, the best way to get the rep to do the new desired behavior is by creating a series of coaching interventions. These coaching sessions will help reinforce the new skill and rewire the brain to make it a habit.

While the process of changing behavior takes a little time, the payoff is huge. Research shows that one hour of coaching a week is enough to make an impact. Thirty minutes should be spent on call reviews and the rest should be a mix of pipeline and deal review, professional development, etc.

If you want to drive behavior change at scale, a single coaching session per rep won’t cut it. That would be setting your expectations far too high. One size does not fit all, either. Behavior change happens over weeks and months. Each rep is going to be a little different, but with reinforcement, the new skills will stick.

Coaching isn’t about getting 50% better in one instant. It’s about getting 1% better every day for 50 days.

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