Leveraging Conversation Intelligence to Improve Sales Coaching
In our research report 5 Hallmarks of High-Impact Sales Organizations, we identified sales coaching as the top sales management action to improve sales team performance. One of the key benefits of sales coaching is that it helps managers transition from chief problem solvers to sales team enablers. This force multiplier is particularly powerful as sales reps improve selling skills and learn techniques to advance sales opportunities.
Unfortunately, there is no single blueprint for what good sales coaching looks like. As a result, many sales managers end up “telling” as opposed to “coaching,” which can hurt morale and lead to increased turnover. According to research from CSO Insights, 60% of sales reps are more likely to leave their jobs if their manager is a poor coach.
In the past few years, sales teams have increasingly leveraged conversation intelligence technology (e.g., Gong and Chorus) to analyze sales calls. While this technology is extremely helpful in identifying areas for improvement, the focus is primarily on “what” to coach as opposed to “why” and “how” to coach.
While each of these factors is important, they build on each other – so it is important to understand and execute on “why,” “what,” and “how” to improve performance.
- Why: For sales reps to embrace sales coaching, it is essential that managers build a coaching culture that is collaborative so that reps have input in the development of their coaching plans. This begins with the manager understanding that coaching should be viewed as supportive and not a critique. As such, managers should begin by focusing on what reps are doing right and limit constructive coaching to just a few areas for improvement.
Earning your team’s trust and understanding your sales reps’ perspective is also essential. This can best be accomplished through what we refer to as the 3 A’s Framework: Ask first, Actively listen, and Assume the best intentions. This framework seeks to help sales reps self-discover areas for improvement and take responsibility for their own skills development.
- What: It is essential to focus on areas that lend themselves to coaching. For the most part, these areas include selling skills, product knowledge, and opportunity management. Conversation intelligence technology can greatly assist managers (and reps) in these areas by analyzing customer conversations and providing insights on areas for improvement and best practices.
Another benefit of conversation intelligence is that many managers cannot resist the temptation to help close business by participating in sales calls as opposed to observing calls as coaches. While it may be appropriate for managers to participate in calls in some situations, it does little to promote skills development for the sales reps. Listening to call recordings, however, allows managers to focus fully on their role as a coach to promote skills development.
- How: Good sales coaching follows a predictable process that allows managers and their sales reps to: (i) identify areas for improvement, (ii) observe or listen to calls, (iii) debrief after sales calls, (iv) provide opportunities for practice, and (v) follow up to assess improvement.
Sales managers also must determine how to allocate coaching time across their sales team. The highest ROI is based on coaching your middle performers, where skills coaching can help an average-performing rep become a top performer. Receptivity to coaching is also a key consideration, since it is far more productive to spend time with reps who are open to input.
While each of the above elements is essential to sales coaching, it is important to keep in mind that sales coaching is based on human interaction and trust. As such, managers need to take the time to ask questions (think of the reps as your customers) and assess what skills will have the greatest impact on sales performance.
By being deliberate in “why,” “what,” and “how” to coach, managers will greatly improve how their sales teams sell and communicate with customers.
About Norman Behar
Norman Behar is Chairman and Managing Director of the Sales Readiness Group (SRG). He has over 25 years of senior sales management experience, and is recognized as a thought leader in the sales training industry. His blog posts and whitepapers are frequently featured in leading sales enablement publications including ATD, TrainingIndustry.com, and Selling Power.