We work with sales professionals in companies of all sizes. Across the board, there’s one refrain that we keep hearing:
“We want to coach, and we know we need to coach, but we’re just too busy.”
Ah, the good ‘ole “just too busy” excuse. We’ve all used that one at some point or another.
The only problem is: it’s B.S.
We have a limited amount of time in a day, that’s true. So it follows that we have a limited number of “coaching calories” to apply across the entire sales organization.
But how we spend our time and energy reflects the things that we value. So if sales coaching is important enough to us as people in sales management, we’re going to invest the time in making it happen.
On the other hand, if we don’t invest the time in making it happen, it must not be that important.
So for the organizations who say they’re just “too busy to coach” but want to, this post will provide some practical, tactical advice for:
- Getting the most value out of your coaching and sales training programs, and
- Using your limited coaching calories in a way that achieves real performance improvement.
By maximizing value and cutting back on wasted time, we hope that this post can remove some obstacles so your company can step up your sales coaching program today.
The best part: all of this advice is underpinned by real science, real data, and real research.
Prioritize Your Coaching Calories
As we alluded to above, figuring out how you’re going to coach is less about magically coming up with more hours and more about figuring out how to spend those hours in a way that materially impacts your company.
We’re all familiar with the Skill Will Matrix, a sales enablement tool that helps the sales manager prioritize who to coach and how to coach them.
Under this tool, reps fall into four categories:
- High skill, high will (“promote them”)
- High skill, low will (“isolate them”)
- Low skill, high will (“train them”)
- Low skill, low will (“fire them”)
The problem is, too many people in sales management spend time on the wrong groups.
Do you spend a lot of time on the “fire them” group? You shouldn’t. Because these reps are unlikely to change their behavior and improve their performance. It’s best to go and find reps who can.
What about the “promote them” group? If they’ve hit a ceiling in their current role, over-coaching them isn’t going to present much marginal benefit. It’s time to move them on to greener pastures, as it were.
How about the “isolate them” group? Many managers try to get them to improve their call quality. But oddly enough, we’ve found that if you have a low-activity rep and you’re trying to coach them on call quality, their performance numbers actually go down.
It’s like saying that the person who never goes to the gym needs a personal trainer. They don’t need someone to show them how to lift weights better. They need someone with a bullhorn to get them to the gym.
In fact, you should probably be spending eighty to ninety percent of your coaching calories in that “train them” category. They’re the ones who are hungry for change, and are ready to make a difference in the organization.
Will this magically open up more hours for you to coach? Not really. But you’ll be spending the hours you do have on something that will materially impact the organization.
Which means you’re likely to keep doing it in the future.
Identify the Behaviors that a Rep Can Control
Let’s say a coach sits down with a rep to review their performance. They may ask a question like: “did the rep uncover the qualification criteria?”
Is that a fair question to ask of the rep? Well … not really.
A rep can ask all the right questions in a perfect way, and they can be persistent about it. And there’s probably a higher probability that the prospect will respond if the rep asks those questions.
But at the end of the day, if the prospect doesn’t want to reveal certain information, that’s on them — not the rep.
So before you jump to put the rep on a performance improvement plan, ask yourself whether you’re judging the rep on behaviors they can actually control:
- Are they exhibiting active listening or empathy?
- Do they ask clarifying questions?
- Do they respond to changes in a prospect’s behavior on the call?
- Can they identify buying signals?
These are all perfectly fair questions, because the rep can actually control these behaviors. Consider that when helping reps to improve their performance and sales process.
Use Repetition to Overcome the Forgetting Curve
Before a rep can start to change their behavior, they first need to remember what they’ve been taught in the first place.
Too many times sales management will invest in a bunch of sales training without paying attention to how much knowledge the reps retain from that training, or whether it improves their sales productivity.
But according to science, a one-time training session probably won’t result in the culture shift that you’re looking for.
The human brain is an advanced supercomputer. And like computers, we have both short-term and long-term memory. Every night when we sleep, our brains take the short-term memories from the day before and convert them into long-term memory.
But how does the brain decide which information to store, and which to purge?
The answer is simple: the information that’s been repeated and reinforced over time.
So memory retention isn’t a matter of mental fortitude or discipline, it’s a matter of reinforcement and consistency.
Capture Metrics, but Go a Level Deeper
Here’s an important question: What makes a great sales rep?
One sales leader may say “they bring in revenue.” And while revenue is certainly important, it’s not the only thing a great rep needs to be able to do; there are other sales results to consider.
Consider a salesperson who sucks at prospecting, but happened to luck out with their territory. They have so many connections that they don’t need to prospect in order to bring in revenue. Would you consider that a great rep?
What about a rep who’s not great at renewals but gets a channel partner who consistently brings in the same amount of revenue year after year? Would you consider that a great rep?
A great rep not only needs to bring in revenue, but has to do so repeatedly and consistently. They also need to know why they’re performing well, and what steps they need to take to improve or help others perform better.
So measuring revenue isn’t enough. Instead, here are the three levels of analytics that illuminate various aspects of a particular rep’s performance:
- Quantity: activity level
- Quality: conversation and other communication quality
- Results: revenue, NPS, customer satisfaction, etc.
But when you’re looking at the metrics, beware that at the surface level, they can be deceiving. Here are a few examples of why that could be the case:
- A salesperson experiences a drop in NPS, but that’s because they’re working with bad customer after bad customer. It’s a total luck of the draw situation.
- Reps often forget to log their activity in Salesforce (or another CRM). Or worse, the activity is logged automatically, creating so much noise that it’s hard to figure out what’s real and what isn’t.
- Sometimes the quality of a metric can be bad. If you’re looking at a talk time metric, and the rep spends 30 minutes of a 45-minute Zoom call waiting for the prospect to arrive, there’s actually only 15 minutes of talk time.
So it’s important to not just look at the numbers, but look behind them to get to the reality of what’s actually going on.
Build a Culture of Performance Improvement
We talk about culture a lot at ExecVision. And by culture, what we mean is: what your people do when no one is looking.
Culture may be a big piece of the “sales success puzzle” for many organizations, but it’s hard to actually put into practice.
Generally speaking, people improve their performance because they know someone is watching them. This is due to something known as the Hawthorne Effect. It comes from a study done on two identical factories in Cicero, Illinois. The only difference: Factory A knew they were being observed, but Factory B didn’t. As a result, Factory A had better performance, simply because they knew someone was watching them.
Our own internal analysis pans this out as well. We looked at call scores from the reps, agents, managers, and other people storing their calls in ExecVision over the time that they’ve been in the platform.
What we found is that on average call scores get 12% better just by having a call scoring program.
Like the two factories in Cicero, Illinois, salespeople get better when they know someone’s watching them.
This means that while you may see improvements in your coaching program, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re building a culture. Only when those improvements keep happening when you aren’t looking — that’s when you know you have a solid sales culture.
Performance improvement doesn’t just happen. And that’s compounded by the fact that we as human beings are often stuck in our ways and resistant to change.
When you consider that you have a limited number of coaching calories, you don’t want to spend that time fighting people to change. Instead, take a scientific approach to how you coach and train.
If you do it right, the result will be less hassle, faster improvement, and, ultimately, better results and more sales effectiveness from your whole team.