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The Process in Sales...Nobody Is Talking About

I speak at a lot of sales events every year. Most of the time I'm asked to speak on some combination of my Laws of Sales or Laws of Sales Leadership. Law #1 is the Law of Process. I learned a long time ago that talking about "Sales Process" is a guaranteed way to get a bunch of yawns.

As a result, I like to start with an exercise. I give them a page with numbers from 1-54. They are out of order, not the same font, and there is no apparent method to the madness of their location on the page. I ask them all to set a goal of how many they can find in order from 1-54 in 60 seconds. They write the goal down on the back of the page and then I start the clock. They frantically look for the numbers and the time slips by faster than anyone expects. When we finish, I ask how many got them all. I've never had someone get all 54 if it was their first time seeing the exercise. Then I ask how many hit goal. Generally there will be a few that raise their hands. When I ask what their goal was, it will be a small number around 10-12.

After joking about how setting low goals is a pathway to success, I show them the secret to hacking the numbers game. I show that this sheet has a process. There is a tic-tac-toe grid on the sheet and the numbers are plotted in order, beginning at the top-left, you will see #1. 2 is in the top middle, and 3 is top-right. By working your way down from left to right and then starting back at the top-left, you can quickly find all 54 numbers.

I then ask the group if this would be a difference maker in finding the numbers. I put another 60 seconds on the clock and have them start over looking for the numbers from 1-54 in order. At the end, many of the reps find all the numbers. When I ask who hit their original goal, more than half of the room generally raises their hands if not more. When I ask "Did anyone do worse?" I get a lot of laughs, but no hands. Then I share the learning point:

With process, performance always improves. And for many people, process is all you need to add in order to hit goal.

Pro tip: this is a great exercise for a sales meeting for your team to understand why process is the foundation for all sustainable success.

The sales profession has come a long way. I've said it before...this isn't your daddy's sales environment. It probably isn't even your big sister's sales world anymore. The days of "hire the best salesperson and get out of their way" are long gone. We've learned that sales is a skill that can and needs to be developed, and the top salespeople not only have great interpersonal sales skills, they use modern sales tools better than their counterparts. Today we have a sales stack filled with tools to help optimize every phase of the sales process. The role of "Sales Enablement" has emerged to help sales organizations develop skills and optimize how salespeople target, connect, pursue, and close business with clients and prospects around the world.

All the tools, training, and titles surround and reinforce a specific organization's sales process. It wasn't very long ago that the importance of sales process was up for debate. Today, it is almost an irrefutable point that successful sales organizations have strong sales process. In the modern sales world, sales process is the foundation of sales success. Everything we bring to a sales org is designed to help optimize how each rep takes their product offering to market.

We have sales process, marketing processes, customer success processes and processes to drive every part of the performance of a business. However, I've found that there is a key process nobody seems to talk much about: the Sales Coaching Process.

The word "coaching" means different things to different people. For some it is a professional service you may choose for self development. For others, coaching is what you do to people that are not hitting their number. One leader may equate coaching to practice, and another may look at it as spending time in the field with a rep. Coaching is a broad term that inspires some and terrifies others.

Building Blocks of the Coaching Process

Coaching is the process of creating intentional improvement. This requires more than just opportunistic improvement or simply "working harder."

Coaching is the act of helping a salesperson improve more than they would have if they were left to themselves.

This definition only works if the leader is genuine and authentic in their desire to help a salesperson improve. Done correctly, a strong coaching process will have the following elements:

1. Consistency. The #1 killer of coaching is lack of consistency. There are a lot of excuses for why this happens, but only one real reason: lack of prioritization. The answer to this is simple. Prioritize coaching. Calendar these appointments and treat face to face interactions with your team with the same urgency and planning that a rep treats an interaction with a prospect or customer. You'll be amazed how this way of thinking drives your coaching activities and results.

2. Predictability. The next most common coaching mistake is focusing on the past. Your reps know what their performance to goal is right now. They don't need you to beat them with the story of the past. Pro-Tip: In a coaching session, spend 10% or less of your time on the past....90% or more on the future. The only way to do this is to coach to the process rather than outcomes. Predicting the future is the fastest way to have reps get excited about coaching.

3. "Level-Up" Mentality. I hear too many coaching "experts" talking about "skill gaps." Nobody wants to know that when they go to their meeting with their leader they can expect to hear what they suck at. However, if you as a leader are able to help provide insight to your team members what the next level looks like, you will have a different level of appreciation for coaching from your reps. To do this, you must be able to show them what "Awesome Looks Like." Awesome is measured in activities your reps engage in, competencies that create predictability in outcomes, and efficiencies that build sustainability in your process. Here are some examples of these drivers of "Awesomeness":

  • Activities: These are the things you measure in Salesforce. They might include things like calls, emails, proposals, or other specific measurables. Activities are a way to measure if a rep is working hard enough or smart enough. For example, someone may be the top email-sender in the company, but might never pick up the phone. If they are low in new opportunity starts or pipeline velocity, this is a great way to find root cause. It is important to be able to model what awesome looks like in terms of activities. I suggest segmenting your team into groups like Star, High Core, Core, Low Core, and Poor (see image below.) In a coaching session, have the rep tell you what outcome level "Awesome" is to them. If they are a Core performer, it might be High Core...High Core might be Star. This makes it easy to then compare the activity levels of the Core to High Core and create a game plan to increase Awesomeness. It is a simple step, but one few coaches use regularly or consistently.
  • Competencies: Competencies are drivers of compound growth. Competencies are made up of a mixture of activities. The 4 competencies driving compound growth are 1) Number of new opportunities a rep starts in their pipeline, 2) Average revenue per opportunity (this is driven by # of products and average deal size), 3) Win Rate, and 4) Length of Sales Cycle. The activities a rep engages in needs to drive these 4 competencies. If each of these competencies are improved by just 10% consistently, the rep will perform 48% better. This is where coaching comes to life. Modeling Awesomeness in coaching is a hallmark of the world's best coaching organizations. Once a rep identifies where they want to be, use the same segmentations (Star, High Core, Core, Low Core, and Poor) to benchmark what awesome looks like. This is the secret to Dollarizing how much a change is worth.
Activities tell you if someone is working hard or smart enough. Competencies tell you how good someone is at those activities.

Pro Tip: Massive success doesn't come from doing everything remarkably better. Huge success comes from small improvements in those 4 drivers that matter. Coach to these competencies. It will create a flywheel effect that is contagious.

  • Efficiencies: Once you have your reps working hard and smart (activities) and once you have achieved a level of mastery where those activities are creating drivers of compound growth (competencies), you can begin to coach to efficiencies. To do this, smart leaders help their reps learn from losses. Efficient salespeople lose early and win late. As a result, you want to see each stage in your sales process having a smaller loss rate than the one it follows. The image here shows a salesperson with some spikes in their loss profile. These spikes represent opportunities for coaching success.

Pro Tip: It is important to start with Activities (do the right things) and then move to Competencies (do the right things right) before trying to coach to efficiencies.

By building these disciplines first, you will get an accurate reading of where losses truly come from. If you jump straight to the loss profile, reps will be tempted to game the system and record wins and losses differently in Salesforce. However, once you have a rep that has bought into the activities and competencies that drive their (not your) definition of awesome, this Efficiency coaching is the one that will create the most significant, sustained success. Each rep should strive to have a gentle curve with losses coming early (to the left) and wins coming late (to the right.)

4. Collaboration. Every coaching session needs to have a "fork in the road" moment when the leader and rep decide "What are we going to do now?" My friend, the one and only Keenan has done a great job sharing that "Observable Moments" are a key driver to coaching success...and he's right. Your "So What" moments should include you as the leader in the action plan whenever possible. Turn the "What are YOU going to do now" to either a "What are WE going to do" or a "How can I help you?" The days of "ivory tower" leadership ended a long time ago.

If the job of a salesperson is to produce, it is the job of a sales leader to reproduce.

By reproduce, I mean leaders need to reproduce skills in reps so the rep can have success producing. To reproduce, it means you either need to have the skills or know where to point a rep so they can get them. Stay involved. Collaboration will keep your skills sharp. If you ever choose to let your sales game slip, you lose the ability to effectively lead. Remember, coaching is not something you do TO members of your team, coaching is something you do with and for the members of your team. The collaborative effort is the final element that personalizes why coaching matters.

Process adds predictability. If process is strong, success is inevitable. If process is weak, success is unsustainable. Stop winging it as a sales coach and start developing the disciplines and skills that will fuel your efforts in advancing your team just like skills and disciplines advanced customer opportunities when you were a rep. If you take the mindset to coaching that a world-class salesperson takes to a sales approach, you will find that the experience of coaching a rep is not that different than helping a customer choose to purchase your product.

The results from investing in your coaching game can be staggering. If reps and coaches commit to this cadence, a "flywheel" effect is created where teams produce 18-20% more, Net Promoter scores from customers jumps 23% due to a better buying experience, and new research released in the last 30 days from CSO insights shows that win rates jump by 28% when strong coaching discipline is embraced by reps and leaders.

The coaching process (consistency, process, level-up, and collaboration) will create a cadence that will change the careers of your reps, fuel the growth of your organization and the fulfilment you find in your career. Move from ordinary to legendary by choosing to be a coach that is a difference maker. The coaching process takes commitment, but it is easier than you may think. You may find it becomes your most defensible competitive advantage.

Rob Jeppsen is the Founder and CEO of Xvoyant, a Sales Coaching technology provider that helps organizations experience the results associated with world-class sales coaching. He has won 15 gold and silver Stevie Awards for his sales leadership and coaching expertise. To learn more about how to make coaching your most defensible competitive advantage or to have a custom "Case for Coaching" analysis conducted for your team, reach out to Rob at rob@xvoyant.com.

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