When I was starting off in the world of sales some ten years or so ago, I would infrequently be accompanied by my manager to sales meetings. The purpose of this ‘in field’ ride-along would be so that my manager could observe me in action, and give what's called the ‘taxi de-brief’ at the end of the meeting as we went back to the station. Essentially a critique/feedback session of things I had done well or (more often the case) things I should have done better. In hindsight, and after studying the evolution of coaching even in that relatively short space of time, this approach was full of flaws:
- Often my manager would ‘take-over’ the sales meeting. He would see me struggling to handle a question, or simply felt he could handle a tough situation better, and would jump in. This is natural of course. Sales managers want the best outcome in a sales opportunity and the temptation to ‘save and rescue’ can be very strong.
- The ‘taxi-debrief’ was often a rushed conversation. Over and done with within a matter of minutes. It was difficult to properly cover off everything which had happened in what could have been an hour or more meeting.
- It was really hard to ‘self-reflect’. What I mean by that, is that the meeting was already being lost in the memory. A lot happens in an hour long, sometimes high pressured conversation. I couldn’t often remember all of the ‘coaching moments’ which had occurred. Critical learning events which could have massively improved my sales performance were often never discussed.
- These ‘ride-alongs’ happened so infrequently. The time and cost requirements for managers to spend travelling across the country with me were restrictive for the company. Not to mention I was just one rep out of six in my team. Coaching opportunities were ultimately few and far between.
- Coaching was never truly measured with this approach. My manager could have diagnosed that one of my development areas was ‘asking tough questions’, but really - there was no formal way of ensuring this was recorded and worked on. Coaching when not measured, is rarely going to be effective.
Thankfully, ten years on there are now much better ways to coach sales teams.
Here at Refract, many of the type of organisations we partner with are what we call ‘sales performance companies’. Namely, sales training or coaching consultancies who work with sales teams to help both reps and managers become better at what they do. These companies are often some of the biggest innovators when it comes to finding new and better ways to coach sales teams.
Here are some creative ways in which they are coaching sales teams, hopefully this provides some ideas for you too:
Practice sales situations using scenario challenges
Like sports, in sales... practice makes perfect. The more we refine and craft our pitch to the questions and scenarios we come up against day in day out, the more accomplished and confident we will sound to our prospects. Create sales simulations using video scenario challenges, and invite reps to take part by recording their response or reaction. These present great ‘follow-up’ or reinforcement activities to face-to-face training, as it actually gets reps to prove they can put into practice the skills you have been training them on; often a missing piece when it comes to sales training.
Importantly, getting reps to practice handling objections, opening sales calls, or working on their positioning statements reduces the chances of them making mistakes in crucial live sales conversations. The true value of these challenges is the limited time investment required to administer and take part, versus the huge amount of coachable insight they generate.
Record and analyse their live sales conversations
As the world increasingly moves to selling online or over the phone versus face-to-face, there becomes less of a need for managers to observe live in the field, on expensive ride alongs. Sales performance companies are now getting reps to record their prospecting, discovery, demo, and negotiation calls, so they can analyse and feedback retrospectively. Moreover, they can do this from the comfort of their own office, without needing to fly to another state or city to do this in person. Its essentially virtual call coaching, and a much more effective way of understanding how a rep is executing in live sales situations rather than relying on a rep to de-brief.
Platforms like Refract make it incredibly easy for sales reps to record their calls, but also to flag key insights and coaching analysis such as ‘speaking v listening time’ and how engaged they get their prospects to coaches.
Get sales reps to ‘self-critique’ their own sales conversations
Effective sales coaching is not all about telling reps what they could improve on or even what they did particularly well. Just like my ‘taxi de-brief’ highlights above, the importance of reflection is crucial in getting reps to self-discover their own strengths and weaknesses. Sales coaches we work with encourage salespeople to listen back to their own sales calls and essentially deliver feedback to themselves. They then match this up to what the coach thinks to see if there is alignment, or to receive more expert guidance and feedback.
The beauty of this is that it ultimately frees up coaching time which is often at a premium. It also enables sales managers to measure the ‘coachability’ level of reps, as they can see how open sales people are at giving themselves constructive feedback rather than this always coming from a coach.
Record and analyse sales manager coaching conversations
Sales coaching is not just about making reps more effective, but also about making sales managers more accomplished at coaching their own reps. Effective coaching stems from having powerful coaching conversations, and role-plays with sales reps. Sales performance organisations we work with are now getting sales managers to record their coaching conversations so they can analyse and feedback - just as if it was a live sales call with a prospect.
Some sales coaches are even recording their own ‘coaching conversations’, to share as model examples to aspiring sales managers, and ultimately giving a framework of best practice which they can try and replicate.
Sales coaching has evolved and the barriers to delivering ‘sales coaching-on-demand’ are lower than ever. The average sales manager typically invests less than 5% of their time coaching their reps. Only 7% of all sales managers are effective at coaching. They don’t do it frequently, they restrict it to only a few of their reps, it’s usually not interactive, and often doesn’t have the desired outcome of ‘level-jumping’ performance. Embrace some of the above ideas, and you’ll be on the right path to sales coaching success.