Sales Coaching: Demystifying Five Common Myths

I was inspired to write this blog from two key experiences in recent weeks. The first one, was after I sat and watched a webinar presented by Factor8 President and Inside Sales expert Lauren Bailey titled ‘Good Sales Coaching Gone Bad’. The second was after I spent some solid time, coaching one of my new SDR’s on sales calls during his on-boarding into the company, and seeing the incredible value of good call coaching. Lauren’s webinar highlighted some of the big misconceptions about call coaching that exist in the industry today, and where sales leaders are simply often falling down at the first hurdle. From this, and my own experiences, I have de-mystified five commons misconceptions about call coaching:

1. Ordering more dials is the path to success

I often brand this one ‘coaching the metrics rather than the skills’. Whilst you may think that the days of managers cracking the whip and demanding more calls to be made were a thing of the past, sadly this remains as prevalent as ever. Whilst it’s undeniable that quantity of activity is an important factor in becoming successful in sales, nothing is more important than the quality of interaction.

Remember the famous Einstein quote about insanity being the definition of doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result? I’ve seen this happen throughout my career. Sales reps talking too much on calls, not asking the right questions, not closing at the right time. Isn’t demanding more and more of those calls which have no positive outcome without addressing their deficiencies the definition of insanity? Sadly we still live in a world whereby leadership decisions are so completely fixated on high numbers, rather than looking beneath the skin as to actually why some reps perform so highly than others. Sales calls are possibly the best example I’ve seen of this.

Demystifying the misconception

It’s time to start focusing more on the actual conversations your reps are having and measuring their quality and skills. How do you do this? Spend less time looking at your KPI’s and spend more time listening to their calls. Sounds so simple, yet you’ll be amazed at the number of Sales Leaders I speak with who don’t listen to their reps calls. One manager I spoke with last week at one of the world’s biggest tech companies, openly admitted that they had no way of measuring the quality of their reps calls as they spend too much time coaching the metrics. They were looking to change this of course, but it was a classic example of them leading blind (their words not mine).

Listen to your top performing rep’s sales calls and start breaking down how what they do. What questions do they ask? When do they ask them? How much do they talk versus the prospect? How do they follow the sales process? What is their approach to building rapport and gaining more time on the phone? How do they personalize their outreach? There are so many factors as to what makes sales calls successful, and unless you invest the time in listening, measuring, and uncovering them, you will be forever leading blind. True story – I cold called four people on Friday afternoon. Two of them converted to demos. Was I lucky or did I simply know what makes an effective interaction? I’ll let you decide 😉

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2. Live shadowing of calls is the only appropriate method

Side by side coaching of calls is perhaps the most widely utilised and traditional method of companies who are wanting to embrace call coaching. It’s certainly better than NOT listening to their rep’s calls, but I actually think this method has became outdated and broken. As a starting point, consider the unnecessary pressure placed on the shoulders of the sales rep. To have the imposing figure of their manager cowered over them, listening intently to each and every move they make will simply be too much for some reps. It provides unnecessary pressure, will increase likelihood of mistakes, and overall is just an unnatural experience which is unlikely to garner an accurate reflection of that person’s call performance.

Secondly, consider the amount of coaching time sapped up with this approach. When coaching time is at such a premium for many managers, sitting down and listening to your reps hit voicemails, have wasted discussions with ice cold gatekeepers, or click around their CRM is just a waste of time. One tech company we have started working with, estimated they would have at least an hour wasted a week due to these reasons. It almost becomes a coaching deterrent.

Finally, listening to a live call and giving feedback immediately afterwards produces one major pitfall. You need to expect your rep to remember and relate back to all of the missed opportunities you highlight to them (as long as you can remember them yourself). This coaching conversation lacks context and will most certainly be ambiguous for the sales rep to understand and agree with. In other words – it runs the risk of being a completely wasted exercise.

Demystifying the misconception

Record your calls. It’s as simple as that. If you aren’t recording calls where possible – you should start doing so now! Listening to call recordings is a discrete method of gaining intelligence into your sales rep’s interactions, without you having to sit side by side listening live. Call recordings capture the rep’s conversations, meaning you only spend time coaching actual conversations that occur rather than sitting waiting for them to happen.It is the ultimate coaching time efficiency winner. Playing back call recordings to reps is the most solid course of action in making your feedback unambiguous, encouraging self-reflection, and ultimately delivering behavioral change.

3. Call coaching is too time consuming

Ahhh the old time objection – popping its ghastly head above the parapet again. Look – I get it – we are all short of time. Time is THE single biggest barrier to coaching our reps. When it gets to the end of the month and quarter, it’s all hands on the revenue deck, and coaching can quite simply take a back seat. I don’t necessarily disagree here. After all – sales is all about closing business. The reality is – is that for coaching to be effective, it needs to be done regularly. Regular means more time. As sales managers,

To have the imposing figure of their manager cowered over them we simply don’t magically have ‘more time’ to be listening to our reps calls. So we need to think outside the box.

We need to first of all appreciate and embrace the positive impact even a relatively small amount of time coaching can have on helping to achieve revenue goals. Did you know that just three hours of coaching per month can boost revenue by 17%? We then need to understand how we can go about being smart, in creating pockets of time in our schedules where we didn’t think we had it previously.

Demystifying the misconception

I’ve often found through experience that it’s not so much the fact that people have a lack of time to do call coaching. More it’s simply the case that schedules don’t align. In other words, the manager is not available to live coach a call at the same time that call is being made. A very quick fix here as alluded to in point two is to get your reps to record the calls they make so you can listen to them when you have coaching time.

If you’re short of coaching time, think of ways and means in which you can create more time. We all have morning and evening commutes; we all spend time travelling to meet clients or attend conferences; and we all have boring Sunday evenings spent lounging about not doing a lot. Use this time to coach your rep’s call recordings. Finally, embrace technology to make your coaching time more efficient.

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4. ‘I need to spend time coaching my entire team’s calls’

Coaching is undoubtedly valuable for everyone. The world’s top sports stars don’t hire personal coaches for nothing – they have a hunger to improve. However, there is something to be said about the impact of coaching on specific sub sections of your sales teams. Coaching should not be a balanced activity with every rep receiving the same amount of managerial time and input.

Demystifying the misconception

Matthew Dixon of CEB identified that the real payoff from good coaching lies among the middle 60% – essentially your core B-Player performers. For this group, the best-quality of coaching can improve sales performance by nearly 20%. That becomes MASSIVE when thinking about quote attainment. Furthermore, your A-Players will actually show only slight performance improvement from sales coaching, and the bottom 20% are often found to be uncoachable and thus generally a bad fit for the role overall. Invest the majority of your time coaching your B-Players to receive the biggest bang for your buck. On top of this, use your A-Players call recordings to showcase best practice and make your coaching output more wide reaching and scalable. Showing is often easier than telling.

5. Call coaching is only for managers

Recent studies have shown that coaching and mentoring of reps is deemed to be the most important role a front line sales manager plays. Yet it is often not realised that some of the best ways to increase coaching output can be derived from your most experienced reps.

Demystifying the misconception

Many of our customers have started to embrace peer to peer collaboration and coaching on recorded sales calls. Leveraging their most experienced or highest performing reps, managers are able to get others on their team to shoulder the burden of call coaching time. I come back to this question – ‘how do you begin to replicate the skills of your highest performers across the sales team?’ The answer is to garner their own experiences, insight, and know-how and to share this with your B/C-Players. I’d even put my head on the block here and suggest that in many companies, the sales manager may not necessarily be the best phone prospector, but that this title lies with one of the reps on the sales floor.

In this scenario, isn’t leveraging his or her knowledge and experience a no brainer? Invite these reps to listen to calls and provide an alternative perspective. Create a buddying-up model in the team, with a KPI that each rep listens to one or two of their partner’s calls each week and provides feedback. We’ve seen great success in creating a ‘player-coach’ role in the team that provides a fantastic development opportunity for ambitious reps aspiring for more senior roles in the business. Everyone dialing numbers and having conversations in your sales team is in a worthy position to be able to share opinion, past experiences, and ‘another way of handling a specific scenario’. Sales managers don’t always have the answers.

Also published on Medium.

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