As sales leaders, coaching sales reps can sometimes feel like eating a triple-decker cheeseburger. We go in excited, eyes wide open, size-up the situation, look at all the possible angles we can attack this thing from, but ultimately end up diving in without a clear plan, hoping we make our way productively to the other side. That’s a problem because spending time with our sales team is not only critical to their success in the field, but to our professional development as managers.
The good news is that most sales leaders are well-intentioned. We block out time to meet with our reps 1:1, we ride-along on their customer calls, ask them probing questions, and do our best to provide ongoing constructive feedback to help them improve. Like the cheeseburger conundrum, the challenge lies on how best to approach and prepare for those situations, and better yet, how to help your reps derive value from that prep.
Enter a simple sales coaching formula.
The essence of this approach involves the rep walking you through their journey towards securing sales revenue across two leading indicators. The formula looks like this:
Revenue is the end goal, but as I often explained to my sales reps, I have no expectation of revenue unless I see a healthy pipeline of business, and I have no expectation of a healthy pipeline unless I see a solid amount of leading activity like calls, emails, meetings, etc.
If I see plenty of activity and pipe gen but no revenue, I start looking at a what’s happening in the “B” stage which includes statistics like pipe-to-close ratio. That is, an expression of how good a rep is at winning business they’ve piped as a legitimate opportunity. If the ratio is low (as it usually is when revenue output is low) we start to look at issues like forecast accuracy, solution fit, competitive threats, or negotiation challenges. In other words, is the rep filling their pipe with deals that aren’t real, aren’t a good fit for us, or that we’re losing due to product or execution issues.
If I see plenty of activity but little pipe gen, I start diving into the “A” stage which includes things like the activity log and the sales rep’s talk track. Are the activities the rep’s engaging in the right ones (i.e. too much social outreach, not enough calls)? Are they using bothersome tactics that make their customers ignore them? Are they calling on too many existing clients at the cost of prospecting into new ones? Are they sending too many unfocused emails with the wrong messages to the wrong people? When they do get someone on the phone are they engaging them quickly and effectively communicating the right value proposition? (Note: a great way to refine these tactics is to promote accountability for regular practice. Of course, a tactics upgrade doesn’t hurt either!)
And finally, if I don’t see enough activity…well…let’s just say that pipe and revenue don’t generate themselves!
This coaching formula can expose key limiting behaviors for your sales reps, but it has three primary benefits:
- New hire ramp: coaching a new rep using this formula helps provide the initial structure and focus they require to succeed in a new environment. At the beginning it’s all about helping new reps focus on activity and getting at-bats with customers; make a bunch of calls, try out the pitch, experiment, and see which techniques work best in your territory. Keep iterating and doing the right things and pipe and revenue will come! Want more insights? Check out my take on why new sales reps fail.
- Common language: when the sales machine is humming along and your reps have seen traction and success (at least in the “A” stage), coaching to this formula helps you zero in on the specific strategy, tactics, and metrics needed to generate results. You may find that many of your reps are getting stuck in the same areas and when aggregated across your team, this common coaching language can produce powerful insights to boost performance across the board.
- Self-diagnosis: perhaps the best part of this approach is that it’s so simple, reps can use it themselves on an ongoing basis to expose pinch points in their own operation. They’ll come to your 1:1’s better prepared, ready to discuss their approach and options to improve it. For example, have your reps prepare a very brief summary of their month-to-date activities, pipe gen, and revenue numbers (with some related commentary) before your 1:1. Not only does it save tons of time, but it helps develop muscle memory around the self-diagnosis of their own sales funnel.
While few of us dispute the enormous value of sales coaching, we sometimes lack a consistent approach with which to engage our reps in it. If a simple yet powerful coaching formula is what you’re looking for, this three-step model may be just the tool you need to remove the blockers to your team’s sales success!