Category: Sales Coaching

Sales

A Sales Manager’s Guide to Coaching Reps that Seem…

Legendary college basketball coach Bobby Knight once said, “To be as good as it can be, a team has to buy into what you — as the coach — are doing. They have to feel you’re a part of them and they’re a part of you.”

It’s a powerful sentiment that provides some sage advice for coaches working across virtually all sports, fields, and occupations. But when it comes to sales, some managers might have trouble delivering on it — often through no fault of their own.

As Knight said, your team has to feel they’re a part of you. But what happens when a rep either can’t or won’t buy into your guidance like that? How do you approach a team member who seems uncoachable?

Here, we’ll review some common sales coaching challenges, go over how to approach them, and identify the key qualities of reps that are flat-out uncoachable.

How to Handle Coaching Challenges

When a Rep Lacks Motivation

One of the most common, contentious issues sales managers run into with sales reps is lack of motivation. A rep who’s more concerned with their Twitter feed or blankly staring off into space than actually doing their job can present a borderline migraine-inducing challenge for those trying to guide them.

It’s easy to get frustrated with reps who seem lazy, but immediately chastising them for their apparent lack of ambition generally isn’t the way to go — assuming the worst of your salespeople is rarely the best policy.

A lot of the time, these seemingly jaded reps aren’t inherently unmotivated or directionless — they might just need coaching that’s better tailored to their strengths and interests to tap into a wellspring of effort and determination that might not be readily apparent.

So, how do you do that? Well, as simple as it might seem, the best way to shape a personal coaching approach to an unmotivated rep is to get to know them on a personal level. You can start by having some conversations that aren’t necessarily work-related or critical of their performance.

Establish a relationship and build rapport. In doing so, you’ll have a better picture of what makes them tick, what they might be dealing with beyond the office, and what kind of guidance they’ll be most receptive to.

At the same time, you can establish a certain sense of personal accountability with them. They might find some motivation in not wanting to let you down.

When a Rep Has Trouble Getting a Handle on Their Emotions

Some reps might not have the best grip on their emotions when doing their jobs. They might take rejection too personally. Maybe, they have a tendency to get hot-headed and testy with prospects. Or, they could run into trouble when frustrated with you or their fellow reps.

Dealing with overly emotional reps is a delicate process. As a manager (or a human being in general), you don’t have a ton of control over what people go through internally. That said, you do have some room to understand why your reps might be behaving erratically and make things a bit easier for them as you coach them.

In these cases, you need to lead with empathy. Try to understand why they’re acting out instead of overtly criticizing them, right off the bat. Sit down and speak with him.

Get a feel for why they might be getting overly emotional and see if you know what it takes to calm them down. There’s a good chance they could be running into challenges in their personal lives.

Taking the time to see where they’re coming from can help you adapt your coaching style to temper them and get the most out of their efforts. And if you notice they’re dealing with something that might not be appropriate for you to handle, you can refer them to HR to see if they can offer some help.

When You Don’t Think You Have Adequate Time to Coach a Rep

Issues that arise while coaching reps don’t always come from the reps’ end. Sometimes there are factors — beyond both your and their control — that limit your coaching ability. One of the most common culprits is flat-out busyness.

It’s not uncommon for managers’ capacity and flexibility to coach to be limited by time constraints. And that can be very problematic. Sales coaching is a personal game that often requires extensive individual attention, but as a sales manager, you’re probably going to be tasked with responsibilities apart from getting new reps up to speed.

In many cases, your deadlines and broader organizational obligations won’t magically disappear when you’re coaching your reps. But — tough as this might sound — you need to power through these kinds of seemingly overwhelming stretches without skimping on your coaching efforts.

Sales coaching might be one of the most fundamentally significant responsibilities sales managers have. It’s the process that sets your reps — and, in turn, your sales organization as a whole — up for success down the line.

Make sure you block off an appropriate amount of time to have a significant stake in your reps’ professional development. Don’t disregard one-on-ones, and be available to answer questions, allay concerns, and help your reps work through issues they might be running into.

Sales training is how you shape your company’s future — it’s nothing to take lightly.

When to Know If The Rep is Truly Uncoachable

Truly uncoachable reps can usually be characterized by one underlying contradiction — they’re in desperate need of coaching but insist that they don’t actually need it. They’re equal parts arrogant and underwhelming in their professional production.

They’re quick to talk back or insist they know exactly what they’re doing when their numbers don’t even remotely warrant that kind of behavior. They always seem to have an all-to-convenient excuse for all of their shortcomings, and they’re too hard-headed to listen to or absorb any of your advice.

All told, truly uncoachable reps are impossible to get through to because they simply don’t want to be coached. Reps that are having trouble staying motivated, getting a handle on their emotions, or communicating can be guided and set on the right course if they’re willing to be.

An uncoachable rep might be running into one or more of those problems — among others — but have no intention of letting you help them figure them out. And changing someone who’s struggling while insisting they’re doing everything right can be borderline impossible.

Sales coaching isn’t easy by nature, and as a manager, you might run into reps that make it even harder. In almost all of these cases, putting in extra effort and attention is the best policy.

That said, you need to be mindful of when reps just aren’t worth the effort. If a rep is severely struggling while rejecting you at every turn, it could be in your best interest to move on and find someone else who will buy in.

Sales

Sales Coaching: The Ultimate Guide

Imagine your sales team performing 19% better month after month.

Sound nice? Of course.

A study from CSO Insights reveals a correlation between quota attainment and coaching. When coaching skills exceed expectations, 94.8% of reps meet quota. When coaching skills need improvement, only 84.5% hit.

In other words, no other productivity investment is nearly as impactful as sales coaching. So, what is sales coaching, and how do you do it well?

Effective sales coaching is iterative, individualized, and inclusive. It’s designed to reinforce positive behavior or correct negative behavior. Typically part of each sales rep’s daily or weekly routine, sales coaching is focused on skills and techniques rather than numbers.

What doesn’t fall under the sales coaching umbrella?

  • Telling salespeople exactly what to do (rather than giving them the end goal and letting them figure out the specifics)
  • Giving the same advice to every single person
  • Ignoring individual motivators, strengths, and weaknesses

Examples of Sales Coaching

To get a better sense of what sales coaching looks like, here are a few examples:

  • Reviewing a call with a sales rep and discussing what went well and where they could improve
  • Offering inside sales training and tips
  • Reviewing remote selling techniques and tools
  • Scheduling weekly check-ins with reps to discuss objectives and areas of the sales process they’re less confident in
  • Shadowing or listening to a rep’s meeting or phone call with a prospect
  • Reviewing a rep’s email conversations with prospects throughout different points in the buyer’s journey

Benefits of Sales Coaching

As highlighted in the introduction, sales coaching has a proven, positive impact on your bottom line. But win rates aren’t the only reason you should coach your sales reps.

1. Sales coaching improves employee retention rates.

Rep turnover is a notorious problem in sales. While burnout or a bigger salary elsewhere will always tempt some, professional development opportunities will motivate many others to stay. 9 in 10 employees say professional development is “important” or “very important,” and 4 in 10 specifically want in-house programs.

2. Sales coaching gives you an opportunity to share best practices.

When you notice one rep is using a strategy to great success, you can immediately teach the rest of your team to do the same thing, similar to how a HubSpot sales rep’s success with video prospecting spread throughout his team. Think of sales coaching as a rising tide that lifts all boats.

3. Sales coaching maximizes your investment in sales training.

Companies spend billions per year on sales training, but research shows most of the curriculum doesn’t stick. Effective sales training relies on consistent, long-term reinforcement — which the sales manager can achieve through sales coaching.

Sales Coaching Models

There are hundreds of different sales coaching models. Many managers are less than enthused about them — and it’s not too difficult to understand why.

Some coaching models are designed for any manager with reports, rather than a sales manager and their reps. But sales is an incredibly distinct profession. It requires a unique coaching model. If you’re considering a generic model, you’ll likely struggle trying to adapt it to your team.

Some models only work with specific methodologies. That can be frustrating if you don’t like the model you’re supposed to use. Luckily, you can always create a hybrid of your prescribed coaching model — one you’re more enthusiastic about.

And remember, some models are overly structured. Look for something flexible that you can use with different sales processes — that way, if you change your strategy, you won’t need a brand-new coaching model.

If you aren’t sure if a coaching model is a good fit, ask your team. Their feedback matters most; after all, they are the ones who should benefit. You might use an employee feedback tool, or conduct an internal survey, to get this information from your team.  

Now that you have a better understanding of what sales coaching is and why it’s important, let’s look at some sales coaching techniques you can implement.

These commonly-used coaching techniques are applicable to all types of sales teams. Don’t be afraid to incorporate some (or all) of them on your team.

1. Use sales data.

It can be overwhelming to figure out what to focus on in terms of sales coaching — both team-wide and among individual reps. That’s where data comes into play. Rather than using your gut to guide you, use your HubSpot CRM and/or sales software to identify where your salespeople could improve.

Wondering what that might look like?

Keep track of conversion metrics on a monthly basis. If you notice deal velocity is increasing but close rates are decreasing, you should dig into your reps’ email-to-meeting, meeting-to-demo, and demo-to-close rates (or the applicable metrics for your sales process) to understand where they’re moving too fast.

You may also see many reps are skipping the discovery call and jumping straight to the demo, which saves time but leads to generic, low-value presentations … and, therefore, decreasing win rates.

In addition, compare each salesperson to their historical performance, the team’s average performance, and/or your top performers’ performances.

For example, let’s suppose your rep’s average deal size is $500. This quarter, their average was $300. Your best salespeople are averaging $600. With this context, it’s clear this rep needs help.

2. Mix up your sales coaching style.

Selling requires a variety of skills and techniques, so make sure your coaching incorporates multiple styles.

Director of Sales Enablement at Brainshark, Mike Kunkle, recommends varying between:

  • Strategic coaching, or big-picture guidance, on topics like selling into a specific market, navigating a complex buying process, working with customer champions, etc.
  • Tactical coaching, or nitty-gritty suggestions on starting a relationship, qualifying, etc.
  • Specific skill coaching, or helping salespeople improve their communication, questioning strategies, rapport-building abilities, remote selling, etc.

3. Get buy-in.

What’s one of the worst ways to try to change a salesperson’s behavior? Tell them what to do.

Most salespeople are fairly independent — that’s why they’ve chosen to work in sales — and don’t respond well to being ordered around.

You’ll have far more success if you involve them in the improvement process. That means asking them how they think they performed, what they can do to get better, and which metrics will help them measure their progress.

4. Leverage your best sales reps.

Salespeople can learn just as much from each other as you. Use that to your advantage — if one person on the team is crushing it, ask them to share their learnings with everyone else.

To give you an idea, imagine two of your reps are getting great results from prospecting on LinkedIn (social selling is a highly-effective tactic, after all). Figure out what they’re doing differently. Are they sending a specific message? Targeting a specific set of users? Answering questions in specific groups?

These reps should give a presentation on their winning strategy — perhaps during your next team meeting. Your other salespeople will be eager to imitate them, and the group will potentially find an even more effective way to execute this play.

Let’s also take a look at the various tools that can help you manage all of these coaching tips and techniques more easily.

There are a number of tools you can use to improve and simplify your sales coaching techniques. These tools include software and educational resources you can use both individually or in combination with each other.

1. Chorus.ai

Chorus.ai provides a simple way for you to use sales enablement practices to coach and empower reps. You can build, implement, and measure the success of your sales coaching tactics to ensure you’re supporting your reps so they’re more likely to hit their goals.

The software’s AI capabilities simplify the creation of your coaching tactics and plans while pulling from real rep conversations, data, and interactions with leads and customers.

2. Gong

Gong provides a unique look into rep interactions with your customers by using the product’s conversation intelligence capabilities. As a sales manager, this feature will make it easy to identify and replicate the actions your best reps are taking as well as assist other reps in the areas they need support. You can review the conversations your reps have with your prospects and customers on the phone, email, or web conference.

3. HubSpot Sales Coaching for Managers

HubSpot Sales Coaching for Managers is a free program for sales managers to learn how to better coach and support reps. The lessons focus on the best ways to coach reps so they can hit their goals and so your team continues to excel and positively impact the business’s bottom line.

4. Showpad Coach

Showpad Coach, formerly known as LearnCore, is a sales coaching and training software. It allows you to organize and manage coaching (as well as onboarding and training) for each rep on your team.

The software offers features that allow you to review analytics related to each of your reps — this way, you identify which people need what type of support and coaching. You can also create and share coaching videos to customize and tailor the support you’re providing your reps with.

5. ExecVision

ExecVision is a conversation intelligence program ideal for coaching large teams of reps. The software makes it easy to assist your reps and focus on their specific areas for improvement by focusing on their behaviors.

The software allows you to easily identify coachable moments in every rep’s processes. It transcribes sales calls and highlights key moments in every rep’s workflow. Then, you can go in and coach the reps in the areas in which they need support.

In addition to sales coaching techniques and tools, here are some all-encompassing tips to keep in mind as well. These tips will help you effectively coach reps to ensure your team is as productive as possible.

1. Focus on the middle 60%.

According to Brent Adamson and Matt Dixon, authors of The Challenger Sale, most sales managers tend to spend most of their energy coaching the “very best and very worst” salespeople on their team.

Managers feel compelled to help the bottom 20% to get their team to quota. They want to help the top 20% because it’s rewarding.

Consequently, the middle 60% gets the least amount of attention. But Adamson and Dixon explain “the real payoff from good coaching lies among … your core performers.”

After all, the worst-performing salespeople (who are consistently underperforming, that is) usually aren’t right for the role. You should replace them, not try to train them up.

And the stars on the team show little to no performance improvement from coaching. So when you’re thinking about which reps to focus your attention on, think of the middle of the pack.

2. Share your vision.

Sales reps want to feel as though they’re contributing to the company’s overall success. This is motivating and provides them with non-monetary fulfillment.

Come up with a mission for your team that goes beyond “Sell X amount of business.” This goal should be specific, actionable, and exciting — think “Break into A market,” “Become known internally for doing B,” or “Break the company record for C.”

Periodically throughout team meetings and one-on-ones, share the overall team’s progress toward this objective. You should also point out the people who have made significant contributions in doing so. For example, you might say, “I want to recognize Joella for landing a huge new corporate account, which will definitely increase our visibility in that market.”

3. Learn each salesperson’s drivers.

Everyone is motivated by different things. Even if the majority of your reps are motivated by making money, their specific financial goals probably vary widely. One salesperson might be paying off their student loans, while another may be saving up for a house. Some salespeople are primarily in sales because they love autonomy.

To identify how you can engage your reps, former HubSpot Sales Director Dan Tyre recommends asking what they want to accomplish in both their personal and professional lives.

“This will not only show you the type of person they are, but also give you insight into what things will motivate them the most,” he explains. Tyre asks these questions:

  • Are you motivated right now?
  • What motivates you long-term?
  • What can you do to motivate yourself?
  • How will I know if you are not motivated?
  • What do you want me to do if you don’t appear motivated?

Having these insights will allow you to tailor your coaching style to each sales rep and their personal visions.

4. Use incentives effectively.

Sales contests and incentives should change behaviors, not reinforce existing ones. That’s why offering $100 to the first rep to make a sale that day probably isn’t helpful.

Figure out what your salespeople aren’t doing that you’d like them to — and design your contest around that action.

To illustrate, maybe your reps are focusing too heavily on product A because it requires less technical knowledge than product B. You might give a bonus to every salesperson who sells more than X units of product B.

5. Give personal rewards.

Individual prizes should be tied to a specific rep’s goals. For example, if a rep is working on increasing their call-to-meetings rate, you might say you’ll take them to a nice lunch once they improve by X%.

Not sure what to offer as a prize? Here’s where knowing every salesperson’s motivators is handy. You can also directly ask them, “What can I give you as a prize for achieving [objective]?”

6. Seek and experiment with new coaching practices and resources.

There are many sales coaching techniques and tools available today — don’t be afraid to experiment with them. Every team and individual are different — meaning, no sales coaching techniques are always going to be one-size-fits-all.

Learn about what’s going to work best for your reps and their needs and ask each rep for their feedback on your coaching style in your one-on-one meetings. Then, stick with these tactics until you reach a point in time when you need to reevaluate their effectiveness and impact.

7. Prepare and practice with multiple coaching scenarios.

As a sales manager, it’s your job to prepare and practice with multiple coaching scenarios. Your team is bound to evolve and the people on it are going to change (in terms of their skillset but also rep turnover).

Stay efficient and effective in regards to coaching by preparing for different scenarios — this way, you’ll be ready to assist and teach reps with different needs and areas for improvement at any point in time.

Additionally, you might notice you have several people who need the same type of coaching in a specific problem area. In this case, you can prepare with training and information around that topic and share it among the group.

Or, if one rep is struggling in a specific area, you may have a prepared outline of a plan you can then tailor towards their needs — then, you can use it again in the future with another rep.

8. Leverage your entire sales team.

Some sales reps learn by example, which is why it may be valuable to leverage other members of your sales team (perhaps to top 20%). Schedule some shadowing sessions during which the reps who you’re coaching can listen in on a few successful sales calls (or sales call recordings). Afterwards, debrief with your reps and break down why the calls were so successful, what could be improved, and how each rep would’ve handled the calls themselves.

Moreover, ask the more successful members of your team what helps them during their calls and consider providing similar resources or encouragement to those reps with room for improvement.

9. Have the hard conversations.

Many sales reps struggle to meet their potential because of the inevitable prospect push-back … and the dreaded word, No. But most reps work their way through this discomfort with practice.

With the sales reps you’re coaching, role play some uncomfortable scenarios and hard conversations, practicing some common objections. Once reps get more comfortable hearing those objections and responding accordingly, they’ll be better equipped to face them on real sales calls.

10. Provide more positive than negative feedback.

For as many pieces of constructive criticism you provide to your sales reps, give twice as much positive reinforcement. Not only does this help maintain morale, but it also allows sales reps to recognize what they’re doing right — and hopefully encourages them to repeat and build on that behavior. 

Put Me In, (Sales) Coach

Sales coaching is both an art and a science. It’s one of — if not the — most important components of sales management. Do it well, and your team’s results will speak for you. So, begin incorporating the various sales coaching techniques, tools, and tips to help your team close more deals, boost revenue, surpass quota, and grow better.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in August 2017 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

Sales

The Biggest Threat to Sales Teams in 2020 Isn’t…

A quick Google search or skim through your favorite sales blogs will show article upon article about how to hire the perfect reps, increase customer retention, and write the perfect sales job description – for good reason.

Even right here, on the HubSpot Sales Blog, I know an article on “How to Hire the Perfect SDR” will almost always be a hit. In fact, two of our top-performing posts of all time are “40 Sales Interview Questions to Recruit the Best Reps” and “10 Common Sales Job Interview Questions and How to Answer Them.” They bring in thousands of organic views to our blog each month, which means thousands of people actively search for this information regularly.

But what if this isn’t a good thing? What if it’s time we stopped writing off five-year lows in sales job tenure simply because it’s a tough job full of high standards and a lot of rejection. What if we spent less time learning about how to interview the perfect sales rep and more time on developing and investing in the reps we have?

What if the biggest threat to sales teams isn’t losing clients, but losing our teammates themselves?

  • What Makes A Well-Managed Sales Team?
  • How Fast Are Salespeople Churning?
  • Why Are Reps Actually Leaving?
  • What Can Sales Managers Do About Sales Turnover?
  • How to Manage a Sales Team

 

What Makes A Well-Managed Sales Team?

According to DDI’s Frontline Leader Project, 57% of workers have left a job because of their manager. When it comes to retaining talented SDRs, we can’t underestimate the importance of having an effective sales manager. Here are some qualities of well-managed sales teams.

1. Effective communication skills.

Well-managed sales teams have effective communication norms in place. While the ability to clearly communicate is an important skill for employees and managers, for sales teams, having clear processes and standards around communication makes a huge difference.

Team members should know how to best get a hold of and share information with their leaders and with each other (such as Slack, email, stand-up meetings, etc.). When teams have clear communication norms, it makes collaboration and raising concerns easier and more effective.

Sales managers can take the lead to facilitate the necessary conversations to establish these norms with their teams.

2. Setting clear expectations, and managing them accordingly.

In addition to having clear communication norms, winning sales teams have clear performance expectations that are understood and met by reps. Managers can determine what expectations to set with their reps by beginning with the end goal in mind.

Analyze relevant data to outline what the desired results are for a rep working on your team. Then identify what actions reps would need to take to achieve these results. These actions should provide the foundation for your rep’s performance expectations.

Once the expectations are set, make sure there are mechanisms in place to measure progress. With all of these things in place, your team should review performance expectations and their progress regularly, and adjust behavior as needed.

3. Provide coaching and mentorship.

The ability to provide mentorship and support for reps is one of the most important aspects of a sales manager’s role. Companies that prioritize coaching see significantly higher win rates and quota attainment stats. Here are some ways sales managers can provide necessary support to their reps:

  • Holding regular one-on-one meetings and office hours where reps can ask questions and talk through performance concerns.
  • Incorporate effective training methodologies into onboarding programs.
  • Provide tailored development plans for reps as needed, focusing on the specific skills they need to improve.

4. Give and receive actionable feedback.

Feedback is essential to a sales team’s success. All members of the team should feel comfortable giving both positive and direct, constructive feedback. Some ways sales teams can incorporate more feedback into their regular processes are:

  • Call reviews: Sales teams can set up mock sales calls to practice listening in and giving one another feedback on their approach. Managers can also provide feedback for reps on real calls they’ve had with potential buyers.
  • One-on-one meetings: During regular one-on-one meetings, managers can use that time to provide feedback to reps individually, and can ask for the reps to provide feedback on their management and leadership style.

Now, let’s talk about what’s at stake if and when sales organizations experience turnover at a high rate.

How Fast Are Salespeople Churning?

A 2018 report by the Bridge Group shows average rep tenure now sits at 1.5 years. That might not sound too bad – but when you consider average SDR ramp time is currently 3.2 months, you’re already down to a little over one year (15 months) of full productivity from your average sales rep.

In 2010 – a mere eight years ago — 44% of respondents reported an average sales tenure of more than three years. Today, a mere 8% report that kind of longevity in their sales jobs.

Why Are Reps Actually Leaving?

Job satisfaction is low

Why are salespeople churning at such alarming rates? Well, a 2018 survey by Marc Wayshak reported only 17.6% of respondents rate their job satisfaction as “outstanding” and a whopping 47.1% rated their jobs as just “good.”

In the same survey, salespeople who spent more time on sales-related activities enjoyed their jobs more. In fact, there was a notable jump in job satisfaction between reps who spent three hours or less on sales-related activities and those who spent four or more hours each day on sales-related tasks. Those who spent four or more hours on sales work rated their job satisfaction at a 3.8 out of five.

Culture and management expectations are high

Wayshak’s study also showed company culture and management effectiveness matter a lot to salespeople. They’re so important the average rep rated these two factors as more important than base compensation, commission, job role, and job flexibility.

Sales stereotypes are alive and well

Reps know they aren’t liked. A word cloud in Wayshak’s study showed the most common words respondents used to describe their average buyer’s perception of them were “pushy,” “untrustworthy,” “annoying,” “Time,” and “Greedy.” Ouch.

Promotions take longer than the average tenure

Lack of promotion might also be a reason reps churn quickly. The average rep tenure sits at 18 months and the average time a rep spends as an SDR prior to an account executive promotion is between 13-18 months. It’s not much of a leap to say reps are impatient for a promotion and jump ship before their managers get the chance to offer them one.

What Can Sales Managers Do About Sales Turnover?

Hire more experienced reps

The same Bridge Group report found hiring more experienced reps led to longer average tenure and more months spent functioning at full productivity. While it might be tempting to hire a BDR right out of college for a lower cost, consider investing in a rep with a few more years of experience and the know-how to hit the ground with a shorter ramp time.

Prioritize culture and management training

Based on Wayshak’s finding salespeople value good company culture and great managers more than compensation, consider spending more time and resources on training sales leaders and promoting a healthy, supportive, and growth-driven culture on your team.

A CSO Insights survey reported the average sales leader spends just 20% of their time helping their team close deals. No one wins in this scenario. Your deals suffer, and your reps view their opportunities for mentorship and career development as few and far between. Which brings me to my next point.

Communicate clearly around promotions

Talk to your reps regularly about how they’re doing and where they’re tracking on the path to promotion. Millennial salespeople are part of the fabric of our current workforce — and 25% recently said they plan to leave their current job within a year. In the same Deloitte survey, 44% said they planned to leave their job within two years.

Give them a reason to stay. That starts with never leaving them wondering where they stand on performance or career path. Provide consistent feedback and meet with them regularly in one-on-one meetings to see how they’re doing — beyond their quota.

Manage rep performance

Sales executive Norman Behar says, “While there’s a lot of emphasis placed on sales coaching and leadership, the most fundamental skill sales managers need to develop is often overlooked: The ability to manage sales performance.”

Many organizations take it for granted that their managers know how to effectively manage performance. Unfortunately, this is a huge mistake.

While many sales managers may have produced excellent results in their prior roles as sales reps, Behar says this doesn’t necessarily translate into the ability to get their teams consistently generating great outcomes.

He suggests the problem lies in the focus on results as opposed to the sales behaviors creating results. Wayshak’s survey saw 81.6% of top performers spending four or more hours on sales related activities such as asking for referrals, prospecting, taking sales meetings, and following up. Each of these is a behavior, rather than a result.

This issue, Behar says, is driven by today’s CRM systems, which provide real-time measurement and reporting of results.

“While it’s helpful to monitor this information,” Behar explains, “It’s important to note it’s rear-view data. These metrics are based on events that have already occurred as opposed to the underlying behaviors (leading indicators) that drive outcomes.”

Manage the right behaviors

Many reps are goaled on the number of pitches they give. But this not be the right behavior to track. In Wayshak’s survey, only 7% of top performers reported pitching regularly, while 19% of non-top performers reported pitching their offering regularly. A pitch doesn’t necessarily equal a successful or meaningful behavior.

Behar explains sales organizations should carefully think through the key results they want to monitor and determine what behaviors will drive these outcomes. “The key distinction to keep in mind is that results (lagging indicators) should be monitored, while behaviors (leading indicators) should be monitored and managed,” he says.

Here’s an example highlighting the difference between results and behaviors:

  • Desired result: New customer acquisition
  • Key behaviors:
    • Developing a territory plan including a comprehensive list of prospective customers
    • Creating account plans that map the key decision makers and influencers
    • Setting first time meetings with prospective customers
    • Adding new opportunities to sales pipeline

Behar notes, “It’s important to limit the number of key results you want to monitor. Too many desired outcomes could lead to an exponential number of behaviors.” He explains, “For instance, if a sales organization decided to monitor 10 results and each result tied to four behaviors, managers would need to monitor and manage 40 behaviors — that’s not sustainable.”

From a practical standpoint, Behar suggests focusing on the two or three most important results and manage the corresponding eight to 12 behaviors that drive those results.

Once desired results and corresponding behaviors have been identified, managers should turn their attention to managing performance by following these steps inspired by Behar’s work:

1. Prioritize onboarding

It’s tempting to throw reps into selling with a wink and a prayer, but while it might solve for your immediate goals, it will be detrimental to your long-term growth and rep success.

Create a comprehensive new hire onboarding checklist and facilitate each new rep’s completion of that checklist and accompanying trainings.

2. Communicate performance expectations

Set rep expectations early and check on those expectations regularly. For example, if you expect reps to make 15 prospecting calls a week, ensure that expectation is clearly outlined in their onboarding documents.

Don’t simply tell them once and expect them to remember. Make those expectations a normal action item to check in on in their routine one-on-ones.

3. Monitor and manage specific behaviors

Reps may fall into specific habits or behaviors without realizing it. Sit in on one of their calls or demos at least once a quarter and provide feedback on what you witness.

If they’re not great at wrapping up the call and touching on next steps, make an actionable recommendation that they shadow a rep who closes meetings exceptionally well.

4. Set goals and monitor results

Every salesperson needs goals. Period. Determine what key performance indicators (KPIs) are important for the growth of your business and set realistic quotas and goals around those KPIs.

5. Provide regular feedback

Feedback is crucial to improving and growing. Make sure you’re not the only person giving your reps feedback. Set up a monthly or bi-weekly “film review” where a new rep is in the hot seat each week receiving constructive feedback on how to improve and what they’re doing well.

6. Invest in ongoing training

Don’t stop at onboarding. Have great reps present lunch-and-learns on the skills they excel at, encourage reps to identify conferences and seminars that will contribute to their professional development, and bring in speakers/coaches who will build the team up.

Training is an investment in the present and future of your company’s success. Make sure it’s a priority.

7. Establish compensation expectations

Don’t wait until your rep brings up compensation to discuss it. This should be an ongoing conversation you’re having with all your reps to ensure they’re feeling valued and rewarded for the work they do.

If their work isn’t meeting the compensation guidelines, that’s when another conversation about their performance should happen. Don’t wait until that conversation revolves around putting them on a performance improvement plan.

“Going back to our example on new customer acquisition,” he says, “A manager can now communicate the number of new customers they would like the salesperson to acquire, the specific behaviors that will lead to those results, and the timeframe for completion.”

Most importantly, Behar recommends managers provide ongoing feedback. “This should include offering encouragement based on achievement of key behaviors (e.g., “set 10 first time appointments last week”), and proactively discussing any performance gaps (e.g., “I thought you were going to submit your account plans last Friday and I haven’t seen them yet”) while there is still time to course correct,” he says.

The last thing any employee wants is to be caught off-guard or to only hear feedback about their performance when they’re being evaluated. Try incorporating monthly or quarterly conversations into your operating rhythm so reps have a chance to address performance issues before it’s too late.

Ultimately, sales managers live in a results-based world but their ability to achieve those results depends on managing behaviors. Acknowledging this distinction is critical to your sales team’s success — as is increasing rep retention and happiness.

For more actionable management advice, head to this post and learn how a HubSpot sales manager led her team to quota for one year straight.

Sales

Are You a Good Sales Coach? [How to Know…

There is so much more to being a good salesperson than being able to close a deal.

While yes, the ability to secure and win new business is important for every company’s bottom line, successful salespeople need to be well-rounded professionals with business acumen and relationship-building skills. It’s important to note, however, that these skills don’t come out of nowhere. Having talented sales reps is often a result of investing in effective sales coaching.

According to research conducted by ValueSelling Associates, over half of high-performing businesses that have had sales coaching programs in place for three years or more experience high growth. Sales coaching is a long-term investment that can lead to positive outcomes for organizations that do it right.

How should an organization approach sales coaching to achieve these outcomes? Is it up to managers to provide all the coaching reps need, or are they better off bringing in outside support?

Though sales managers are often tasked with providing some coaching support, they often don’t have the bandwidth to provide structured coaching many reps need – that’s why professional sales coaches who can drive optimal results while giving time back to reps and managers are more valuable than ever.

If you’re considering a future in sales coaching, continue reading to understand the key competencies of the role, common mistakes to avoid, and take the quiz below to test your sales coaching knowledge.

1. Collaborative

Strong sales coaches must be able to collaborate well with others. For example, if a sales coach is developing a training plan for a rep they are working with, their ability to collaborate with the rep’s manager to understand the rep’s current level of performance can make all the difference in creating a relevant training plan.

When sales coaches can openly and effectively collaborate, they are able to create holistic training solutions, providing the best results possible for their clients.

2. Results-oriented

A stellar sales coach must be results-oriented. After all, a company investing in sales coaching is doing so because there is an expected result for their bottom line. The ability to craft an actionable coaching plan and guide a client through it, resulting in improved tangible skills for the rep, is essential for a sales coach.

3. Supportive and Encouraging

Though the individual needs of each client may differ (more on that later), most people do like to feel supported and encouraged when being coached or learning a new skill. Successful sales coaches should be able to provide a supportive safe space for their coaching clients to foster new work habits and feel encouraged throughout the process.

That’s not to say a bit of tough love doesn’t work, however, in many coaching scenarios it isn’t effective when it’s the only approach.

4. Able to Give Positive and Constructive Feedback

Feedback is a powerful tool for improving employee performance. After all, many employees don’t know what they’re doing well — or could improve on — without receiving direct feedback.

In sales coaching, the key is providing both positive and constructive feedback that is actionable. For example, if a sales rep could benefit from improving their cold calling skills, tell them one thing they are currently doing well, one area they can improve in, and provide a tactic they can try on their next cold call for a better result.

No one wants to feel criticized. It is important for reps to understand where their skills currently are and how they can continue building upon their strengths to improve.

5. Can Adapt to Different Learning Styles

It’s important to remember coaching is not one-size-fits-all. Good sales coaches are able to adapt their coaching methods to suit the needs of sales reps who have all different learning styles. Providing a personalized experience can make a valuable difference in creating a sales training plan that works.

6. Engaging

Because the role of a sales coach is people-facing, and can involve some vulnerability, effective sales coaches must be able to engage and build positive relationships with their clients. Developing soft skills can not only help your coaching efforts, but possessing these skills makes it easier for you to teach them to your clients.

7. Create and Execute Actionable Training Plans

As important as soft skills and the ability to motivate are, sales coaches can’t be all talk — they must be able to create and guide their clients through effective, actionable coaching plans to build their skill set in sales.

A well-rounded coaching plan should clearly state the goals of the sales rep you are working with, what skills they need to strengthen to reach those goals, and what action they will take to get there. In addition to working with the rep to create this plan, a sales coach should act as a guide, supporting the rep through the process as they work towards their goals.

8. Strong Listening and Communication Skills

Last but certainly not least, sales coaches must possess excellent communication skills.

Good communication is critical for any role in the sales field, and as a coach, when you are working with individuals who have varying skill sets and communication styles, you must be able to share and receive information in different ways. Elements of being a strong communicator include:

  • Listening to understand, not respond.
  • Understanding verbal and non-verbal communication.
  • Asking thoughtful questions.
  • The ability to break down complex subjects in ways that are straightforward and easy to understand.

Now that you’re clear on what traits make a great sales coach, let’s review some common sales coaching mistakes to avoid.

1. Not prioritizing coaching.

This mistake tends to happen at an organizational level. When looking for ways to bring in more sales, it can be tempting to want to prioritize investments that have a faster impact on the bottom-line.

Many organizations task sales managers with the responsibility to do all the coaching for their reps, which may not be the right fit for all sales teams. According to Sales Readiness Group, the top reasons managers don’t engage in sales coaching include:

  • They have too much on their plate: Sales managers are busy, and are often pulled in multiple directions while trying to ensure the success of their team. Because of competing priorities, they may not have the bandwidth to give individual reps the attention they need.
  • They don’t have coaching skills: A good manager is not always a good coach. If a sales manager hasn’t had the time or resources to develop the traits of good coaches mentioned earlier in the piece, they could be doing more harm than good.
  • Lack of defined coaching processes: If a manager is unable to provide the consistency and structure needed to provide effective coaching, reps may not receive the support they need.

This isn’t to say managers are bad sales coaches — that is simply not true. However, if an organization is only relying on sales managers for coaching, there could be a missed opportunity for improvement.

According to ValueSelling, companies that make long-term investments in structured sales coaching programs achieve higher growth, providing a worthwhile return on investment.

2. Focusing solely on quota attainment.

Yes, meeting (and exceeding) quota is incredibly important for sales teams. After all, sales teams being able to sell is how businesses make their money. However, quota attainment shouldn’t be the sole focus of a sales coaching program.

Though it is the job of a sales rep to hit their quota, there are a number of skills required to do so successfully. The skills and sales knowledge it takes to hit a monthly number should be the focus of a coaching program, not the number itself.

By creating a solid foundation of sales skills, well-coached reps will be able to adapt to a variety of goals. However, when sales coaching is focused too heavily on quota reps can struggle to develop beyond hitting a number that is only representative of their organization’s current goal.

3. Failing to provide actionable plans.

If improved skills and performance as a rep are the what, an actionable coaching plan is the how.

When reps are presented with lofty goals without a road map or guidance on how to achieve them, their goals can feel daunting. By walking reps through coaching plans that require clear, consistent action on their part, they are more likely to gain hands-on experience that will serve them throughout their careers.

4. Coaching each rep the same way.

According to ValueSelling Associates, the best sales training programs support a wide variety of skills. That means the curriculum covers a broad set of sales competencies, and can be adapted based on the needs of the individual rep. In this same study, the five most common sales training areas are:

  • Listening and communication skills
  • Product and service knowledge
  • Presentation skills
  • Sales process
  • Engaging prospects

Sales is a dynamic field, and all of the skills above are needed to be successful. Though one rep may be an excellent communicator, they may struggle with product and service knowledge. Conversely, they may have a colleague who has stellar product knowledge, but needs extra support with presentation skills.

By providing a comprehensive training program that addresses all of these areas, reps are more likely to have their strengths and weaknesses supported.

5. Only giving negative feedback.

While constructive feedback is important for improving on areas of opportunity, no one wants to be criticized or only given negative feedback relentlessly. It can be highly discouraging and demotivating.

Though feedback strategies such as the “sandwich approach” are controversial, try looking for ways to balance constructive and encouraging feedback in a way that works for the rep. Ultimately, any feedback you give should be genuine, and given with the intention to support the client as they continue to grow in their career.

6. Using fear-based tactics.

Avoid using fear-based tactics in your coaching sessions. Incorporating fear-based elements in your coaching can create a sense of scarcity for reps. Though it may be effective at first, or may appeal to the highly competitive, they aren’t sustainable in the long run and can often lead to sales burnout.

Instead of pitting reps against one another, try leveraging a platform like Kixie to provide encouraging leaderboards to encourage performance, and provide real-time call coaching.

7. Solving the rep’s problems for them.

If you’re more experienced than the reps you’re coaching, or have a strength that aligns with their area of opportunity, it can be tempting to want to jump in and solve their problems for them. Whether that’s interrupting and saving the day during a sales pitch that is going south, or giving them the answer to a challenge they are working through instead of giving them space to find a resolution, these behaviors can do more harm than good.

When reps are struggling, it can be a good time to go back to basics, providing direct actionable feedback to help them improve by one skill at a time. Using a tool such as Gong to capture calls and sales activities of the reps you’re coaching allows you to provide pointed feedback that can help them improve over time.

8. Not setting clear expectations.

As a coach, what are you expecting of the reps you’re working with? Should they be setting their own goals and report back with benchmarks? Would you prefer to walk through these activities together? Is there a specific timeframe they should make progress in? Also, do the reps know what to expect from their coach?

Expectations of everyone involved should be clear. This includes but is not limited to:

  • Preferred methods of communication
  • How often you will meet and through which platform
  • What the rep and coach should bring to be prepared for each meeting
  • How long the rep and coach will work together

When the expectations are clear, coaching is a more positive experience for both the coach and client.

Now let’s test your sales coaching knowledge with a brief quiz.

Sales Coach Knowledge Check (Quiz)

 

For many organizations, sales coaching is a worthwhile investment that supports future success. Check out this post for more sales training ideas.

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