Listening to sales conversations is the vital first step in helping sales teams grow. In this episode I'm speaking with Sam Patel (Inside Sales Director) and Nicola Storer (Inside Sales Manager - Customer Loyalty & Acquisitions) from Neopost a global company offering digital communications, shipping and mail solutions.
They share how crucial listening to calls is and how doing so helped them to exceed targets with a reduced headcount.
In this episode we cover:
[+] Why listening to calls is so important to the success of Neopost
[+] The ways in which listening to calls has evolved over the last 12 months, and the impact it's had.
[+] The key elements of a call that the team are listening out for.
[+] How listening to calls and coaching has contributed to exceeding target with a smaller team.
[+] Advice for people cautious about beginning to listen to a team's sales conversations.
[+] How the value of listening to calls extends well beyond just the sales team
And a lot more besides.
Matt: So in the episode, we cover why listening to calls is so important to the success of Neopost, the ways in which listening to calls has evolved over the last 12 months and the impact that's had, the key elements of a call that the team are listening out for, how listening to calls and coaching has contributed to them exceeding targets with a smaller team, and they share advice for people who might be cautious about beginning to listen to a team's sales conversations or introducing it to the sales culture. We cover a lot more besides. I think you're gonna find this enjoyable, let's get straight to it with Sam and Nick.
Matt: Sam, Nick. Welcome to the podcast, how are you doing?
Nicola: I'm good, thank you.
Sam: Yeah, good thanks, Matt.
Matt: Excellent. I'm really, really pleased that you guys have agreed to come on the show. I think there's so much insight that you guys bring. This came out of a conversation that we had when we were meeting up to talk about Refract and the impact it's had on your work down there. But we had a follow on conversation about listening to calls, and the content of that conversation I thought needed a wider audience, so I'm pleased that you've agreed to come on and yeah, discuss a little bit more about the work that you do, particularly in relation to listening to calls.
Matt: So I think, people may or may not know Neopost. Sam, do you wanna kick us off? Just tell me a little bit more about Neopost the company and the sorts of businesses that you guys work with typically.
Sam: Yeah, so Neopost really provides communication solutions so their customers can communicate with their customers more effectively.
Matt: So what would be some of the products that people might be familiar with? What kind of products are you actually offering?
Sam: Well our main product would be our franking machine. So instead of walking down to the post office and buying a book of stamps as you used to do, you'd put your envelopes through the franking machine which also helps you save money. And it helps it actually get to the customer a lot smoother using a bar coding process.
Matt: You guys an international company, Neopost operates internationally, or are you UK-based?
Sam: Yeah, we're international. Don't make me quote how many countries. I think it's around 65 countries, but don't quote me on that. And typically, we work with all kinds of businesses. It's anything ranging from an SME right up into an enterprise type of organization.
Matt: What does the sales function look like within Neopost, or particularly the offices in the UK that you guys operate out of?
Sam: So in terms of sales function, I guess you're referring to we have an inside sales area and we also have a field sales arena as well. So, we do a lot of the stuff over the phone as well as do face to face meetings.
Matt: Why would you say that listening to calls is so important for the work that you guys do? Where does it fit within the overall sales coaching culture, and how important has listening to calls been to the work that you guys do?
Nicola: It's been massively important. Not only through coaching and the development of the agents, but also to hear from other customer business sides, what their requirements are so you have an understanding of what you're putting across to the customer and meeting their requirements. So you're getting both sides of the story, it's not only from our side, but also from a customer's perspective as well.
Matt: And is it something, I mean I sort of know the answer to this, but I'm guessing people listening would be interested. Is it something that you've always done or is it a relatively new phenomenon, listening to calls?
Nicola: It has been done in the past, but not on such a grand scale, I'd say. In the past it was more just to see how the agents were performing against KPIs, let's say. But I think the level that we've been working on in the last 12 months, yeah, it's completely different and taken on a whole new kind of journey.
Matt: Yeah, we'll come on to that, definitely. Because I know Refract does feature in that a little bit, which is nice to hear. So we'll come onto that. But I guess, Nick, staying with you, when you're listening to those calls, what are you listening for? Give me a sense, give people who are listening a sense of what you're typically listening for when you're listening into calls.
Nicola: Firstly, I'm listening into how the agent's performance is, because we do have criteria that they should be matching. We have a sales methodology program which we encourage the agents to work to on a daily basis. So I look for those aspects of the calls, and also for development. So month on month, new requirements come into play, so it's good to see that the agents are growing within themselves and their skillsets.
Matt: And Sam, how about you? Are you involved in listening to calls on a regular basis? How does listening to calls fit within your role within the business?
Sam: Yeah, I guess I pop in and out of listening to calls. So I'll attend some of the feedback coaching sessions, or the group coaching sessions. And on a monthly basis, the team managers will report back into me in terms of, "Okay, these are the calls we listened to, these are the insights we've had, how are we performing against the goals and objectives we've set there ourselves as an inside sales business," and also, they would then be able to come to me and talk to me about the training requirements which is very important, because you could sit there and train people on what you think is right, but how do you know that's exactly what they need.
Sam: And in addition, we have something called a learning development zone. So it's not always about us doing classroom training. We work on a 70/20/10. So, therefore we allow them, or we promote for them to go and make use of the learning zone. And someone like Nicola for example, she would go and find course content that's on and available on the learning zone, and speak to the agents about that and sort of put it as one of their objectives, that why don't you try a course?
Sam: It might be anything from a minute and a half video to a ten minute or eight minute call which they can do at their own convenience. With the learning zone, you can use it in the office, or you could even just be sitting on your iPad or your phone at home and do some of the courses.
Matt: And what have you seen, Sam, in terms of the impact that that has? Do you see sort of a discernible impact on that investment in coaching, and what does that yield? What do you see in terms of outcomes from that coaching?
Sam: Well, it's extremely important, because like I said, I think Nick said it as well. It's all part of their development. And what we're starting to see with the new, because we launched Refract at the same time as we launched a new sales methodology. And the methodology was all about being consistent in the way we interact with customers. It doesn't mean we use a script, but there's certain skills that we require the agents to follow.
Sam: And therefore, what we've seen is an improvement in our conversion rates, we've seen an improvement in our average order values, and obviously we've seen an improvement in our revenues. So last year, overall we achieved 113% versus our target with 40% less heads. So what we're finding is that by using the coaching tool, we can sit there, coach the agents and be able to make them think more about how they interact within the conversations.
Matt: Yeah, excellent. Excellent. Nick, have you got any thoughts around that?
Nicola: No, I'm in total agreement, and I think if you look month on month, as the time's gone on from us implementing and using Refract, the skillsets within the agents and the type of conversations they're having now, instead of predominantly sales has always been quite a transactional area, they're now becoming more consultative and it's about what the customer wants, and just not the outcome that the agent thinks is the best for the customer. They're having fuller and better conversations.
Matt: Yeah, that makes total sense. What advice would you give someone like that who is cautious, or worried about suggesting teams start listening to calls and making this part of a sales coaching process. What advice would you give to someone like that?
Sam: Well, when we launched Refract. I mean, let's go back. We've always been listening to calls. And when we launched Refract, it is a bit more big brother than probably systems we used to have. But I think that's the whole point. It's not big brother. It's not about you're doing a good job versus a bad job, it's all about how we're helping you to develop yourself, and how we can help you take your career to a different level.
Sam: And I think all agents and salespeople, they would all take that and embrace that, because we have a team out there who are all looking to develop, and this tool has been fantastically received, because you can sit there, you don't have to listen to all the call every time because there's certain points of the calls you can tag. So you can quickly move to those calls.
Sam: And with the insights you can give them in terms of talk versus listening, how many switches you're making, for example. And when you're giving those types of insights, it's not seen as a stick that you're beating them with, it's more about how we're helping and coaching and developing you.
Sam: So I would say to anybody who has resistance, I think it's the way you approach and how you launch a system like this, but more importantly, it's about having a culture of learning and development. And if you create a culture of learning and development, then this is just one of the tools that helps with that.
Matt: Excellent. Nick, any thoughts on that? Particularly the advice that you might give to say, a team leader or somebody who knows that they should be listening. They know that there's a value in listening to it, and as Sam alluded to, building a sales coaching culture around it. But what advice would you give someone like yourself almost, who is managing a team, but maybe they feel like there could be resistance to listening to calls. What would you say to them?
Nicola: If you're not listening to your team's calls, then you're not gonna have a full understanding of if people are having issues on a day to day basis or struggling with responses from customers. I think, unless you're actually listening to the calls, you can't have an answer for them, because you're only surmising on what you think is the conversation is going. So by listening to the calls, you're getting such a broad knowledge of what is impacting the agents on a daily basis, things that they're coming up against, and it's only gonna benefit you by giving you a better understanding of what is happening on a daily basis.
Sam: I think that's really important. I wouldn't understand how people are developing their people if they don't know how the calls are going. Because then, are we just taking everybody into a training session every week and teaching them how to suck eggs? Rather than making it more specific. And I think on the flip side, the call listening also helps us in terms of when we go to the rest of the business and ask for example, marketing programs. Because what our customers are saying, we use that information to help go back to other teams within the business to request the support we require to improve our conversions and our revenues.
Matt: Yeah, that's and interesting point, and I've wrote an article just yesterday on exactly that. The alignment between sales and marketing. Although it's not necessarily the main focus of our conversation today, speak to the importance Sam, of how marketing can best utilize the expertize that can be found within sales.
Sam: Well, it's exactly what I said, really. It's a two way program. It's not really just about how to develop the salespeople. You've got to use this tool as a 360 type of tool to help the whole business, and obviously we have competitors like everybody else does, and we have lots of customers saying to us, "Well, the competition can do this," and "The competition can do that." And I think in a lot of businesses we always just say, "Yes, that's salespeople talk and they just want something for nothing," but this tool can really help bring that out.
Sam: So we would sit with the marketing team and say to them, "Here you go, here's the evidence of the calls that actually say this is what we need to improve our conversions and our business." It's something that could be used all across the business, not just to coach and develop the salespeople.
Matt: Yeah, that's something I would endorse, absolutely. It's something that I, as a marketer, I'm constantly in Refract, listening to calls, trying to gain those insights, but also having those conversations informally with the team as well. Yeah, I'd absolutely endorse the fact that even listening to calls. Whether you use Refract or not, listening, if you have recordings of calls, those recordings shouldn't just sit within a sales team, their value lies much further afield.
Matt: So, just with one eye on the time, don't wanna keep you for two long. I'm curious, either of you, I'll put this out to either you, Sam, or Nick. Have you got any examples of specific times, that you're prepared to share at least, specific times when listening to calls or coaching calls has had a demonstrable impact on a couple of the team? Is there any examples, any stories or anecdotes that you have of particular times when it's worked extremely well that you want to share?
Nicola: Yeah, I mean actually there is. We have a particular agent who, not struggles, but she kind of is her own person and doesn't kind of conform to work in a particular way. And it's been an ongoing process, but we have seen her month and month through listening to the calls, and through the coaching, the changes are actually being made now through this person. And it hasn't been an overnight success, we have had to cover each area, but through this person listening back to the calls and now sits there within the coaching session, and if the mistakes are still being made, they are spotting those errors while listening to calls. Where beforehand, they would have sat there and gone, "No, I don't see what I'm doing wrong. I work my way and that's the way it is."
Nicola: But it has helped develop this person, and we've seen a massive change within this person within the last 12 months.
Matt: And that's not just gonna come down to listening to the calls though, Nick, is it? That's about your approach as a manager and how you, going back to that issue that you talked about before about that kind of learning culture or that supportive environment. Or Sam, I think you mentioned it about, it's not necessarily a stick to beat somebody with, but it's something that's used to genuinely help them improve. How have you, Nick, how have you fostered that culture within the team, about helping people like the person you just referenced, recognize that this isn't about an inevitable negative end, this is actually about growth and development and actually helping the person become as good as they can be at their role?
Nicola: I think it's just how you approach it. So I think initially, people's reactions was, it's "It is like big brother," but I think through, we have monthly coaching sessions, individually and group sessions as well. And I think it was me and Sam and our team speaking to each of the guys and, "We're not doing this because we don't wanna just point out everything you're doing wrong, it's also about showing you and listening to what you're doing correct," so you get a happy balance between the both of those.
Nicola: And I know initially the first coaching session I held with each of the guys, each person walked into that room saying, "I hate listening to myself, it's not a pleasant experience," no one ever mentions that anymore when they come into the sessions. And the fact that even with the group sessions, so you've got other people listening to your calls, I thought initially that would be kind of a negative approach. Nope. The reaction was exactly the same, they came in and wanted to learn and share best practices with one another.
Nicola: So I think it's just how you approach it from a positive aspect instead of a negative.
Matt: Could you just talk me through what the process looks like from start to finish in terms of what the reps experience in terms of coaching? So not necessarily just listening to calls, but what does that process look like? I mean when you and I spoke before, I was really impressed at just how robust and detailed the process looks like. Could you give me a sense of what that process looks like?
Nicola: Yeah, so we have an hour and half coaching session individually each month, and through that session, we listen to a couple of calls that I've graded remotely. So we'll listen to them together, I'll ask for their feedback, we'll look at the feedback I've put on the call and discuss that. But what we've been doing in the last three to four months, we'll pick a call that I've not listened to before, and hasn't been graded. So I'll let them, I've done like a printout of the grading form. I'll let them grade it their self. I'll grade it while we're live listening to the call, and then we interact at the end of the call.
Nicola: And I think through the live grading, I think it's given them a much better understanding of what they should be doing with the calls, they know then exactly what they're doing correctly, things that they may have missed. So then, we have an hour, probably on the live grading calls, we'll do two or three of those. And then the session is finished off, like things that they're doing well, things that need improvement and then they go back to their desk and them implement them.
Nicola: And what they also do now is, they know if they've done a call, they go, "I've done the things that we've been working on," they'll say, "Nick, I've just done this call, can you listen to it?" And then I'll go in and listen to that call as well to see obviously day to day improvements. So they're interacting well with us now, as well. They're looking that they know they're doing things well and wanting me to listen to the calls.
Matt: Brilliant, really appreciate that. Sam, last question for you. How important from your perspective is mindset in all of this? Mindset of people like Nick who wanna support the staff, but also the sales reps themselves?
Sam: Yeah, it's quite funny, actually. I was watching something on LinkedIn this morning, and the lady was saying that you can have all the training in the world, but if the people haven't got the right mindset, then what's the training gonna do for you? And I think mindset is probably the most vital thing a salesperson needs to have. Because these guys, they'll come in in the morning from quarter to nine to nine o'clock.
Sam: They'll sit down with their managers, and we would set the mindset for the day. But it's not about us just setting it, it's about them having the right mindset as well. So them coming prepared with knowing what they're forecasted, what they're actually, how they're doing against their forecast, what they've got to do.
Sam: So therefore, they're setting their own mindset for the day. So, without the right mindset, this tool would not work. And if you listen to what Nick was just saying, we've got it to a stage where they're actually grading the calls with Nick, so they're grading their own calls with Nick. And they're actually sitting there now and saying, "Oh God, I know where I've done well and I know where actually I need some development." They're spotting their own mistakes.
Sam: And when they know they've done a good call, they're now sending those calls over to Nick, as she just said and vice versa. When Nick does a call, she'll send it straight away to them and say, "Give me some feedback on the call." So, it's all about having the right mindset. And if you haven't got the right mindset, that culture, you just can't drive that culture.
Matt: Fantastic. Really appreciate your time, guys. For people who are listening, maybe wanna find out a little bit more about you individually, or Neopost as a company, what are some of the best ways for people to connect with you guys?
Sam: You can connect with me via LinkedIn. You'll find me as Samir Patel, not Sam Patel. And also as a company, you can visit our website, Neopost.co.uk.
Nicola: And same for me too. You can connect with me via LinkedIn at Nicola Storer, and also through the company website.
Matt: Fantastic. Guys, I really appreciate you taking the time out to talk to me today. There's some really good insights in there, I think people are gonna get a lot of value from it, so thank you very much for your time.
Sam: Thank you Matt.
Nicola: Thank you.
Voiceover: Thanks for listening to another episode of Coach The Sale. For show notes, sales coaching resources and more, visit Refract.ai/coach.