• March 21, 2022
  • By Doug Hutton , senior vice president of products, Corporate Visions

Don’t Think Providing Real-Time Sales Feedback Is Doable? Think Again.

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Sales managers know the importance of coaching their sellers, but they often don’t focus on the right areas or devote enough time to truly change seller behaviors. According to a survey by the Brooks Group, 23 percent of sales managers spend less than 30 minutes a week coaching their direct reports. That’s a problem.

Given how fast markets change, however, corralling a bunch of folks in a room for training isn’t very effective for closing sales that month. That’s because any “coaching” they get during that training is likely just generalized feedback that doesn’t measure how they would apply new skills in a real sales scenario.

Event-based, one-size-fits-all, just-in-case coaching models—or training models, for that matter—are better left in the past. Instead, it’s all about situational learning, where you can deploy bite-sized training and coaching at specific points in the sales cycle. Immediate feedback, after all, is always better than feedback that’s offered weeks later.

Taking a situational approach ensures what they’re learning is more relevant and applicable. This is especially true when you give sellers the chance to develop knowledge or skills within the flow of work, in the platforms they already spend time in (like your company’s CRM). The technology sellers use and the situations they experience daily also become channels for daily learning. Coaching sessions, then, aren’t abstract ideas, but germane to their work in the exact situations they need them most.

Instructional Immediacy: Making Coaching More Relevant

Keeping coaching as close in time to your seller’s application of a behavior or skill allows them to apply their learning directly to the conversation with that buyer. Even if the seller can’t take action immediately, they’ll understand how to make the necessary adjustments in the future.

For example, let’s say you’re in Q4 and a large opportunity has stalled out. If you use technology like call recording software, you might find that the seller didn’t highlight your differentiated capabilities in a recent call. You’ve identified the problem and can now give feedback within an hour after the call recording goes live. If you’ve embedded content about your differentiators in your company’s CRM (like a short video or learning content), you can ask the sales rep to review it.

There’s an opportunity for additional coaching here. After providing feedback and directing the seller to the right content, you might ask them to record a short pitch on the solution in your sales readiness platform. Provide ideas on how to articulate your differentiation, and then review their recorded pitch. Within a day, you’ll have given the seller an overview of a prior call, coached them on where to go next, provided immediate opportunities for them to improve, and set the stage for a better sales meeting tomorrow.

This in-depth coaching takes some effort on your part. But offering situational guidance provides much-needed context for your sellers. Their skills improve, and they aren’t left trying to recall the situation in question like they would if you had offered more generalized coaching. They can apply the learning right then and there—and you can see the impact on your sales goals immediately.

Real-Time Coaching in Practice

How exactly can you put real-time coaching and feedback into practice and boost your sellers’ performance? Here are the best ways to start:

Tie coaching interactions to real-world opportunities. Each coaching interaction should drive opportunities forward, whether it’s to improve a skill, message, or some other aspect of the conversation. Otherwise, it’s not practical. Consider a more experiential learning approach, taking advantage of real-world situations to drive specific habits or behaviors. Give sales reps a chance to either “observe” or “do” to bring learning to life through practical applications.

You can use pipeline reviews, for example, to coach your team. Meet with sellers individually and discuss what hurdles might be preventing them from closing a given deal by a certain time. What’s the next message they should deliver to the client? Build coaching sessions around how a seller could best approach the situation at hand. That way, the entire experience becomes tangible and applicable —not just theoretical.

Use the technology at your disposal. Technology can help standardize and scale your coaching. But don’t be too eager to add a shiny new platform to your tech stack. You can often use what’s already available. Pull up your CRM during your next coaching conversation to show sales reps exactly what needs improvement.

If you use artificial intelligence simulations or call recording software, those can also support coaching. AI, for example, reduces the diagnostic burden for you so you can focus on coaching the areas in most need of improvement.

Track your progress. When you track the progress of your coaching efforts, you’ll be able to glean more insights into how to reduce friction points or improve training methods. Ask yourself whether the opportunity is progressing as it should. Are your sellers following the prescribed steps? Are they achieving the desired results?

Although it’s important to tailor coaching to the individual, this assessment criteria helps build a repeatable process for the future—saving both time and resources. My company uses a framework called COACH: choose, overview, assess, confirm, and highlight the how. This reproducible process saves sales managers from falling into the habit of relying on their sellers to dictate sessions.

Senior sales leaders recognize that coaching often becomes a pattern of rote activities that do nothing to change behaviors. Worse, the coaching your sellers need might never happen at all. You need to build a repeatable process—grounded in the work sellers are actually doing in the real world—and scale it using technology. The more situational you make coaching sessions, the more likely your sellers will be to gain a better understanding of how to improve. You’ll also boost the impact of the often limited time most sales managers have to devote to coaching.

Doug Hutton is senior vice president of products at Corporate Visions, where he leads all product development and management efforts to give marketers, sellers, and customer success professionals what they need to articulate value in every commercial conversation. Hutton works with Corporate Visions’ research partners at Warwick University (U.K.) and is co-author of The Expansion Sale: Four Must-Win Conversations to Keep and Grow Your Customers.

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