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Coach by the Numbers, Part 1

The desire to coach sales reps has blossomed in the spring of 2016. At a recent American Association of Inside Sales Professionals conference in Denver, it seemed like every presentation — including mine — had something to do with coaching.

Earnest questions flew around in the thin mile-high air:

  • Which reps should get coached? The As, Bs, or Cs?
  • How often should they get coached?
  • How long should coaching sessions last?
  • Should coaching be done on the fly or in scheduled sessions?
  • Should I coach from live conversations, recordings, or transcripts?
  • Who should do the coaching? The manager or a specialist?
  • How can I find the time to do enough coaching?
  • Should coaching be one-on-one or in groups?
  • When should I provide training, and when should I coach?
  • Is it OK to combine coaching and performance feedback?
  • How can I tell if a rep is improving from being coached?
  • How much of my time should be spent learning to coach?

My own presentation, “Coach By The Numbers,” was an attempt to offer a framework for coaching that answers some of these questions, namely:

  • Who should get coached next?
  • What should you coach them on?
  • How do you know when coaching is working and when it is not?

Coaching vs. Training vs. Evaluation

First, I would like to offer a definition of sales coaching. Sales coaching is intervention based on current performance for the purpose of improving future performance. It differs from training, which has the same purpose but is based on assessment of skills gaps. It differs from evaluation, which is based on current performance, but evaluation’s intended purpose is to determine what management is going to do with the employee.

Extending this definition, effective coaching is performance-based intervention that actually results in improved performance. For an SDR, improvement is easy to measure: setting more, or better, appointments for the AE team in a defined time interval. A small but important point about coaching that differentiates it from evaluation is that the time interval should be chosen for consistency in comparing current performance with future performance: a week is good. Why is that? Most weeks are pretty similar to other weeks, whereas days of the week differ from each other greatly; months are of different lengths and usually differ depending on where they land in the fiscal quarter; quarters usually have seasonal differences; and a year is just too long to attribute any intervention to any performance change.

Efficient coaching, on the other hand, is coaching that costs less, in time and money, than equivalently effective coaching. One reason it is important to coach efficiently is obvious: time is money — and so is money. The other is more subtle and more important: below some threshold of efficiency, you just won’t coach at all, or if you do coach, it will be when you can afford it, time-wise — which generally happens around the 12th of Never.

The ideal coaching would, therefore, deliver the maximum performance improvement in the least amount of time for the smallest number of dollars — which, unfortunately, sounds impossible.

What Can You Change?

Fortunately, this ideal is not only possible but easy to achieve. Reliably. It all starts with identifying the units of change. That is, what the specific elements of performance are that, if they were executed by the SDR more effectively, would show up in their overall performance numbers (i.e., the number of meetings set in a week). For simplicity, by “meetings” we mean “meetings that meet the quality standards of the AE team,” generally measured by the percentage of meetings that generate Sales-Accepted or Sales-Working Leads.

Now it gets easy. The obvious units of change are (drum roll, please!) the different phases of an SDR’s conversations with potential prospects. Check back here next week for Part 2 of this four-part blog series, when I’ll enumerate the specific units of change that can be observed in your reps’ calling dispositions, which you’ll then use to craft your sales coaching program.

Link to Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 of this four-part series.