How to Win at Sales Coaching

My first sales job was in a classic boiler room. The pop-up call center had 50 mismatched, broken down chairs and TV trays for our phones and order pads. My onboarding and training took less than an hour. It included listening to three sellers reading the same script, a cursory product overview, instructions on how to pull leads and place orders, and a rousing “go get ‘em tiger” speech to the five of us who started that day.

That was over 30 years ago. To sell timeshares in 1985, there wasn’t much more that was needed. Co-workers reached their goals in month one and earned a decent living. I only lasted a couple of weeks because I loathed the environment and high-pressure sales tactics. Even so, I was on track to make goal, too.

Fortunately, my later sales roles included more substantive onboarding and training. Over the past 11 years, working with over 500 sales teams in a wide variety of sectors, I’ve seen a variety of approaches. The “go get ‘em tiger” pep talk isn’t as common as it used to be. It’s been replaced with systems and product and technology training, mostly delivered from a firehose.

Few companies expect new hires to reach quota in the first few months. Nowadays, draw against commission is seldom offered. Turnover rates have increased as fewer new hires get a firm foothold quickly.

Five factors make it difficult for new hires to onboard quickly. But there are a few sales coaching fixes sales organizations could make to help ramp their sellers up faster and with more success.

1. Sales enablement tools can be overwhelming for new sellers.

AI, CRM systems, dialers and the ever-growing sales stack – the number of sales tools and systems available for sales reps is exciting, but can also be overwhelming at first. New hires must learn a new language of acronyms and terms, navigation, protocols, functionality and how the various tools work together. The more systems and tools there are, the less enabled a new person will feel until they have plenty of time to absorb all there is to learn.

To onboard sellers, introduce the use of tech and enablement tools gradually. Help them master the basics before showing them the bells and whistles.

2.  Product Information is too complex.

Anymore, it’s a rarity for companies to sell a single product. Product selection, mix-and-match features, packages and addons, plus service agreements and a myriad of customized options make it challenging to learn the full suite of any offering. In organizations where the product(s) also require technical expertise, there’s even more to learn.

Give your sellers an opportunity to experience products the way users would. Simulations, role plays, demos, observations of end users, and hands-on learning will help them understand the complexities and think from the customer’s perspective about all the options.

3.  Distractions and diversions are too hard to ignore.

In that 1985 boiler room, despite the cacophony of 50 sellers in a crowded space, we focused intensely on our work. There were no computer screens, cell phones, break rooms or other distractions. It was all about the script, the prospects and the quotas. A watchful sales manager roamed the floor and pointedly raised his eyebrow or pointed at his watch if you were taking too long. Now, the distractions loom large. Emails, voice mails, online research, social media posts and more insidiously erode selling time.

For your new hires, set standards related to call volume and prep time. Be clear and reasonable in your expectations for how long it should take to research a prospect before calling, how long a call should take, what cadence of callbacks and follow ups are expected, and how much time is appropriate on social media sites, breaks and the like.

4. Sales managers are too busy.

Let’s face it. Sales managers do not have time to onboard and train new hires. What’s more, very few are trained as trainers, and that’s a primary reason why the turnover rate of new sellers is so high.

Dedicate resources and sales roles to onboarding and training. An internal sales trainer and field coach are essential and will be worth the investment for any team with 12 or more sellers. Smaller teams should consider external resources to keep Sales managers focused on the day-to-day. Get someone who knows about adult learning principles, sales fundamentals, sales motivation and basic sales systems.

5.  Selling has become too individualized.

Shortcuts like scripts and email templates are often over-used. Sellers feel squeezed by time pressures, and new hires feel too insecure to deviate much from what’s been provided. Reliance on impersonal shortcuts, though, exacerbates every problem from buyer avoidance to seller frustration. Selling must be individualized to be effective. Buyers expect no less.

The solution isn’t to provide more tools and techniques that worked for someone else. The canned value proposition and generic recitations of features/benefits do more harm than good. Instead, equip sellers with a richer understanding of what your products actually do for people. Teach them how to think the way their buyers do. Invest extra time early on so sellers will be confident, knowledgeable and natural handling buyer questions and advancing the sale.

Think of the time invested as a tradeoff. More time and money spent to ensure new hires ramp up quickly and stick around longer means less time and money covering open territories, interviewing and hiring, and onboarding even more.
Deb Calvert
Deb Calvert

Deb Calvert, Keynote Speaker, Top 50 Sales Influencer, UC Berkeley Instructor, and author of the DISCOVER Questions® bestselling book series, has worked as a sales productivity specialist and sales researcher since 2000. Prior to founding People First Productivity Solutions in 2006, Deb was a Corporate Training Director for a Fortune 500 Media Company. Deb’s early career included a variety of inside, outside and major account sales positions. As President and Founder of People First Productivity Solutions, Deb helps companies to boost productivity through people development. This work includes Sales Training, Team Effectiveness Consulting, and Leadership Program Design. Deb is a Certified Master of The Leadership Challenge® and a Certified Executive Coach. Additionally, Deb is a Certified Practitioner with the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and other assessment tools.

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