Many sales leaders have shared the same concern: how will my senior reps respond to coaching? It’s an answer you won’t know until you try, and with the possibility of resistance, opposition, or even outright hostility, it’s a gamble.
As a sales manager, much of your responsibilities revolve around coaching and mentoring. According to Forbes’ research, 74% of leading companies see coaching and mentoring as the most important role of a manager.
So how do you do it—how do you improve sales strategies, help your team close more deals, and boost the company’s annual revenue—when the most experienced reps are less than eager to participate?
Educate yourself on coaching account executives in a manner that makes them susceptible to your feedback.
Before we get to that, though, we must discuss one other thing:
Why You Should Retain & Coach Experienced Sales Reps
You’ve witnessed a rep openly unwilling to get coached, and now, you no longer see them as a team player. They don’t see value in developing their skills further with everyone else. Perhaps they even reject following your sales process steps, because after all, they’re successful using their methods.
For some leaders, the obvious answer is managing these reps out. Their behavior could potentially affect the rest of the team, its performance, and morale.
However, there is something else you must consider—the cost of replacing them with new, potentially less-experienced people.
Consider these stats:
- Only 55% of new hires are ultimately successful. The rest do not provide the expected ROI…ever.
- Onboarding a new rep can cost up to three times their salary. So, a new team member on a fixed $100k salary might cost you up to $300k to onboard effectively.
- Finally, reps hit top performance after a year, typically. Their peak performance, however, occurs around years two or three with the company.
The above suggests that sales reps, their experience, expertise in selling, product knowledge are invaluable to the company. Before writing them off, you have to try coaching them.
Before you read how to do just that, you need to understand why tenured AEs might reject coaching.
What Coaching Resistance Looks Like
Most managers run into four types of opposition to coaching:
The experienced rep or account executive refuses to change their ways. Those people have been selling the same way for years, and since what they do delivers results, they see no reason to change. Many believe their success is entirely their own, so your help isn’t warranted.
Reps who tend not to see any problems with their performance, and that’s despite the sales metrics stating otherwise. To these people, the low number of closed deals is a result of anything but their work—Changing market conditions, poor lead quality, product immaturity, etc.
You may also encounter account executives who, although eager to learn and participate in a coaching program, they never change their behavior. It may be a result of several things: too much coaching, lack of focus, not understanding how changing behavior will impact their success, uncertainty of resources for learning.
Finally, some reps honestly hate coaching. To them, any attempts to mentor or coach their performance are to be avoided. Perhaps they’ve had negative experiences in the past or see getting coached as a sign of weakness or inability.
Where Senior Reps & Account Executives Need Coaching
Identifying coaching needs is one of the most challenging aspects of the process. Companies often evaluate coaching opportunities by looking at the wrong metrics.
(Before we go further, please understand that this is not intended to diminish the role of sales KPIs in any way. However, in the context of coaching, skills and behaviors matter more than metrics. You cannot increase KPI performance without developing and improving sales skills, after all.)
Instead of strictly reviewing metrics, evaluate their performance against such factors as:
- How well do they work within the company’s procedures?
- Are they following your sales process?
- Do they collaborate and cooperate with the team?
- What do they bring to your sales culture?
- Are they having effective conversations?
- How are they performing against your definition of a good conversation? Are the right behaviors present during sales calls?
Once you’ve identified where reps need coaching, it’s time to deal with the final problem.
Making Experienced Reps More Susceptible to Feedback & Coaching
No two humans are alike. We like different things. We deal with problems differently. We have different goals, both professionally and personally. It’s no surprise that we each have our unique approach to coaching, too. Some of us prefer the guidance of a more experienced colleague; others want to improve on their own.
The difference is particularly striking among more experienced sales team members. They know what they’re capable of and what they prefer too. It can be more challenging to fit them into a specific coaching typer than greener reps.
Many strategies exist to help convince even the most defensive reps to embrace coaching. Here are three of the most effective methods:
Strategy #1: Uncover How Experienced Reps Want to Improve
We’ve uncovered that coaching is most effective when reps identify what they could improve for themselves. Every coaching session should open with: “What would you like to work on?” or, after reviewing a conversation, “What could you have done differently?” Some reps will eagerly reply while others may need you to lead the way.
Once you’ve identified an area for improvement, align with that reps’ learning style. They’re much more susceptible to behavior change if you don’t force something that doesn’t work for them. For self-starters, have them coach their conversations, leverage libraries, and ask peers for help. Find out what type of communication works best for experienced reps and match it or pair them with a coach who can.
This method is particularly useful for reps who are content as individual contributors. For those who want to move into other roles or management, your coaching can focus on the skills and behaviors that will help them make those transitions. Leadership development is especially crucial for those looking to be promoted–if they aren’t coachable, how will they become a coach?
Strategy #2: Ask for Their Feedback First
This strategy is ideal if you want to encourage reps to open up. Instead of forcing coaching, ask for feedback about your mentoring methods. Also, discuss what type of assistance would work for the rep (rather than forcing them to participate in something you’ve set up for them.)
Why does this strategy work? Experienced sales reps often have valuable feedback about working with you. By asking them what you could do differently, they’re more likely to respond to coaching. If they can shape their coaching sessions, they’ll have fewer reservations about it.
Strategy #3: Hold your AEs accountable
At times, the only way to get a seasoned rep to participate is to impose responsibility on them and make those people credible for whatever they’ve learned during the training.
Here’s how to do it.
- Ask reps to rate themselves on the sales behaviors you’ve coached them on.
- Next, ask how they plan to improve on those behaviors based on your coaching.
- Finally, make them accountable for their choices and communicate the consequences of not improving.
Coaching is by far the most critical aspect that helps reps improve sales behaviors and increase sales performance. Unfortunately, most sales managers will discover some of their experienced reps aren’t excited about coaching. With the right approach, you can set up AEs for a long, successful career in sales.
Hopefully, the three strategies above will help you overcome the resistance to coaching among your team. When everyone believes in the process, you can begin working on building a coaching culture. Good luck!