I speak with Sales Leaders around the world every day. Some are large global organizations, and others are young companies that are making their mark. Regardless of size, industry, or growth rate, I have found that most organizations ask their leaders to conduct 1:1s with each rep.
When we ask a leader about their approach to 1:1s, 90% tell me they are doing them. The other 10% tell me they need to be doing them.
When we ask a leader what they are getting from the 1:1, the most common answer may surprise you:
“I don’t know.”
If the leaders don’t know what the 1:1 is doing for the rep or the organization, it is a safe bet that the rep doesn’t know either. This is a big reason why 76% of reps say they get no coaching at all, and only 8% say the coaching they get is helpful.
What this means is as leaders we know how to count the 1:1… but we aren’t so good at making sure we make the 1:1 count.
The secret to making 1:1s count is Consistency. Consistency is important in two ways:
The first is consistency in the frequency of holding 1:1s. A very common question is “How often should we hold 1:1s?” This is dependent on things like cycle time and frequency of when sales activities are completed. High velocity sales teams need to hold 1:1s more frequently than lower velocity teams do.
A rule of thumb I follow is a formal 1:1 shouldn’t happen more frequently than once a week and no less frequently than once a month.
But be consistent. The instant you start cancelling 1:1s or having erratic frequency, your team gets the message that coaching is a lower priority. 1:1s will lose effectiveness if the frequency is erratic.
I learned early in my career that intent is more important than technique. You need to be consistent to be authentic in the intention of your 1:1 sessions. There are three things a leader should address as part of a 1:1:
a. Win What’s Winnable. There are lots of types of coaching. Deal coaching is a great way for a 1:1 to add immediate, tangible value. For example, organizations using the Xvoyant Opportunity Coaching tool experience an increase in win rate of nearly 30% vs. non-coached opportunities.
The problem is, most organizations don’t have a consistent way of coaching an opportunity. Too often managers “Flog the Forecast.” They hope by inspecting a deal and ratcheting up the pressure, the rep will figure out a winning strategy.
The fastest way to have a 1:1 help win more deals is to set coaching goals around Customer Verifiers. For each stage in your sales processes, there are specific high value activities that a rep must do to advance a deal. These are generally well-understood. Where companies miss is measuring buyer behavior. For each stage, you should identify key buyer behaviors that a prospect needs to complete to verify that an opportunity really is ready to advance to the next stage.
In this example, a rep thinks a deal is ready for approval. However, the verifiers show that the deal is actually in the proposal stage based on the buyer verifiers. A coaching goal could be set to complete the closure plan.
Great 1:1s will set coaching goals that help reps win deals in predictable ways. If your 1:1s aren’t improving win rates, this is an area you can fix almost immediately.
b. Balance the Pipeline
When I speak with Sales Leaders, it is not uncommon for them to have their “Master Spreadsheet” with all the analytics around their team. When I ran a large, publicly traded sales team I had the same thing. Most of the time, a key element of this spreadsheet is the Pipeline Coverage Coefficient.
For example, just this morning, a SVP of Sales for a F100 organization told me “We need 3.8X pipeline to quota and we are covered.” The problem with this is this will be like the 3 bears and their porridge…for a third it will be too hot (more than they need), for a third it will be too cold (not enough) and for a final third it will be just right.
Coaching is NOT about averages. It is about relevance. It is important that you connect to the specific, unique pipeline needs for each rep. With an understanding of their goal, average deal size, win rate, and cycle time, it becomes possible to identify where the predictable gaps in the pipeline are.
Helping your reps see into the future where the gaps exist is a key way to make your 1:1 count. If you aren’t having a predictive conversation about the month, quarter and year as it relates to pipeline coverage, you are at risk to have dry spells.
If each rep on your team is setting coaching goals around finding activities and skills in relation to their unique needs, your 1:1 becomes very strategic.
c. Achieve Aspirations. The most powerful way a leader can help a rep is by understanding their goals for themselves. The company sets the quota, but each rep should set their own goals. Goals are what the individual aspires to.
A leader’s ability to connect to the aspirations of a rep will drive their ability to be relevant and valuable. This becomes a key discussion point in the 1:1.
While there are a lot of ways to connect to the performance aspirations of a member of your team, here are two ways that I’ve found very helpful in making this connection:
Model Awesomeness. Make it easy for a rep to articulate what their performance aspirations are. I’ve found that talking about “Hitting Goal” is often not good enough. It doesn’t keep you in the “Inspiration Business” as a leader.
I suggest breaking your team into segments like these. Core might be at goal. Then you can chase High Core or Star Performance:
In this case, a leader might ask this rep (a Poor Performer) what they aspire to achieve. “What do you want for yourself?” is an awesome question. The rep might say “I know I can be a star here.”
Once you hear the rep’s definition of what Awesome is, you owe it to this rep to create a model of what Awesome looks like.
To make your 1:1s count, you need to be able to identify how a rep needs to change their activity mix, or what skills they need to develop for the activities to create a different impact.
Dollarize Change. It has been said that when selling to a prospect, the pain of same must be greater than the pain of change in order to have a prospect buy.
The same is true for coaching. If you aren’t answering the “So What” questions in a 1:1, your reps may resist setting coaching goals. To avoid a perception of micromanagement, dollarize value of even the smallest change.
You’ll be surprised how much seeing the impact of change can create commitment with one of your reps.
Dollarizing is one of the most powerful ways to make a 1:1 count. This is a high-impact way to tie into the aspirations of a rep. It is a great way to stimulate big-thinking and new aspirations for every rep on your team.
If you can drive aspirational conversations by modeling Awesomeness and Dollarizing, you can then set coaching goals around key activities to conduct, or important skills to develop. If your 1:1s aren’t resulting in coaching goals that help achieve specific performance aspirations with a good idea of how the goal will get them there (and what it is worth,) add this to your mix. You’ll be amazed what happens when you stay in the inspiration business rather than the management business.
1:1s should not be a drudgery for a rep or for a leader. 1:1s should represent a time where strategic planning happens.
Here’s a final rule of thumb to make your 1:1s count: Make 90% of the time planning for the future. Only 10% should be about the performance of the past.
Win What’s Winnable. Achieve Balance. Achieve Aspirations.
Do those things consistently and you’ll find your reps look to 1:1s as a non-negotiable to their ultimate success. Stop counting your 1:1s and start making them count. Your approach to how 1:1s are conducted and used in your team will be the primary catalyst for the ultimate success of your team.
The good news is that the impact a 1:1 creates in your org is completely up to you.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.