Sales leaders are always talking about which reps to coach or how to turn ‘B’-players into all-stars. Typically the answer is presented as the “middle 60%”, which while correct, isn’t exactly descriptive.
Instead, sales managers need to understand why a rep is underperforming. What keeps that rep in the middle 60%? Usually it falls under one of two categories: the rep has a skill gap that needs to be closed or they need motivating. This knowledge helps direct your focus to deliver an effective, individualized coaching program.
And that’s where the Skill Will Matrix, a powerful coaching tool, comes in.
What is the Skill Will Matrix?
Remember Punnett squares in biology class? (And then telling your little sister she’s adopted, with “proof”? Just me? Oops.) This matrix is pretty similar.
The Skill vs Will Matrix assesses a person’s, or in our case, a sale representative’s ability to perform against their desire or motivation.
The four quadrants on the Skill Will Matrix are:
- Quadrant I: High Skill, High Will
- Quadrant II: Low Skill, High Will
- Quadrant III: Low Skill, Low Will
- Quadrant IV: High Skill, Low Will
Evaluating and mapping your reps on the matrix provides a balanced picture of where they stand both in terms of performance and potential. Skill is objective. You have concrete KPIs and best practices to measure against. Will, on the other hand, is more subjective, and can only be uncovered through one-to-one conversation and observation.
The matrix is a great guide for adapting your coaching approach and technique to drive the best results for that individual. Here are some tips for managing sales reps in each quadrant:
Quadrant I Means Delegate: Turn Reps into Peer Coaches
Reps in Quadrant I are your rockstars. They deliver dependable performance and exude confidence. These reps have mastered the core competencies of the role and put in the workday after day, week after week.
These reps still pursue continuous improvement, but often don’t need the same type or amount of coaching as their peers. Instead, coach your Q1 reps to help them earn that promotion or move into a different role. Then, leverage them for peer coaching and mentoring. You know they’ve got the knowledge and motivation, so it’s a win-win situation.
Giving Q1 reps coaching experience is great. Whether they want to move into management, a closing or full-cycle role, customer success, or something else entirely, coaching their peers offers a multitude of benefits. Plus, it takes some of the coaching weight off your shoulders.
Help your top-performing reps coach their peers well by:
- Coaching them on how to coach effectively. Just because a rep can exceed quota doesn’t automatically make them a good sales coach. Delivering effective feedback is a learned skill that takes time to develop.
- Delegating without handing off completely. You still need to supervise these reps and ensure they’re coaching appropriately while completing their regular duties.
- Understanding that not all great reps make great coaches. If it doesn’t work out, that’s fine. It simply wasn’t the right fit. Focus on developing something that still excites the rep, but isn’t detrimental to your coaching program.
If you manage a sales organization with a deep bench, you probably have more coaching needs than you can handle. And you don’t have a ton of time to develop up-and-coming managerial talent. By delegating some coaching responsibilities to Q1 reps, you’ll be able to kill two birds with one stone and create a stronger coaching culture while you’re at it.
Guide Quadrant II Reps & Close Their Skills Gaps
We’re going to let you in on a little secret: out of all the three remaining quadrants that require coaching, QII reps are the easiest. That’s because closing skill gaps is arguably easier than directly motivating someone. A highly motivated rep will work harder and go the extra mile to improve themselves and their performance.
The secret to improving QII reps’ performance is to identify their skill gaps-both soft skills and hard skills-and close them through coaching. Start by:
- Pulling the data necessary to identify skill gaps. Use tools like your CRM, conversation intelligence software, and/or sales engagement platform to gain insights into rep performance.
- Communicating why behaviors need to change in addition to explaining which behaviors a rep should work on. Understanding the “why” helps QII reps connect the dots and inspires self-correction.
- Finding a balance between constructive feedback and praise. If you’re too harsh, you may stifle their motivation, which negates their greatest strength. Focus on 1-2 skills per coaching session to avoid overwhelming the rep and call out things they’re doing well.
QII reps are works in progress, keep that in mind as you coach them. They’ve got the right attitude, they just need someone to guide them in developing their skill sets so they move to QI and become a rockstar.
Give QIII Reps Direct Expectations for Improvement
Because they lack both skills and motivation, QIII reps are the hardest to coach. But that doesn’t mean you should automatically write them off.
Reps find their way into QIII for a number of reasons. For some, bad experiences or poor performance has stifled their motivation. For others, it could be that training wasn’t sufficient for them and they’re feeling lost. In some instances, it’s simply a bad fit for the role and the rep.
These reps deserve a chance to move into other quadrants before you investigate moving them to another role, or in some cases, another company. But in order to do that, you must give them direct expectations of performance across activity, quality, and adherence to processes and training. While being very direct is often intimidating, it’s a key part of setting up a struggling rep for growth and success:
- You give them a clear path forward. Unskilled and unmotivated reps often don’t have an idea of where to begin to get back on track.
- You demonstrate that you believe they can be held to a high standard and perform well, which can help them build internal confidence.
- Nothing gets the gears turning like a win. If you can set them up for some small successes, you may jumpstart their motivation and eagerness to improve.
When you start to see improvements in their motivation and activity, it’s time to shift your focus onto closing skill gaps as the sales rep moves to QII. Be mindful of letting off the gas too early-QIII reps can easily fall back to their old ways.
In the event you don’t see any improvements, it’s time for a real heart-to-heart. Dig deeper with the rep to uncover if there are extenuating circumstances outside of work affecting their input, if they’re burnt out, or if they’re simply unsatisfied with their role. Reps who don’t improve at all when given the right resources are either checked out or overwhelmed.
Look for Ways to Motivate QIV Reps or Move Them
Reps who fall into the fourth quadrant of the Skill vs Will Matrix are… frustrating. They can execute just fine and often perform well, but that’s it. They’re unwilling to go above and beyond, they have zero interest in coaching their peers, and in some cases, their bad attitude can poison the sales floor.
Again, as a manager, you should work to uncover the reason for the rep’s lack of motivation. Sometimes these reps just need a gentle push or incentive to reignite the fire. Challenge them in some way to see if there is potential to move them into QI.
That being said, proceed with caution. While these reps bring in revenue, if they are outwardly negative and openly sharing their disdain with peers, they may do more harm than good. This is where you need to choose to either isolate them, which can mean putting them in a different spot on the sales floor, or manage them out.
Set challenging goals for these reps and see if they’ll bite on meeting or exceeding them. A few good wins and conversations around what’s holding them back can easily move them up into QI.
Use Skill vs Will as a Framework, But Not a Be-All End-All
Mapping your reps on the Skill vs Will Matrix is incredibly helpful for identifying who will respond the best to coaching. While this exercise is helpful, it should not be the only factor used in deciding who to spend your time coaching. Keep looking at performance, skill gaps, and opportunities for improvement. And get to know your reps on a personal level. That connection opens the door to understanding a rep’s motivators and what to do when they start to check out.
If you’re coaching reps that are struggling to close their performance gaps, watch our webinar on Closing the Insights-to-Performance Gap. Access the on-demand recording.