In the B2B selling world there is near universal appreciation for the value of sales coaching. Research indicates significant impact on forecasted deal win rates, revenue growth and other selling metrics. Research from The Sales Management Association show sales people believe it’s the most important, least supported sales resource.
The constraints are equally clear. The big impediments are no surprise: lack of sales manager time, skills, and accountability.
We discovered a core cause of these constraints that makes the situation look even worse. It explains why, despite the universal acknowledgement of coaching importance, it isn’t being conducted regularly and effectively.
This discovery made us appreciate the current approach to sales coaching will never be universally executed effectively and consistently. If it could, it would have. It’s simply too difficult. A new approach is needed.
What Are We Coaching For?
The top level objective of sales coaching is clear. We’re coaching sales performance to drive better results. But what does this really mean?
To make sales coaching effective, managers or coaches must know the specific performance elements that require coaching. They must experience how reps actually perform, in the arena, in conversations with customers and prospects.
Sales coaches listen for rep knowledge and understanding, skills and techniques, and specific sales behaviors.
Important coaching behaviors on our checklist include how sales reps:
- Open a call
- Set the agenda, “set up the listening“
- Establish rapport and relatedness that opens trust
- Review prior conversations, activity and information that provides background or context for the current meeting
- Use questions effectively to guide conversations
- Listen — listen actively, and without “stepping on” speakers (my personal challenge)
- Manage meeting time and flow
- Respond to buyer questions, objections and competitor traps effectively
- Deliver key points, stories and presentations effectively
- Uncover all information that is appropriate or required for each conversation
- Validate key information and understanding
- Gain commitment to actions, ground rules and next steps
- Execute new sales competencies, such as:
- Use social media
- Use content to sell
- Educate and facilitate consensus of buying teams (CEB, Challenger Customer)
This is often referred to as situational competency, or situational fluency. Focus is on how reps actually perform in the heat of battle.
Training and role-playing is for sales preparation and practice. Coaching is for in-game adjustments.
Sales Coaching Tools and Technologies
Two technology categories that enable sales coaching have been available for decades. Modern technology, bandwidth and delivery systems make the experience much richer today.
Just-in-time learning, guided selling, and performance support systems deliver situationally relevant text, video or content recommendations.
Video training applications are becoming especially popular and functionally rich.
These applications are excellent for training and getting reps to practice telling their story, presentation or key point explanations. Reps experience feedback both by viewing video role plays and receiving feedback from sales managers or coaches based on those recordings.
These systems support coaching based on simulated performance rather than on evaluation of actual performance and situational fluency.
There is certainly a great need to get key stories, presentations, objection handling, technical explanations and other important “messages” delivered effectively. But message delivery is just one aspect of professional selling that benefits from coaching.
Companies are also trying desperately to shift sales rep behavior away from traditional, product-feature-benefit pitches. They are looking to instill value generating conversations based on dialogue, questioning and active listening.
This is a significant area where sales coaching is required.
Sales Coaching for Situational Fluency Requires the Right Information
So how do you get the information to do this?
The general understanding is sales managers or coaches need to actually be in sales conversations. It’s called the ride along, joint call, or conference call. And it makes sense, right?
Without direct sales call experience, it’s difficult for coaches to know the what, why and how to coach. It’s this factor that is the underlying cause of the time problem, the biggest inhibitor of regular and effective sales coaching.
The answer lies in time shifting sales conversations.
This is accomplished simply through audio recording sales calls. This is something we’ve done in our organization for fifteen years. Inside sales teams have made this a regular practice for a long time.
But outside reps have been constrained by cumbersome technology to accomplish this. We used small (first analog, then) digital recorders. The audio file had to be downloaded. The average one hour call was tedious to review. But the concept was sound, and it worked if we put in the effort.
Today, the iPad and related devices easily record digital files. Apps like CaptureAudio (see iPhone App Store) are suitable for use by individuals and small businesses. A system from SpearFysh (Commercial Conversation Management Platform) provides a robust enterprise solution. These applications enable reps to record conversations and mark key segments of audio during the conversation. Custom tags categorize the audio in meaningful ways for each conversation type.
Marked audio files remove the linear review process. With a good, simple tagging scheme, relevant sections can be instantly played. An inventory of sales conversations can be maintained and shared.
This means coaches don’t need to be in the meeting. Decisions about which meetings to use for coaching can be made based on the results of calls. Coaching can be conducted at the convenience of rep and coach.
Three Levels of Coaching
Once you have coaching data, your coaching possibilities open.
Sales reps can self-coach. This is similar to professional athletes reviewing game tapes. This actually increases coaching moments, as reps can review every important conversation. Manager/coaches must be more selective.
Peer coaching becomes possible. I’ve long favored the principle, “we teach best what we most need to learn.” By making everyone a coach, greater learning opportunities open up. You can begin to create a culture of coaching. Reps can compare their conversations with those of the best reps, for each type of conversation.
Professional third party coaches are an important option. You may not be able to change the reality in your organization of time availability for managers to coach. Not all managers have the skills, temperament, and freedom from organizational pressures to provide effective coaching. Third party coaches are a great option.
Sales coaching based on actual performance is the best way to coach. Selecting the best coaches is important as well. Recording sales conversations removes the need for coaches to experience meetings in order to coach. Time-shifting the coaching meeting opens all kinds of sales effectiveness possibilities.
The Missing Ingredient for Sales Coaching explains the audio acquisition and review process introduced in this article