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Best Practices for B2B Sales - Sales Rep Coaching and One-on-Ones

Authored by Ric Ratkowski on October 16, 2020

Sales rep coaching and sales manager/sales rep one-on-ones are the catalyst for sales optimization and sales growth. They are also the tool for increasing the sales rep proficiency and converting C and B quality sales reps to B and A players.  Some supporting research from CSO Insights reveals a correlation between quota attainment and coaching.  The study found the better the sales manager coaching the higher quota attainment.  

Although sales rep coaching is important, many times, when sales reps are promoted to managers they are ill equipped to perform sales rep coaching.  Forrester|SiriusDecisions research found that companies typically promote their best sales reps to managers but don’t give them any training on how to do their job.  In the same research, Forrester|SiriusDecisions also established the best practice that sales managers should spend 50% of their time coaching.

In the next couple of blogs we are going to explore the different aspects of sales rep coaching/1-on-1s and their related best practices to frame the areas where assistance can be provided to support sales manager coaching.

For purposes of these blogs we define any type of one-on-one meetings between sales managers and a sales rep as coaching.  

The following are some examples of sales rep coaching situations:

  1. Call reviews - listening to the sales reps on sales calls and doing a debrief after the call to discuss what went well and areas to improved
  2. Strategizing with a sales rep on next steps for their sales training
  3. Strategize next steps for “un-sticking” opportunities by using  key marketing assets
  4. Weekly pipeline/opportunities reviews with sales reps to understand progress on key opportunities, review email thread, coach on next steps
  5. Performance reviews - reviewing the sales rep “numbers” and in comparison to peers and total company

The challenge with all of these activities is they are driven by data.  In the absence of data, many of these activities start with an interrogation of the sales rep to bring the sales managers up to  speed on the current situation on specific opportunities.  From there the sales manager can strategize what needs to be done. In order to be efficient, the data to support coaching needs to be served up proactively rather than dug out through a lot of manual effort, to find information to enhance the sales rep performance.

In this blog we will tackle the first example - call reviews/call coaching.

The next two blogs will review best practices related to weekly pipeline/opportunity reviews and performance reviews.  For information on best practices Strategizing with sales reps on their own next steps for sales training and Strategizing next steps for “un-sticking” opportunities with key marketing assets, please review a prior blog “Best Practices for B2B Sales - Proactive Follow Up & Content Delivery”.

Call Reviews

A Sales rep call review is a process where the sales manager[reviewer] listens to the sales call between a sales rep and a sales prospect.  The objective is to provides suggestions and feedback to the sales rep on both the positive and negative aspects of the sales call as well as prospect clues to listen for.  

The call reviews may be performed:

  • Live - The sales manager listens in on the live calls with the prospect and then after the call they review the content, tone, cadence and delivery of the information to the prospect with the objective of making recommendations as to how the sales rep might handle it better next time.
  • Recorded -  The sales rep records the sales call and then listens to it with his/her sales manager.  The sales manager provides recommendations on how the sales rep might handle different situations that occurred during the call..
  • Recorded and analyzed with AI - The sales rep records the call using any one of a number of different tools like Xant, Chorus.ai,  or Gong.io.  The tools transcribe the sales calls and then analyze the text to provide suggestions and highlight phrases and content.  
  • In real time, during the call, allowing the system to make suggestions about what should be said - this is a new type of review software.  Rather than focus on what was said in the sales meeting.  It focuses in real time on what is said and what should be said.  The software then guides the sales rep in real it time to bring certain topics up and recommend what should be said..  Rather than evaluating the sales call after the fact, it guides the call.

Challenges with Call Reviews

There are five challenges with call reviews that limit their effectiveness and their frequency: 

    • Scheduling the time for “Live” reviews.  
    • Having time to perform the reviews.    
    • Consistency in the call review recommendations to foster a consistent sales calling process across the company
    • Understanding the key sales call challenges and objection handling for the sales reps that happen most often to ensure consistency 
    • After the fact call review

Scheduling time for “Live” reviews - Sales calls are scheduled around the prospects time, not the sales manager’s time.  When a sales manager manages 5 - 7 sales reps, it is easy to see how scheduling a weekly call review with each sales rep can become a logistical challenge as schedules will not match up and conflicting appointments will occur.

Even if you can get past the first challenge of managing schedules of prospects, sales reps and  sales managers still have a timing problem.  An hour sales call takes more than an hour to listen to and provide feedback.  With some tools you can listen at 2x the speed, but it is still a time consuming process.  This further limits sales managers time to manage 5 - 7 call reviews in a week.  The solution for saving time on call reviews is to apply AI to the call transcript to highlight both positive and negative aspects of the call.

To have predictable sales, companies need to consistently handle the prospect’s objections and questions with a company wide answer.  This is difficult to do with a decentralized, disconnected approach  to sales call coaching.

The next problem relates to handling prospect objections and questions in a consistent and optimized company wide manner, but is more strategic.  There could be 100s of different objections and questions asked by the prospects during a sales call.  Not all of them need to be addressed, on a company wide basis, but the ones that come up the most often need a solid company wide, consistent response.  It is hard to even understand which objections and questions come up the most without some way of capturing a transcript from the call.  The solution is to analyze the transcripts from all the calls, classifying the questions and objections and identifying those that appear most frequent.  Then the sales team collectively can focus on a consistent response.

The last challenge is that most call reviews are after the fact.  Sales reps have the sales call and after the fact the sales manager reviews it, compiles comments and meets with the sales rep to discuss the call.  The problem is the horse already left the barn for the current sales call.  Any damage done on this call is difficult to be undone.  The solution is to provide an intelligent agent to guide the sales rep through the call, listen to the prospects objections and questions and in real time, have the system recommend a response.  

Best Practice

Sales Rep Coaching - Call Coaching

Background

Sales rep call coaching is performed by the sales manager listening to either a live or recorded sales call.  The manager takes notes and then reviews the results with the sales rep.  The objective of call coaching is to enhance the sales rep’s sales call skills and provide consistent answers to objections and general questions across the sales organization. 

In the past few years, AI and voice to text conversion solutions are starting to be used to better manage call coaching and make the recommendations more consistent across the company.

Problem/Business Need

The are five challenges with sales rep call coaching:  

  • Coordinating schedules for “Live” call reviews  
  • Call reviews place a heavy demand on sales manager’s time
  • It is difficult to maintain call review consistency across different sales managers to foster consistent and best messaging when handling objections and questions
  • Focus on key sales call challenges and objection handling that happen most often 
  • Call reviews are typically after the fact, if there are missteps on the call it is difficult to salvage the wrong messaging

Requirements:

Call coaching needs help from technology to streamline the call coaching process and make recommendations to the sales rep for answering objections and questions in real time.

The need is to:

  • Automate the sales call recording process so sales managers do not have to attend the call.
  • Transcribe the sales call and apply artificial intelligence and natural language processing to highlight both good and bad aspects of the call for the sales manager to coach on
  • Apply AI across all of the transcribed sales calls paying particular attention to objections and their frequency so the sales leadership team can craft appropriate responses to high frequency objections and questions
  • Apply technology in real time during the sales call to guide the sales rep with what should be covered and what to say when objections or questions are asked.

Baseline

Good

Better

Best

Sales call coaching is performed by the sales manager after the sales call.  The sales manager either attends the sales call or listens to a recording of the sales call and then meets with the sales rep to review comments and suggestions.

Sales coaching is performed by the sales manager after the sales call.  The sales calls are recorded and transcribed so the sales manager can search for key terms and phrases that are either positive or negative and review them with the sales rep.  

Sales call coaching is performed by the sales manager after the call, but along with artificial intelligence assistance.  The calls are recorded and transcribed.  Natural language processing in concert with AI is applied to identify key positive and negative phrases.  The AI also measures the sentiment of the call as well as highlighting areas to coach.

Sales call coaching is proactive during the call.  Natural language processing is applied in real time during the call to transcribe the call and then AI is applied to make suggestions of what should be asked and how questions and objections should be answered.

 

At the baseline level, call coaching is the same as we have done for 20 years.  The sales manager either listens in on the sales call or listens to a recording of the sales call, compiles their notes, and meets with the sales rep to coach them on the call.  This approach is plagued with all the problems identified above, hard to schedule, time consuming, inconsistent messaging across the sales organization and it is after the sales call occurred so if anything was misstated you may not get a second chance.  Because of the time consuming nature of the process, the worst result from this approach is that call coaching is done very infrequently.

At the good level, the sales team is taking advantage of some initial automation by recording and transcribing the sales call.  This provides some efficiency, but call coaching still requires a lot of time and is a highly manual process.  A benefit of the transcription is it can be linked to the sales opportunity via solutions like TopOPPS so managers can review the status of the opportunity and skim the content of the sales call to better understand the opportunity.

At the better level companies are using technology not only transcribe the sales call but to also use artificial intelligence to interpret the sales call for both positive and negative phrases, objections and questions and measure the sentiment of the sales call.  The process of call coaching is starting to be streamlined and is happening more frequently.  Solutions like TopOPPS not only link to the transcript but they can interpret the positive and negative aspects of the meeting to impact the sales opportunity health score.  There are a number of solutions like Chorus.ai and Gong.io that can support this process.   These solutions address the problems of automating the call, transcribing the call and interpreting the call, but this is all after the sales call is complete.  These solutions don’t help during the call.

At the best level sales coaching is performed interactively in real time during the sales call.  The solution applies natural language processing to transcribe the call in real time and interpret the text and make suggestions of what should be said during the call.  These systems have the sophistication to allow the sales team to choreograph  the call before it starts with key messages and topics to cover.  Balto.ai is an example of this type of solution.  These solutions also help to analyze all of your sales calls for objections and questions and include in the call guidance appropriate responses for those objections and questions.  These solutions mitigate all five of the challenges identified with the call coaching process.

 

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