I was thrilled when the InsightSquared team asked me to guest post on their blog. I loved presenting at Ramp 2019, and am excited to continue sharing all of the best practices we learn from our customers here at Chorus.ai.
In a previous life, I ran the training and enablement function at InsightSquared. It was there that I fell in love with sales readiness. My job was to ensure that all new hires were field-ready as quickly as possible and to find and address the biggest skill gaps on the veteran team. We built a really strong function over the years, and we learned so much.
One of the key lessons that we did learn, and one that I find all of our customers at Chorus are working to address, is the role of front line managers in your coaching curriculum.
The issue is simple: in a hyper-growth company, your top sellers promote to become managers.
But, they likely weren’t onboarded or coached well as they were the first set of reps and joined before you had the time to build out a proper training function. Yes, you gave them talk tracks and some call shadowing, but we can all acknowledge that our onboarding and training programs are less than ideal.
So, these top sellers are promoted on merit: their ability to close deals and hit quota. But the skills and experience needed in order to be a strong coach are not the same as the skills and experience required to be a top seller. Once again, we’re throwing our employees out of the frying pan and into the fire without proper training and preparation to succeed.
The end result is that your managers revert to what they know, which is closing deals. Your managers block out a little time to do 1:1s and—rather than making these 1:1s as powerful as they can be—they then spend the majority of their day jumping from call to call.
They take over calls, rescue deals, and then provide the rep with about 90 seconds of feedback (this is what they consider “coaching”) before jumping onto the next rep’s call and doing the same.
Without proper instruction, front line managers rarely block out dedicated coaching time. It’s the classic urgent and important matrix where coaching would fall under the important but not urgent quadrant. Therefore, scheduling this activity is the only way to make sure it happens.
What are the most basic blocking and tackling style coaching sessions you can mandate for frontline managers? It’s simple. Take a crawl, walk, run approach with the following options. Assess your current training climate, and take minor steps in the right direction.
Over time, you’ll build out a proper culture of coaching, your results will improve, morale will be high, and your people will stop leaving you!
Basic Deal Review
This is the most common form of coaching you’ll see on sales teams. It’s also the most shallow and least sticky in terms of developing new skills. Managers meet with a rep each week to review the pipeline, inspect data quality, and strategize on closing deals.
In this exercise, you’ll typically find a gap or hole in their close plan for a particular deal, and the coaching takes form in the shape of deal advice. “Managers coach the deal, but they don’t coach the skill.” This means that reps can absorb some basic instructions, and hopefully recreate without help the next time.
Truth is: Without parlaying this particular example into an actual coaching plan, the lesson is likely lost and the manager will be giving the same advice on a different deal next week.
Personalized Coaching in 1:1
More mature organizations are instructing managers to reserve the final third of the weekly 1:1 exclusively for skill development. Put the pipeline away for a minute and talk about a specific skill.
We work with each rep to select a focus area each month. Rep A might be focused on negotiation while Rep B is working on deeper discovery. At the end of each month, we provide a summary of the training and takeaways, and we graduate reps on to their focus skills for the next month.
Weekly Film Review
Film review sounds like a hokey cliche. I get nervous anytime sports analogies get run out to sales teams. It’s a tired approach and reps are sick of it. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t learn a lesson from how the pros do it.
Tiger Woods has a swing coach. Tom Brady has a quarterbacks coach. They all review real game tape and then address the problem areas. It allows the coach and player to really see the problem in action, and if you review positive game tape, they get to see what good actually looks like, and it impresses deeper learning in their brain.
This should be simple. Take your most recent closed-won deal and ask the rep to provide the call recording. Every legitimate screenshare provider provides call recording. This is easy if you just block out the time and assign the work properly to your team.
Film reviews, done right, can be incredibly powerful.
Call auditing is the biggest gap in most companies’ coaching cadence. Managers are “too busy” and are typically unstructured in their approach. This means they might join a ton of calls, but the feedback loop is missing. They provide quick advice before jumping to the next call.
You need to build out a very specific matrix that outlines what should happen on a call. Outline the agenda, explain what proper discovery looks like, coach your reps to use customer stories, and help reps get next steps before the call ends.
Provide that in a simple call scorecard, and set a quota for the number of calls reviewed per rep per month. Our managers grade a discovery call and a demo call from each rep each week. This provides transparency to the rep on what improvements will drive the biggest impact on their results. It also provides management visibility into progress: are those scorecards getting better over time? Coachability is something you can and should actually test.
And it’s important to know where you stand in relation to the industry averages, especially compared to organizations with similar deal sizes. Comparing your call structures to the industry can help shape your programs to coach towards what a “good sales call” looks and sounds like.
These four basic building blocks are all you need for effective rep coaching. Remember, the key to success here is getting these sessions blocked off on recurring calendar invites. Ensure your managers are enabled with the right training content and audit a class from time to time to ensure it’s all working according to plan.