Categories Articles, Sales and Marketing

When bringing on new sales reps or even passing on new techniques to old ones, every member of the sales team will undergo coaching at some point. In fact, creating a culture of coaching as a standard throughout the year will keep your sales team on their toes and on top of all the newest best practices.

There are many different ways to build a culture of coaching and to establish an effective coaching process, but we believe the best method is simple: setting a standard with metrics. By using data to drive how you define, quantify, and evaluate coaching you can ensure that everyone is on the same page about how they’re doing and moving towards a very visible goal.

Coachability: What Makes a Good Sales Rep

Coachability is a crucial trait of a good sales rep, even more important than experience or any other characteristic you may be looking for. Before we can talk about how to coach, we need to make sure that your reps are first coachable.

So what does it mean to be coachable? A theme that was much discussed at SaaStr 2016, coachability means how receptive someone is to being developed, and how effectively they are able to being coached. Sam Jacobs of Livestream put it best saying, “Reps who can be developed are worth holding onto.”

The reality is a company that’s growing and constantly hiring more sales reps, it’s impossible to always hire naturally talented top performers. So instead, you want to be hiring people who show signs of coachability. This starts as early as in the design of the hiring process and setting down characteristics to be looking for throughout the interview.

  • Step 1: Start by talking and learning from your current top performers to figure out what the ideal characteristics that work best for your company are. There may be certain characteristics that attract your ideal customer and you should spend some time figuring that out.
  • Step 2: Figure out how best to evaluate whether a candidate has this trait. This may be developing specific tailored questions or interview techniques that target these characteristics. Often role playing is a great way to see a different side of a candidate.
  • Step 3: Constantly improve and modify your hiring process to make sure you’re targeting the right characteristics. This may change if you find your process isn’t as effective as you’d like or if you decide to focus on a new set of characteristics.

Once you’ve brought on these new reps, it’s important to continuously monitor their ramping period to make sure they’re actually showing signs of coachability and growing at a sustainable rate. One way is to take a look at their Ramp Rate and see how this compares to other new reps on average.

In this example we can see a couple phases that most new reps go through:

  • Month 1-3: These months are usually spent going through basic onboarding and shadowing. It makes sense that bookings will be low here.
  • Month 4-7: Reps should be more accustomed to sales processes and you should see a real spike in bookings here as reps start getting the hang of things.
  • Onwards: By now reps should be fully ramped and starting to meet a normal quota, which is about $42-43k in this example. Consistency is key here to make sure reps are keeping up with their coaching.

Monitor individual rep ramp rates and compare it to this average to make sure new hires are keeping up and growing.

Individual Bookings reports can give you an easy view on how reps are improving over time and how their monthly bookings compare to the goals that they’re setting.

Above we can see that Mary is ramping up on schedule. By her eighth month, she’s booking over $40k and keeping up with the average ramp rate we determined before. By continuing to monitor her progress, her manager can continue to see her growth.

Coaching Is a Two-Way Street: What Makes a Good Coach

Equally as important as is it that reps are coachable, you need to make sure your sales leaders have the ability to effectively teach. Coaching is a two-way street — reps need to be able to learn just as much as leaders need to be able to teach.

While coaching is undeniably a big time investment for both reps and leaders, it’s worth it. In fact, research from The Corporate Executive Board Company shows that “Sales reps who receive just three hours of coaching a month exceed their goals by 7%, boosting revenue by 25% and increasing the average close rate by 70%”.

Effective coaching not only brings up revenue, but it also makes sure that every rep feels valued. Rather than just praising the leaders or harping on the laggards, coaching across the whole company means that the reps in the middle of the pack also benefit. These are the reps who have the largest room for improvement and the most incentive to push themselves just a bit harder to get on top of the pack — making them the best kind of student.

To make sure sales leaders are set up for coaching success, they first need to be equipped with a successful coaching program. According to SiriusDecisions, the four factors critical to a successful coaching program are culture, insights, process/tools, and actions.

  • Culture. This is a mindset that needs to be built into the very foundation of how your company grows. Leaders may not initially be enthused about this focus on coaching because it takes them away from selling, but it’s an idea that needs to be emphasized on all levels. Coaching and learning should be the first thing a new hire experiences when they walk through the door, and it should continue as they learn from mistakes and progress through their careers.
  • Insights. It’s hard to know how your team is doing if you don’t have a method of gaining insights. Regularly checking in on activity and performance using metrics will make sure the team is on track and goals are being met.
  • Process/tools. Simply checking in isn’t enough to see results. Regular manager/rep coaching sessions should be scheduled to go over recent progress and make sure all reps are up to date on the newest technologies and sales techniques.
  • Actions. During these coaching sessions, specific actions should be determined to help meet short, medium, and long-term goals. Setting forward actions will give reps specifics on things they can do to improve and will keep them looking ahead to further goals.

Centering your coaching program around metrics will help combat one of the biggest challenges that managers often face: accurate forecasting. Most reps don’t forecast accurately and managers often find themselves spending time during one-on-one sessions troubleshooting to find out the truth. Metrics can help make predictions more accurate and standardize the forecasting process.

When scheduling coaching sessions, we suggest separating metric reviews and coaching into two separate one-on-one sessions. Metric review sessions can focus on going through individual reports and figuring out which areas need work, and then coaching sessions can focus on teaching new strategies to help achieve new goals.

During metrics review sessions, there are a number of reports that you should make sure to discuss:

  • Current Bookings. This directly quantifies how much revenue reps are bringing in every period. While ideally, bookings should be steady or increasing every period, you want to make sure that they’re at least on track and meeting goals. If they’re consistently falling below goals, then you should be discussing whether their goals need to be tailored and how they can increase bookings.
  • Conversion Rates throughout the Funnel. This shows exactly how many opportunities are falling through the cracks while moving through the funnel. By identifying where reps are losing the most opps, they can put a greater emphasis on finding ways to help improve those conversion rates.
  • Length of Sales Cycle by Stage. If an opp is spending too much time in the cycle, their likelihood of being closed-lost increases. Taking a look at a rep’s cycle by stage can help identify which stage is taking the longest for opps to get through and give reps pointers to which stages to focus on.
  • Sales Pipeline History: Inflow/Outflow. This keeps an eye on how many opps are being won and lost in comparison to how many opps are in the pipeline. This can help your reps figure out if they’re performing enough and acting on enough opps. If they are doing enough but not getting the results they want, reps can spend time figuring out how to shift their focus so that they’re seeing more closed-won opps.
  • Pipeline Staging. This gives reps a look at how much they have in their pipeline and what opps are coming up in their schedule. Making sure that reps have enough in their pipeline and that they’re not letting any opps slip through the cracks will make sure that they’re taking advantage of every chance to close a deal.
  • Forecast. This will show not only the rep’s manual forecast but also how they’ve performed on average historically. By comparing these two numbers, you can help reps figure out how to improve their forecasting as well as if they’re on track to meet their goals.

After reviewing every report, you should make sure to set forward and mutually agree upon goals for reps to work towards during the next period. To help reps keep a close eye on their individual metrics without having to search for every report, have them set up individual main dashboards with all of the relevant reports available at a glance.

In this example, Robert De Niro can look at all of his important numbers and trends without having to leave this page. He can see the deals he has coming up soon in the pipeline, as well as whether he’s on track to meeting his bookings goal, both numerically and graphically. Putting together an individually tailored dashboard works to constantly remind reps of which areas need improvement and how they’re progressing on their goals.

When meeting for a coaching session, it should be informed by the metric review and led by the rep. Reps should first come to their own realizations about what needs to be done and highlight which areas they think need development. Then reps and leaders should work together to come up with an execution plan to improve and make sure that they’re committed to it.

Just as reps are measured on their performance, coaches should also be evaluated on their coaching to make sure that everyone is constantly improving. The EcSell Institute suggests coming up with a coaching score made of certain goals and metrics to help evaluate coaches.

However you think is best to evaluate coaches, you should just make sure that everyone is being held accountable for creating a better culture of coaching.

Metrics: Helping Reps Know When to Say No

Not only can metrics be a great way to make sure reps are working towards their goals and a great foundation for coaching, they can also help reps know when it’s time to give up on an opp.

A lot of reps will try to succeed by winning the most and the largest opps they can find, but what makes the difference between a good rep and a great rep is having restraint. This means knowing when to give up and move on to an opp that is more likely to be closed-won. While this kind of discretion is something that not every rep has, it’s something that can be taught if reps know which metrics to keep an eye on.

First, take a look at how often employees are meeting quota. The Quota Heatmap can give you a quick overarching view on how much each rep is doing and overall, how much quota is being met on average.

In this example, employees are meeting quota 80% on average. While this isn’t bad, if you look closer you can see that the top few reps are carrying most of the weight while there are definitely some reps lagging behind. If you notice that a lot of reps aren’t meeting quota fairly consistently, it may be time to start coaching them to narrow their scope.

Reps should be targeting opps that fall within the average deal values your company has historically been more successful in closing. This will help increase efficiency and make sure your reps are putting their efforts towards deals that will actually close. Deals range in terms of many different factors, but the ones we recommend focusing on first are:

  • Average Deal Size and Age. Knowing with an opp is “too big” or “too old” will help reps limit the opps that they target. In this example, if a rep noticed that an opp was over 145 days old or valued higher than $100k, it should be taken as a sign to pursue an opp that’s both smaller and younger to have a better chance at it being closed-won.

Time in Stage. Moving opps through the funnel as quickly and efficiently as possible helps not only shorten the sales cycle but also usually leads to a higher rate of closed-won deals. Keep an eye on how long close-won deals stay in each stage of the cycle compared to those that are closed-lost on average. In this example, if a rep noticed that one of their opps has been in the evaluation stage for 10 days, they should be aware that on average deals that stay in that stage for longer than 12 days are usually closed-lost. Having this information means that the rep can put some more pressure on this opp to move to the next stage and push them towards being closed-won.

If reps are informed about which average values they should be focusing on, they can keep an eye on how their open opps are doing in comparison. Being constantly aware of which opps may be slipping will keep reps on their toes and making an effort to make sure nothing falls through the cracks.

Use Metrics as a Foundation

Metrics should be the driving factor in all aspects of your culture of coaching. Coaching is crucial to keep reps up to date and at their best in the quickly changing world of SaaS. But without metrics, coaching is just speculation and preaching of best practices. By tailoring each coaching session to individual reps to target their individual weak points, every rep can be uniquely prepared to improve and grow.

Lisa Zheng
Lisa Zheng is a writer, coffee enthusiast and Yale grad. She spent college doing research in labs, and now enjoys doing research on writing, sales and marketing.
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