Coaching Is Key: Improving Production By Being Relevant to Your Sales Reps
Expert sales coach Rob Jeppsen shares his formula for helping sales leaders be relevant to their team
Too many sales leaders approach coaching in a role similar to a travel agent. Travel agents pitch great vacations, but then they hand you a brochure and you’re on your own. Likewise, many sales leaders give their sales reps a standard pep talk and offer generic advice that sounds great on paper, but doesn’t actually address the reps’ specific needs. Modern salespeople don’t need a travel agent.
Rob Jeppsen, the CEO and founder of coaching technology company Xvoyant, says that instead, your sales reps need a tour guide — someone who can lead them through new territory and say with confidence, “I know the answer because I have been there myself.”
To be a true coach, sales leaders should work with their individual reps to determine how to define success for them and then help them discover the path to get there. Jake Reni, senior manager inside sales at Adobe, had a chance to talk to Rob and gather his recommendations for achieving this true coaching environment in any sales team. Watch the full interview here and read the highlights below.
Coaching vs. training
A sales leader might sit their employees in a room for an hour, give them tips on how to be better salespeople, and consider it a coaching session. Measurable results and employee insights show that this method of disseminating information does not benefit employees as well as other activities and might not be the best way to spend your — or your sales’ reps’ — time.
On the other hand, Rob reports that when you combine the common knowledge gained through training with the common practices developed through coaching, sales leaders can see a four times greater return on their training investment.
A common stumbling block that sales leaders run into is believing that they can hire a world-class rep and leave them alone to work. Rob says, “World-class reps aren’t hired, they are developed.” Even the best salespeople benefit from coaching, and many underperforming salespeople can significantly improve if given a little attention.
One of the best ways to improve your sales team as a whole is to stay relevant to every member of the team, not just to the best or worst performers. Rob warns that many sales leaders see top performers hitting their goals and think, “I’m going to stay out of their way.”
The minute you assume that top-performing sales reps don’t need personal instruction or coaching, you are no longer relevant to them.
Sales reps who aren’t being encouraged to grow get bored or frustrated with the company and seek better opportunities elsewhere. Research by Jim Dickie, co-founder and independent researcher for CSO insights, shows that sales reps who feel that their sales leaders are relevant to them have a 57 percent increase in intent and willingness to stay with the company.
In addition to retaining your top performers, coaching can lead to some of your underperforming sales reps showing marked improvement. Rob says good coaching provides an 18-22 percent lift in sales production across the board and gives you the opportunity to develop and invest in your employees, instead of firing them and starting over.
Rob explains, “Coaching can help make it so reps don’t get fired for production reasons, and coaching can also make it so reps don’t get tired of being there and look for something new.”
Re-evaluating how you look at your team
Rather than looking at your team through a binary lens — high performers and low performers — segment your team into four or five levels. In the middle, you have the core performers, the ones who hit their goal but don’t exceed expectations. Above them you have the high core who surpass their goal, and the stars who go above and beyond. Below the core performers you have the low core who come close to hitting their goal, and then the low performers who struggle to complete basic tasks.
When you segment your team in this way, you can more easily recognize what your individual employees need to succeed. Instead of assuming those who hit sales goals need no help and that those who don’t perform well are a lost cause, consider how coaching can help each group improve.
Each member of your team is capable of progression if given the proper attention. And even if the progress is miniscule or incremental, it still leads to more income than you were generating before.
Creating moments that matter
Once you have a good idea of where your sales reps fall on your performance scale, start working with each person individually to understand how they define success. Rob says, “Find their definition of awesome, and connect to it. Everybody knows they’ve got to hit goal, so we don’t make goal a definition of awesome by default. We want the rep to say, ‘This is where I want to be.’ And the world class coaches work to get them there.”
Once you figure out how your employee “defines awesome,” or what their personal goal is, start modeling a path to help them achieve it by focusing on activities, competencies, and quantifying the difference.
Get your employees more involved with teaching and learning opportunities. Figure out how much time and energy needs to be spent to lift them up to a higher performing segment, then be willing to invest that time and energy in exercises that show results. With this practice, don’t create goals or activities that indicate success only when a customer says yes. Instead, help the sales rep develop a willingness to change by creating situations for improvement where results are fully in their control.
There are four competencies that drive sales growth: the number of opportunities you chase, the average sale size, the win rate, and the length of the sales cycle. Keep in mind that some sales reps believe one huge sale that meets their goal is just as good as a few smaller sales that generate the same amount of revenue. But, in many cases, multiple smaller sales over time lead to faster skill growth.
As you coach your employees, analyze these four competencies and find the sweet spots that will push your employees forward.
Quantifying the difference
At the start, you need to paint a picture of what all these actions combined would mean for the sales rep. Rob recommends using a sales algorithm to predict how focusing on the four competencies can lead to real, measurable growth: “The generally accepted formula for growth is number of opportunities multiplied by average deal size, multiplied by win rate, divided by length of sale cycle. So, if I got 10 percent better in each of those categories (1.1 x 1.1 x 1.1) divided by 10 percent faster (0.9), I as a salesperson would grow by 48 percent.”
Help your employees calculate where they are versus where they would like to be, and show them the difference they could make with a few extra activities, a little more pushing,
or improved targeting. “With this formula a sales leader can say, ‘Here is the activity that we change to make this competency work for you, and when you do, you can expect this to be the result,’” Rob says.
True coaching keeps sales leaders relevant to their team and is the first step to implementing new practices that encourage success. If you can show your employees a path and help them follow it, you will give your reps the tools and inspiration they need for their own success, and see more sales success for your business.