Why side-by-side sales coaching is dead
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Why side-by-side sales coaching is dead

The exercise of live observing reps (aka ‘riding along’) on sales calls has long been a tried and tested method for managers to become exposed to how their reps sell, in order to coach them to a higher level. Plugging into headsets or simply sitting silently in a meeting room, is something most managers committed to coaching their reps have done. However this approach to coaching is fraught with failure and its place in the world is over. Here are eight reasons why side-by-side coaching is dead:

The sales person feels the pressure
Going into valuable sales conversations with quotas at stake, is high pressure enough. Why then are sales managers ramping up the heat on sales reps by rubbing shoulders with them in the meeting room, or sitting as a silent partner on the conference line? Some people may say they perform better under pressure, but having a watching sales manager judge our every word and decision in a live sales conversation will only increase the risks of reps making mistakes. This approach has often been the reason why call listening has the negative stigma of ‘Big Brother is watching’ attached to it.

Sales reps put on an act
Naturally when they are being observed live, sales reps will be tempted to act unnaturally. Whether its asking questions they wouldn’t normally ask, making a more concerted effort to qualify further or over-build rapport with prospects, when reps aren’t acting naturally – coaching feels false. Coaching carries its greatest impact when we observe true skills, behaviours, and approaches of our sales reps. Delivering feedback to staged performances runs a risk of being a waste of time.

The risk of taking over the call
When listening live, one of the hardest things as a manager to do is to not ‘take over the call’. We see our reps struggling to answer a question; We feel like we have a much more compelling question to ask which we know the rep won’t have thought as; Or we simply feel we need to rescue a failing call and stamp our authority. The temptation of taking over a call is hard to resist and as soon as we do so, we’re ultimately doing the job of the sales rep. By nature of this, our reps don’t make the mistakes which they learn from, and their coaching experience ends up with them taking a back seat at the back of the room.

Hand-writing notes is hard
When coaching side-by-side, as managers we are likely frantically scribbling down every coachable moment we observe using the trusty pen and paper. I’ve tried this before and unless you’re Superman, there is no possible way of inking down every coachable observation as its happening; not to mention being able to ‘listen and write’ at the same time. Furthermore, if you have handwriting like mine, those hieroglyphics often don’t make too much sense five minutes after the call has finished. Why run the risk of not capturing valuable coaching moments and wasting valuable coaching time? Plus, saving paper and cutting down less trees is something we should all be doing!

Calendar Clashes
‘Rich, can you sit in on my 11:00am demo? I’d love to get your feedback on how I get on’.

Before call recordings, I used to get this request quite often. But unfortunately, all too frequently my calendar would have something in place happening at the same time. Whether it be a management meeting, a sales call, or a coaching session with another rep, calendar clashes meant I had to reject the request from the sales person. Whilst calendar clashes can’t be helped, this seemed like such an unnecessary problem and blocker to coaching taking place. This same scenario is playing out every day across busy sales leaders, where time on their calendars is often at a premium.

Live listening takes up lots of time
As valuable as call coaching is, with the average sales demo taking somewhere between 45 minutes to an hour, this is potentially a huge amount of time soaked up with live side-by-side coaching. Combine this with the increasing number of reps we have on our sales teams these days, finding lots of spare coaching hours in our already busy days is nigh on impossible. Given the fact that the average sales manager only spends 5% of their time coaching as it currently stands, the time, which is allocated to coaching, has to be utilised wisely. More time efficient coaches have their sales conversations transcribed and analysed using technology such as Refract to accelerate call reviews and to get more ‘bang for their buck’ on coaching time. More coaching time across more reps equals more level-jumping and higher results.

Not having the ability to replay
Ever done a side-by-side call ride along and was met with a bemused look on the face of the sales rep as you delivered your post call feedback? Ever struggle to remember the exact moment where the sales call took a nosedive? Without being able to bring self-reflection into the feedback experience, by replaying the key moments of a sales conversation, you run the risk of a coaching conversation full of friction and ambiguity. Reps will disagree with what they apparently did or didn’t say, and worse still, they will simply deliver lip service just to get the coaching session over and done with. A video coaching platform used in partnership, opens up a much more transparent and productive coaching dialogue. Reps can hear where they went wrong or what they did well, and will be more inclined to either change or repeat their ways next time round.

Coaching benefits are locked in the meeting room
Finally, the big problem with side-by-side coaching, is that all of the value of the coaching conversation is ultimately locked within the confines of the meeting room or the telephone. Even if not directly involved in a sales conversation, other sales reps can glean huge amounts of insight and data by listening to their peers. Educating ourselves on how our colleagues handle common objections, frame questions, or run the sales process enables sales teams to replicate success across the team at scale. None of this is possible without recording that call and sharing it with ease.

Sales Coaching Handbook