Your Low Activity Reps Don’t Need Call Coaching–They Need This

If you immediately thought “this” was a swift kick in the ass, we have some interesting data that will reshape your thinking.

Managers, listen up. Stop coaching low activity reps on call quality. It’s not helping you or them. In fact, it’s wasting your precious call coaching calories that could be better invested in other reps.

Before we take a deep dive into the data from more than 1,274,683 calls over a two-year period, let’s take a look at the data proving that coaching and scoring calls works.

Average call scores in ExecVision

The X-axis is the number of months since the rep or agent started in the call scoring program in ExecVision. The Y-axis shows the average call score.

To no one’s surprise by implementing a call scoring program, reps’ call scores continuously improve over time.

The insight is not profound: coach your reps, score their calls, and their calls will get better. It’s kind of like saying, “Go to the gym regularly and you will be healthier.”

So what? This doesn’t address the #1 problem we hear from managers, “I’m too busy to coach.”

There are two things you can do to find time to coach calls: make it easier with a tool like ExecVision and focus your efforts in the right place. While you can’t always buy a tool, you can quickly identify which reps will benefit from call coaching.

Average call scores by activity in ExecVision

Like the previous graph, we’re measuring call scores (Y-axis) against the amount of time (X-axis) a rep has participated in a call coaching program. But this time we went a step further and separated reps based on their call activity (low, medium, and high).

You can see that when a team first starts coaching and scoring their calls, low activity reps appear to be outperforming their peers on call scores. However, as time goes on, that bottom 30% of low activity reps actually get worse, not better. Call scores go down. Hmm…

Note that this analysis does not measure performance. Outcome-based metrics like quota attainment or the number of deals closed-won are skewed. They fail to account for reps who make their number thanks to bluebird inbounds, partner generated opportunities, or inheriting an awesome territory. It also makes it hard to compare sales calls to customer success calls. Measuring reps on their activity level and skills provides a more comprehensive view of their abilities.

Our data scientists accounted for the wide variety of calls in ExecVision by equalizing calls with a machine learning algorithm. Our users include SDRs, AEs, CSMs, and other roles and no two customers have the same exact sales cycle. Activity levels allow you to measure effort, which is a key component to long-term, repeatable success. Call outcomes aren’t always 100% in control of the rep, but their effort certainly is.

The normalized activity data was broken into three segments: low, medium, and high activity reps. Then, our team plotted the trend in call scores over time. As expected, the more calls scored for middle and high activity reps, the better they performed.

We assumed the same would be true for low activity reps. On paper and in our analysis, call coaching should make everyone better, yet, the data showed us low activity reps’ performance deteriorates when their manager focuses on call quality.

Why? Because call quality isn’t the problem you need to solve for low activity reps and sales managers can’t simply crack a whip at them and expect results.

Low activity reps fall into two categories: librarians and sloths.

Librarians are team members who deliver average sales performance–they get close to or hit quota most of the time. Their activity numbers are lower than their peers, but their quality is high. Librarians suffer from analysis paralysis. They want to be so well prepared that they spend way too much time researching and doing non-selling activities.

Don’t waste coaching sessions with librarians on call quality. Their calls are already excellent, so it’s not a skills issue. Their problem is low activity. In your one-on-one meetings, give them feedback about their numbers. Some may open up and admit they feel sales anxiety, which can be addressed.

Sloths are below-average performers in terms of quota and activity levels. They’re likable just like their fuzzy, tree-dwelling counterparts, but they can be hard to get moving. These are the sales reps who spend too much time getting coffee, checking email, or poking around LinkedIn which they justify as ‘social selling.’

Sloths understand your sales process, but tend to have a lot of excuses for why they operate the way they do:

  • "Marketing doesn’t give me leads,"
  • "I need to get these other things done first,"
  • "The CRM and other systems are confusing,"
  • "I don’t like the location of my desk" or
  • "Rejection bums me out."

Sloths will do anything but the selling activities they know they need to be doing. Coaching sloths is tricky–you don’t want to burn your precious call coaching calories on sales reps who aren’t going to get better. But you can’t just ignore them either, they need your feedback to improve their performance.

Now before we jump into how to coach low activity reps, it’s important to cover the third type of rep: Cowboys.

Cowboys are high activity reps who have the grit for sales. They make tons of dials and work long hours. They typically do almost zero research, despite receiving the same sales training as everyone else. Instead, it’s ready, fire, aim. Yet they have the desire and will to win. They run through walls when their manager asks them to.

While they have the will, they don’t always have is the skill. Cowboys are the people whose sales performance will benefit the most from a call coaching program. By improving their conversation skills, they’ll win at a much higher rate.

To successfully coach your low activity reps, you need to address the underlying issues: motivation, confidence, and rhythm.

How to Coach Librarians (Low Activity, Steady Performance Reps)

Librarians know what they need to be doing. They know they need to do more sales activities, but they need support and encouragement. Librarians will thrive with praise and reassurance.

Coaching Librarians should be about building their confidence to increase performance. They’re likely to respond well to setting short term goals to increase activity. Most importantly they need a mentor–the best person for the job is another persona we haven’t yet mentioned: the Sniper Shooter.

Sniper Shooters are the sales reps who do an average amount of activity yet get very high results. They have very high call quality. They have overcome any call reluctance or feelings of self-doubt. They aren’t ones brag or gloat around the office, but you’ll consistently see their name at the top of the leaderboard.

Sniper Shooters are the model for what Librarians needs to become. This is the perfect time to leverage the power of peer mentorship and coaching.

Ask your Sniper Shooters if they are willing to mentor someone. Most will feel honored to. More than anything the Librarian will feel more confident which will cause activity levels to steadily rise.

How to Coach Sloths (Low Activity, Underperforming Reps)

This group is tough because you can’t directly motivate a rep. They have to motivate themselves. All you can do is create the right environment for them to increase the odds that they self-motivate.

Rhythm, or lack thereof, is the fundamental issue here. You need to get into their workflow to uncover where they’re off track. Then you can train them on the right behaviors and build good habits. Once trained, the Sloths then need to find their own rhythm. Try these ideas to create a system of accountability for sloths:

Have them (and all other reps) write down their goals for activities and objectives for the week. Make sure that the reps physically write down their goals on a whiteboard, flip chart, or someplace else that is public. This is the key–there is no substitute for the rep standing in front of their peers and putting down their own goals in their own handwriting. You’re 42% more likely to achieve a goal if you write it down.

Hold power hours, contests, and other peer-based systems for getting these reps fired up. Typically the Librarians and Sniper Shooters will not care. However, some of the Sloths will get into the competition which might be enough to help them turn a corner.

Pull the Sloth out of the office to have a conversation about any distractions, personal issues, or other barriers that might be standing in their way. Take them out for a cup of coffee, lunch, or a drink, but be conscientious of professional boundaries. Consult with your HR team first if you’re not sure what’s okay.

Help them find their way. Sadly not all people are made for all sales roles. There might be a misalignment of the job role and strengths of the rep. Even the best coaching programs can’t fix this.

A good example of this is a strategic enterprise sales rep who is now required to make 70 dials per day to make their number. A highly outbound shop without SDRs is not the right place for them. In the words of the great management guru Jim Collins, you need to have the right butt in the right seats on the bus.

In some situations, it’s a job-talent fit issue. Work with the sales rep to uncover their career aspirations, if you don’t already know them. What can you do in the short term to help them get there? If there are other departments they’re interested in and they’ve overall a good employee, schedule shadowing days. When there isn’t a place in your organization, offer to be a good reference or provide introductions in your network to help them find their next role.

The bottom line is that for low activity reps, what you should NOT DO is coach their calls. You are wasting their time and yours. Even worse, their scores will drop, hurting your numbers.

Knowing who to coach and what to coach on is critical for managers. Your time is precious. Don’t waste it on people who won’t change. If you find your sales team has a lot of low activity reps, you may want to take a closer look at your training and onboarding program. It’s much easier to instill good habits from day one than to break bad ones.

Additional Resources:

Ground Rules for Call Reviews

The Ultimate Sales Coaching Playbook