Expert Interview: How to Coach Sales Reps for Maximum Impact
How are successful teams adapting their coaching to ensure sales reps can find and close deals despite the challenges of virtual selling?
With reps working remotely, sales leaders are often no longer physically in the same building for observation and mentoring of their team. Practice, role playing, call coaching, reinforcement—all the traditional tools in a sales coach’s arsenal—have typically been done in person.
To dive into this topic, we sat down with Chester Liu, VP of Growth at Allego. With over twenty years in the software industry, nearly ten in sales enablement, and an MBA from the MIT Sloan School of Management, Chester has a proven track record of building successful sales enablement teams and programs.
>>Watch How to Maximize the Business Impact of Sales Coaching to learn more from Allego’s VP of Growth Chester Liu. <<
How would you define sales coaching and why is it so important to an organization’s success?
Chester: “I think about it from a sports metaphor, where you have to give coaching during a practice session, as well as give feedback after the big game. With sales reps, it’s not enough to tell them to memorize a certain pitch and that is good enough to close the deal. You have to measure things that are hard to measure such as empathy or tonality or confidence.
“In fact, I heard a number of customers say that they chose Allego precisely because one of our sales reps developed a relationship with them that conveyed a sense of our brand’s professionalism and trustworthiness.
“You have to ask whether in addition to the product itself, your sales reps are the differentiator where they’re taking away from the sales experience. This is where the difference between good coaching and bad coaching comes in.”
What are the most important goals and objectives of a coaching program?
Chester: “I like to use the Kirkpatrick Evaluation Model. This model is a four-step pyramid. At the bottom of the pyramid, we have simply “reaction.” Did the sales rep react positively or negatively to the coaching? The second step from the bottom is knowledge. Did he actually remember anything from the coaching? That’s where a lot of coaching stops.
“However, that’s not enough. You have to go up to the third level of the Kirkpatrick Evaluation Model, which is talking about whether it drove a change in behavior. What that means is, on the next customer call, did your sales reps actually behave in a different way based on your coaching?
“The highest level, the fourth tier of this model, is “results.” Was there actual business impact from the coaching? If you can’t point to a real business impact from your sales coaching, whether in terms of deals won or a higher close rate or larger ACV, then your coaching is probably missing the mark.”
What should a sales leader focus on for coaching?
Chester: “I think about three things that our sales leaders should focus on. The first one is your solution. The second one is your process. The third one is soft skills. Let’s think about the first one, the solution. Your sales reps should be able to articulate what your solution is in a compelling way. If they can’t articulate it, then the coaching has not been successful. It has to be really compelling, or else your customers are not going to find whatever they say, no matter how well they said it, to be of any value to them.
“The second thing I think about is process. You probably have a sales process, a discovery call, a demo, a negotiation, any of a number of steps in between. The question here is, do your sales reps know how to have the right conversation at the right time? For example, in a demo, are they able to help your customers imagine using your solution in their environment? If they can’t do that, then they’re probably not really able to follow the process effectively.
“The third point is soft skills. For example, they might get a tough objection. Do they handle the objection professionally or did they handle the objection in a way that puts off the buyer? It’s not enough to just know the right answer. It is more important to know how to communicate that right answer and how to listen so that they truly understand the buyer’s motivation behind asking each and every question.”
How do you find time to coach?
Chester: “This is really a tough one. Most managers have between eight to 12 direct reports, and it’s really difficult to find time to coach each and every one of them. The answer to doing this is to do it asynchronously. A lot of times we’ve reserved coaching for just live one-on-one sessions. But as we all know, we don’t have that many hours a week to spend on live coaching sessions.
“What I like to do is to ask the sales rep to do two things. One is record their practice sessions so that I can hear them later on in the evening. Another one is to record their customer conversations so I can hear what the game film really sounds like. I also like to ask my reps to get themselves some feedback first. Because a lot of reps might sit back and passively absorb coaching from you. If they haven’t processed it first, then they’re less able to receive feedback from their manager.
“I also ask them to give me feedback about specific points in time. It’s not enough to say that, “Oh, that was a great sales call. Good job. Yeah. You didn’t use a lot of filler words.” It’s important to say, “Hey, at two minutes and 30 seconds, when you were introducing our product, you didn’t do that too well. That really needed to be a lot more articulate, a lot more crisp.”
“Or you want to say, “Hey, at the nine minute mark, when you’re asking them a set of questions, you went at it the wrong way because you didn’t hear the pain that the customer was articulating.” It’s really important to be able to find time to coach, but also coach in a way that’s really effective and not devoid of any results.”
How does coaching actually change behavior?
Chester: “I like to answer this question with a story that I’m quite fond of. I run a weekly training session, which I call pilot flight school. A few weeks ago, we trained on new messaging produced by product marketing for Allego. It’s based on a concept of a wheel that shows that Allego is an all-in-one sales enablement platform that can cover content management, learning, collaboration, and coaching.
“On Thursday, I ran a training class. We had some good discussions around this concept of the wheel diagram. On Monday, using Allego, I sent out an assignment asking all of my sales reps to record themselves articulating just this one slide. Now, most of my sales reps recorded three or four or five or six different takes of them practicing this because no sales rep wants to submit something rather poor to their manager.
“One of my sales reps returned assignment on Tuesday. I watched it. It was actually pretty good. On the very next day, he had a customer conversation where he had the opportunity to use the brand new messaging.
“It was unbelievable, he nailed it. Why did he nail it? He nailed it because he practiced a number of times due to the assignment. Also, I was able to give him feedback at a point in time about the practice submission that he did. Also, I gave him feedback on the actual customer call that he had as well. This type of reinforcement is what ultimately changed the sales rep’s behavior.
“I hope all coaches are able to find the right way to coach their reps and really result in behavior that can impact your business.”
Watch the complete interview How to Maximize the Business Impact of Sales Coaching to learn more from Allego’s VP of Growth Chester Liu.
Download our new research Virtual Sales Coaching Report: How Sales Training Has Changed to learn how sales training has changed with the boom in virtual sales and how to coach sales reps for maximum success.