Coach More Often - Without Working Harder

Alex Boyd
September 17, 2021
5 min read

I feel like a dentist when I remind managers: “You should spend more time coaching.”

It feels like I’m asking a patient to floss more. Like a broken record.

They nod, and agree that it’s a good idea. But coaching velocity remains slow.

More pressing things get in the way, things that seem like they are going to move the needle today.

We all wish we coached more

Managers end up focusing on the urgent but not important minutiae, while knowing that coaching is important but not urgent. So it never gets done.

Yet, the advice to spend most of your time coaching your team applies to every manager in every customer-facing role. We all know that we should coach more. But it feels like a chore for most of us.

“I know, and I’m already trying to do it more”

I get it.

You’re bombarded by management requests, reactive questions from your team, reporting, and escalations or commission questions.

Some studies suggest we should spend 6 hours per week with each employee that we manage, apparently leading us to an idea we’ve all heard before, that your really can’t manage more than 7 people (6x7 = 42 hours a week plus… all of the rest of the time to do your non-coaching work? I don’t think so.)

But in a high-velocity sales floor, you’ll almost certainly not have that luxury, since you’ll manage 10+ if not 20 reps.

So you’ll probably do the following:

  1. Partially pass the buck to Sales Training and/or Enablement
  2. Not coach as much as you know you should (which is, ~20% of your time)
  3. Wait too long after a coachable moment to exchange feedback with a rep
  4. Get overwhelmed and - rightfully - complain
  5. Some combination thereof

But we still know that improving each individual player’s performance is critical to what you want: Selling more.

Maybe it’s time to question the approach we’re taking to get to better rep performance.

It’s not a problem with your training

Your Sales Training program probably isn’t to blame.

Big companies that run large sales teams generally have rock-solid training programs. Long before I started RevenueZen, I was trained extremely well at my first job, which was at a big company, and when I went to work with a startup, I was miles ahead of most people as a result.

Salespeople forgetting their training is a more common problem than not having been trained well in the first place.

So, here we are: we’re building great training programs, we’re coaching as much as human nature and our schedules feasibly allow, and we’re still strapped for time and not coaching as much as we believe we should.

We all want to just do our jobs, and do them well. We love the ‘flow state’ we get into when we’re just doing what we’re good at, what we’ve been trained to do.

Here’s the thing: post-call coaching breaks up that flow, by its very nature: it takes place outside of the call, and the important feedback is delayed.

It’s hard to circumvent that reality.

To simply recommit ourselves as managers to doing more coaching doesn’t align with the reality of how humans build habits and stick with them.

The problem with post-call QA

Post-call QA sessions have always been incredibly important to coaching reps.

Yes: they can sometimes feel dull since both you and the rep feel like the same themes are being discussed often. Although when done right, they do make an impact.

But the inherent problem with delaying feedback until after a call is this:

When you get feedback long after something occurs, you are far less likely to integrate that knowledge into your behavior.

Training that is immediate, and reinforced often, is effective.

But the current state of live-call coaching, however, can be distracting. It comes in the form of managers using the “whisper” or “listen” function on the contact center platform.

At my first job, a high-velocity brokerage sales and account management role, at its worst I would occasionally have a manager ‘barge’ into the call and start talking over me if I made a mistake. At best, reps are uncomfortable with this; at worst, it actively harms their performance.

And we know that messing with a rep’s call while the call is live creates friction, even though it gives reps quick feedback on the spot.

Christina Brady, President of Sales Assembly, puts it well:

“Training typically implies that you’ll be told what to do, and how to do it. A rep’s natural reaction to that is usually some level of resistance. Right and wrong take a side seat to pride and ego, when your boss is telling you every move you should make. Instead, invite autonomy by enabling your reps with the desired outcomes they need to be achieving, and why -- but let them pick the how.”

Research from the team of contact center experts at at Loris.ai confirm something similar:

“What we have discovered is most reps don’t like being coached. Partially because of its prescriptive nature, but more importantly, it means less time selling. They don’t want to take time off their main job to be told what to do.”

So how do we move forward from here?

Move your real-time coaching to technology

Consider live guidance technology. By bringing machine learning to help log how your team’s calls go and guide them on the path to success in real-time, you don’t run the risk of being invasive as much as you do when managers barge in on calls.

In other words: it’s the reinforcement or “nudging” aspect of training that is the easiest to automate, and is also the behavior that both managers and reps hate the most.

Think of it like this. Parse out the act of coaching into the following sub-tasks:

  1. Identifying the issues
  2. Using data and patterns to uncover the insights and solutions to those issues
  3. Delivering that feedback to reps in a personalized, empathetic, impactful way
  4. Holding reps accountable to feedback they’ve committed to acting on and agree with

It’s hard to imagine how we might automate delivering personalized, empathetic feedback, and holding reps accountable.

But simply automating how managers identify issues and their impact, has the following benefits:

  • It lets managers dig into a rep’s performance without having to join live calls.
  • Managers can stay in their own flow state, and work on call coaching when it fits their schedule.
  • Meanwhile, real-time guidance gives skilled reps the freedom to navigate calls successfully, while still offering them guardrails and signposts when they need them.

It’s objective without being constraining, and timely without being invasive. With 80% of training forgotten within a week without reinforcement, timely and contextual feedback is crucial.

In this world, the bots are doing the grunt work, the reps are helping the customers; and the managers can finally breathe a little bit, and personalize their coaching. The best learning happens when your reps are on the job now - not later.

Give Wingman a try if you’re a sales leader who knows that coaching is your most important job.


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