Coaching is one of the most crucial aspects of a sales leader’s role. But, it can be hard to carve out more than 30 minutes per week to coach. That suggests most sales reps aren’t getting the training they need to succeed which, in turn, can hurt the company’s bottom line.
When the sales coaching process is broken, it prevents modern businesses from scaling kick-ass sales teams successfully.
That assessment set the stage for a recent webinar, Driving a Kick-Ass Coaching Culture: Dispelling Myths & Adopting Best Practices, hosted by Sales Hacker’s director of partnerships Scott Barker. The webinar featured Chorus.ai’s Vice President of Sales, Joe Caprio; Matt Lubbers, Director of Partnerships at Lessonly; and Chuck Marcoullier, Senior Director of Sales Enablement at Reflektive, and a user of both Chorus.ai’s and Lessonly’s solutions.
During that discussion, Caprio described the “Paradox of Success” that sales organizations can experience when they need to grow so fast, they end up with a team composed largely of new — and inexperienced — hires. “The stark reality for companies is that if they hit their sales numbers, that number then often doubles,” said Caprio. “And then, they need to double the size of their sales team, which means bringing in new blood and promoting producers to frontline manager roles.”
When those newly hired or promoted sales pros don’t get the training and support they need to be confident and successful in their roles, that’s where high-climbing sales organizations can quickly start to stumble. “We overload our sales teams with information and then expect them to be experts,” said Lubbers. “But we can’t expect great performance without also giving them the right training and space to practice.”
Creating a kick-ass coaching culture begins with sales managers recognizing that rep training needs to be sustained far beyond the onboarding stage, Caprio said.
“Most frontline sales managers seem to believe that enablement and training are handled during the onboarding process,” he explained. “That’s a fallacy. A rep can’t learn everything in 30 days and then go off and be productive. Their development must be continuous.”
And, if it isn’t, sales organizations risk seeing their promising sales pros heading straight for the exit door. Research from leadership development firm Zenger Folkman bears this out: More than 60% of sales reps said they would consider quitting a company if they had a poor sales coach or coaching culture.
So, how can leaders of kick-ass sales organizations build a world-class coaching culture that will help teams to scale and reach new heights of success? The following six tips are based on the advice that Caprio, Lubbers and Marcoullier offered to the webinar audience:
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Tip #1. Don’t wing it: Structure your coaching curriculum — and coach with intent.
Caprio, who was once a frontline manager, admitted that his idea of coaching used to be:
- Plug into a sales call.
- Take over the call.
- Win the deal for the rep.
- Unplug from the call, and then tell the rep not to pitch like that again.
“That 30 seconds of off-the-cuff feedback, which was a little bit rude, was how I thought coaching was supposed to be,” Caprio said. “But clearly, that approach wasn’t helpful or sustainable. Reps can’t absorb lessons in the moment. They are thinking about the deal — not up-leveling their skills for the rest of their career.”
Caprio and Lubbers are in strong agreement that a well-developed curriculum, along with coaching with intent in a measured, scheduled and repeatable way, are the keys to lifting up reps’ performance and setting them on a path for long-term growth.
Lubbers said, “Modern sales training doesn’t involve dull and static classroom-based lectures. It’s more agile. You can update sales reps with five- to 10-minute micro-lessons that are engaging and helpful, and get them back to work quickly.”
Tip #2. Give reps the chance to prove their mettle before going live with customers.
Lubbers is a firm believer in the old adage, “Practice makes perfect.” Sales reps, he emphasized, need to have the opportunity to practice what they are being coached on before they try applying those learnings in a real-world sales call. But too often, sales managers overlook the importance of giving reps ample time to practice their craft.
“Some sports teams have a 15-to-1 ratio of practice to game time,” Lubbers said. “That’s not to say that sales reps should practice 40 hours a week and then go out and perform. But giving them the ability to test out what they’ve learned before going live with a customer can be a powerful coaching tool.” Webcam and screen-recording technologies can be useful tools for these types of practice sessions, he said.
When a rep records a mock video call or web presentation, reviews it, and then asks a manager or peer to critique their performance, the rep can gather meaningful feedback that can enhance their future development, Lubbers explained.
Tip #3. Make your training pop by letting reps hear the actual voice of the customer.
Reflektive’s Chuck Marcoullier, who participated in the webinar through a pre-recorded presentation, noted that sales pros often criticize training for being hypothetical — and not applicable to their field. One surefire way to “kill that critique,” said Marcoullier, is to use a conversation intelligence solution like Chorus.ai. Real calls with customers that are recorded, saved and shared in the platform can provide invaluable insights to reps, he said.
Marcoullier said his team at Reflektive clip their best discovery calls in Chorus.ai and incorporate them into their training materials provided to reps in Lessonly’s cloud-based learning management system. Those recordings offer a powerful proof point to reps, he said, because it shows them that the process they are learning does work and can help move the sale along.
“We let reps listen to complete sales calls, but we also break them down into smaller snippets with instructions in the practice scripts in Lessonly,” said Marcoullier, adding that reps are then tasked with executing against those practice scripts.
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Tip # 4. Use meaningful metrics to gauge reps’ progress and know when to “let them fly.”
Caprio, Lubbers and Marcoullier agree that a kick-ass coaching culture should include the use of metrics, like Chorus Scorecards in Chorus.ai, that can provide new hires with measurable feedback. But meaningful metrics can help drive overall sales team performance, as well.
“Coaching is an ongoing cycle, so it is important to be able to quantify results,” said Lubbers. “Metrics allow sales leaders to more closely identify areas where extra coaching or reassessment is needed. And metrics can help make feedback more meaningful, and ensure sales reps are engaged in the process.”
“With metrics in Chorus.ai, we can see if reps are meeting the standards that we’ve asked them to meet through the Lessonly path,” said Marcoullier. “If they struggle, we put them back into the Lessonly path. But if see that they are getting it, then we let them fly.”
Tip #5. Set specific goals for reps and check on their progress regularly.
As Caprio noted when discussing the Paradox of Success for fast-growing sales teams, learning needs to be an ongoing process for reps. Training should extend well beyond onboarding, so that reps can, at the very least, fully ramp up on new products or even markets.
One way to ensure that learning is ongoing, and relevant, is for reps and managers to check in regularly about training needs and progress toward defined goals. Caprio said his sales reps and managers align monthly on a specific skill and maintain a Google Doc to monitor progress.
“At the end of the month, the manager and rep create a status report, explaining what the rep focused on and what they learned, and providing an example of how the rep exhibited that behavior in the real world,” Caprio said.
He continued, “This process not only shows that the organization cares about each rep’s professional development, it also links directly to an asset like a Lessonly path, a mock role-play or a Chorus.ai playlist that reps can refer to and utilize.”
Tip #6. Leverage tech to create a “flywheel” that gives all reps the ability to improve their game.
Chuck Marcoullier is walking the walk when it comes to leveraging technology to create a flywheel effect at Reflektive that is helping him to build a high-performing sales organization. “You can no longer pick a training module and ride it into the ground,” he said. “The modern sales process requires that you adapt on a dime to capture the marketplace. Adaptive and iterative technology tools like Chorus.ai and Lessonly allow our team to do that.”
Leveraging tech is especially critical for distributed sales teams, according to Caprio, who pointed to Chorus.ai’s sales organization as a prime example. The team is split between Boston and San Francisco, with another third of the team working remotely. “I can tell you from firsthand experience that reps in distributed sales organizations are much more likely to engage with video and recorded training assets,” he said. “So, distributed sales teams that do not have these capabilities will want to think about beefing up their tech stack.”
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An Investment That Delivers
Developing a kick-ass coaching culture in the sales organization, and supporting it with the right tools, can potentially enhance the company’s bottom line. Consider recent research from the Sales Management Association, which shows that an investment in sales coaching can help to grow revenue by 17%.
If that’s not incentive enough, think about how such an investment can improve retention by reducing the risk that sales pros won’t feel valued, or that they don’t have the opportunity and support to learn and grow. Another benefit: If word gets around about the organization’s kick-ass coaching culture, attracting great new sales talent can get a lot easier, too.
Caprio said, “I tell my sales managers: We can’t always offer reps a raise or a promotion. But we can, through ongoing coaching, offer investment in their career. And by supporting their learning years, we can help enhance their earning years.”