The old saying is true: it’s tough for an old dog to learn new tricks. But as VP of Sales, part of your job is to teach old dogs to roll over and shake hands – in other words, you have to coach the veteran sales reps on your team to use a CRM consistently or try out social selling.
As a sales leader, you may have to convince older and more experienced sales reps on your team to open up to coaching – which is easier said than done. Many veteran reps don’t want to change how they sell after years developing and perfecting their skills. However, even the best reps with decades on the job have some weaknesses. It not always simple, but here are some powerful ways to tailor your sales coaching to the veteran reps on your team.
Skip the Basics
You probably hired this experienced rep because of the depth and breadth of their sales skills. In this case, you definitely don’t want to start off on the wrong foot by trying to teach the Sandler Sales Method to an already-knowledgeable rep. Be sensitive to the fact that they know their stuff, and skip the basics that you usually go over with new reps. Instead, you have to tailor your sales training to the person specifically and where they need to improve their skills.
Take some time to observe the rep in action and see how they sell. After you’ve gotten to know the rep a little better, you’ll be able to identify a few gaps in the rep’s skill set. Then you can offer to train them on something new and different – maybe a useful new sales tool your team has implemented, or a how to improve their conversion rates from one sales stage to another. But make sure to tailor it to their needs and wants, instead of just offering the same coaching you’ve given to less experienced reps.
Get Reps Involved
You also need veteran sales reps to buy into sales coaching in order for anything to really stick. In reality, coaching experienced reps isn’t incredibly different from coaching any other rep. While newer reps may be more open to instruction, you still have to show them the value of learning a new sales skill – proving “What’s in it for me?” It won’t work if you try to force sales reps to change how they operate or learn something new. Instead, you must connect this new skill directly to an increase in their sales numbers and get their buy-in before you even start any coaching.
One way to do this is to make them part of the discussion and planning for upcoming sales coaching. Set up a brainstorming session and invite your veteran rep to contribute what skills he believes would be useful for him and the entire team to learn. Co-create the plan and get commitment up front that they’re on board. This moves the ownership of the coaching process onto the reps themselves. Once they agree to learn more about effective use of Salesforce, for example, it’s much easier to hold them accountable to implementing those new skills.
The toughest part of coaching isn’t just finding the time to do it consistently, it’s enforcing the new skills across your team. For veteran reps, this is especially difficult. Even if you’ve gotten their input on what they’d like to learn and tailored your coaching to skills they need, putting it into practice is tough. Many seasoned reps will unwittingly slip back into old habits, so you have to hold them accountable. Luckily, you’ve gotten their buy-in already, so you can be firm about your expectations, and enforce consequences if the rep isn’t holding up their end of the deal.
With the adoption of a new technology like Salesforce, for example, this can be a real challenge. Even if you coach an experienced rep on how your team uses SFDC daily for every sales call, you could still face resistance in the implementation. They’ll say, “You hired me for my talent, don’t micromanage me.” In this case, you really have to prove the value of the skill to the rep. Demonstrate how adoption can show them what a good opportunity looks like, versus a bad opportunity. Enforce the new skills, and then prove that it can truly help them win more deals in the long-term, and you’ll see adoption rates rise.
Though coaching veteran sales reps seems daunting, it’s really no different than any other sales coaching. Don’t try to force them to do new things, but instead prove the value, tell them why it matters, make them part of it, and give them ownership of their new skills. With these techniques, you’ll see your coaching transform your reps and make them even more effective selling machines.