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9 Data-Driven Call Coaching Habits of Effective Sales Leaders

March 9, 2017
Chris Orlob

Chris Orlob

Sales Enablement Sales Management
You’re about to learn nine of the exact sales coaching habits and systems the world’s top B2B sales leaders follow to develop their sales teams successfully. This isn’t an anecdotal article. Seven of the nine habits I’ll talk about come from analyzing usage patterns of over 5,000 users in the Gong call coaching platform The other two habits come from one-on-one, qualitative interviews with B2B sales leaders. But before I reveal the nine habits we discovered, I want to let you in on something… I’m a habit NUT. I organize my life by tracking my habits. I’ve read all the major books on habits, too. I regularly put myself through the frustrating process of acquiring new good habits, while dropping bad ones like a hot piece of steel. So, why this obsession with habits? Because habits are the “leading indicators” of the results in your life. In other words, habits dictate your “lagging indicators.” They are the “cause” to all of your “effects.” When you change your habits, you change your trajectory. I’ve tried so many different approaches to building and sculpting my own habits, you’d think I was going for a RECORD or something. And after all of this trial and error with habit formation, here’s what I’ve learned: Most attempts at habit formation actually make your life WORSE. Yes, you read that right. Some of the things I’ve learned and tried with regards to habits actually made me less organized and productive (which is hard to imagine, because I’m a pretty disorganized person naturally). When the typical person realizes the importance of habits and the influence they have on results, they usually try to do TOO much. They try to develop too many habits at once, while attempting to drop as many of their bad habits as they can. If you’re anything like me, you’ll go 3-4 days before reverting back to the same behaviors and habits you had before. But now, you’re beating yourself up for not being able to follow through. Habits work one at a time. Trying to make too many changes at once will lead to frustrating failure. And that’s why this article is so valuable. Among the sea of thousands of potential habits you could acquire as a sales leader, here are just nine of them that have actually been VALIDATED with data. Give yourself permission to single-mindedly focus on these until they have become a part of you.

Habit One: Coach by “Using” Your Team

The highest performing sales organizations in our analysis had the highest usage of Gong coaching features across their entire team… Not just the sales managers and leaders. Reps themselves had an incredibly high frequency of commenting on calls, sharing calls, reviewing their own calls and their peers’ calls, etc. And by the way, every day, your best sales reps have calls and demos that could be used as awesome examples of how to sell better. Take advantage of that. Capture your sales team’s best calls, emails, and other key moments so they can be reproduced across the rest of the team. Enabling your salespeople to swap ideas for how to sell better introduces leverage to your coaching efforts. Don’t give into the illusion that you have to do everything yourself. Record calls. Share awesome follow-up emails. Hold brainstorming sessions with your team. Let their best work do some of your heavy lifting as a sales coach. Let “osmosis” do its work by enabling your team to bounce ideas off of each other. Not everything has to come from you.

Habit Two: Invest In the “Middle of the Pack”

Every sales team can be summed up into three groups: Top performers
    1. – the top 10-20% of your team
Average performers
    1. – also known as “the core” or “middle of the pack.” This group usually makes up 60-80% of your team
Low performers
    – these are the guys and gals on the bottom 20% of the performance rungs
The highest leverage group to focus your coaching and development efforts on is the average performers. Here’s why… Coaching your top performers has no leverage. They’re already on top. The world’s greatest golfers practice all day in hopes to shave maybe 1-2 strokes off of their 18 hole game. The same applies to the world’s greatest salespeople. Improvements are painfully incremental at the top. What about your bottom performers? Glad you asked. There are exceptions to this principle, but generally speaking, you can’t coach away a poor fit for a job. Instead of trying to coach your low performers, you should focus on placing them in a better suited role. That leaves us with the middle-of-the-pack: your average performers. The people that make up the bulk of your sales force. Most of your average performers have locked up, untapped potential waiting to be unleashed by a skillful coach. They have demonstrated moderate amounts of success, but haven’t found a way to make it repeatable. Leverage in your coaching efforts lies in shifting your average performers into top performer status. And that’s where the best sales leaders spent most of their time within Gong – on coaching their average performers’ calls. Coaching your entire team evenly is the first thing preventing you from coaching your entire team effectively. Not all coaching efforts are created equal. Don’t ignore your top and bottom performers entirely. But focus primarily on your Average Joe’s. They are where you have the most room for improvement. Many of them are probably ambitious, but frustrated, in desperate need of guidance.

Habit Three: Don’t Water the Garden with a Firehose

Mastery comes from developing 1-2 skills at a time. The human brain can’t efficiently focus on more than that at once. What happens when you try to coach your reps on 5-6 different behaviors at one time? Reps absorb surface-level information but fail to change their selling behavior in a live setting. There are too many things to focus on, and they are left in the same condition as they started. They are spread too thin and end up randomly “pinging” between the 5-6 behaviors you taught, failing to form a long-term productive habit. They fizzle out to what they were doing before. Instead of drilling several shallow oil wells, go deep with just one or two. That’s how you strike pay dirt. Too much information at once is like watering a plant with a firehose. Not sure where to start? Use this sales coaching template to immediately uncover high-impact coaching areas in your org.

Habit Four: Establish a Coaching Cadence

Have you ever heard the story of the 20-mile march? It’s a story about two ships racing to Antarctica. The first captain’s approach was to sail 20 miles each day – no more, no less – come rain or shine. Even in the most chaotic weather conditions, they’d plow ahead 20 miles. And in calm waters, they’d still only go 20 miles. The idea was consistency regardless of the weather. The second captain’s approach was to sail as much as possible when the weather was good and hang tight when the weather was poor. On good days, they’d travel as much as 100 miles. On bad days, they’d just wait out the storm, drifting about. The first captain made it to Antarctica in a few months. The second captain died before arrival. Along with the entire crew. The morale of the story is consistency. It’s better to chip away at something every single day in a consistent manner than to do a lot one day, and nothing the next. The same applies to your coaching efforts. Turn coaching into a systematic ritual, rather than a random ad-hoc activity that happens when you suddenly find a large opening in your calendar.

Habit Five: Meet for a Team Coaching Session Every Tuesday at 2 pm

“Tuesday at 2 pm” is less important than the concept of meeting every week on the same day and time with your entire team (although Tuesday at 2 pm was the most commonly used time when we analyzed coaching patterns in Gong). Blocking off a recurring hour every week makes the team element of coaching systematic. SalesLoft – one of Gong’s customers – holds a weekly “point and laugh” team meeting at 5 pm EST every Monday. They choose an AE demo recording from Gong at random and review the call as a team “game tape style.” Bringing your team under one roof for coaching at the same time every week introduces a feeling of discipline and consistency to your coaching and training efforts. No one is wondering when the weekly coaching meeting is (or whether or not it will happen at all). Don’t fall into the temptation of scheduling this at a different time every week. The effectiveness lies in “ritualizing” your coaching: same day and time, every time.

Habit Six: Recorded Calls > Live Shadowing

Sales managers are spread too thin to shadow a meaningful amount of sales calls. Making the time to consistently attend your reps’ live sales calls can become a huge burden on your calendar. Especially when you block off your calendar, and the call is a no-show. The benefits of “live shadowing” are mostly an illusion. Advocates of this approach will argue you can influence the call while it’s happening. But can you? From a coaching perspective, there is very little you can do in real-time. Yes, you can influence the sale, but not in the sense of coaching your rep. Only in the sense of stepping in and taking control of the conversation yourself. When you record calls and demos, you can access and review them when it’s convenient for you. The rep is also no longer in the heat of the moment and can reflect upon the call more thoughtfully. The best sales coaches and managers take control of their time by coaching “on-demand” with call and demo recordings. Even though Gong provides live call listening and coaching, the highest performing sales managers used on-demand recordings much more than live coaching. Many of our Gong customers even listen to call recordings on their smartphone during their commutes.

Habit Seven: Positive Reinforcement

One of the features Gong provides is the ability to comment on specific points of a call’s timeline to deliver targeted coaching feedback. Sort of like SoundCloud for sales calls. We ran a sentiment analysis of these comments and discovered that the most successful sales organizations left “positive” comments much more often than negative, “constructive criticism” comments. The sales consulting and training firm Griffin Hill conducted a study on the nature of delivering coaching feedback. They discovered that the ideal ratio of “positive to negative” feedback is 3:1. In other words, you should deliver three pieces of feedback that serve as positive reinforcement for every one piece of feedback that serves as a “constructive criticism.” The brain releases dopamine when it receives positive reinforcement, and those positive behaviors stick because of it. Confidence soars along with performance. When only constructive criticism is delivered, cortisol is released in the brain, frustrating the coaching recipient and stunting their growth and development. They got locked in the “downward spiral.” Even though sales reps will need constructive criticism to grow and develop, the key is to be more lavish with positive reinforcement than you are with constructive criticism. You need both; but remember to balance the ratio correctly and in favor of positive reinforcement. The top sales leaders that use Gong to call coach follow this idea. They leave roughly three positive comments on call recordings within Gong for every one critical comment.

Habit Eight: Theme Du Jour

What does “theme du jour” mean? It means several consecutive coaching sessions in a row should have the same “theme.” The theme itself will depend on the training needs of your team. It could be setting an agenda, nailing your demo flow, conducting discovery calls, etc. You can probably guess the reason you want to stick with one theme over multiple coaching sessions: reinforcement. When you bounce from theme to theme, only shallow behavioral change from your reps will happen. Spend the needed time on one theme, and move on when you feel you’re reaching diminishing returns. Go deep, not shallow.

Habit Nine: Leverage Technology

When used thoughtfully, sales coaching technologies are like an Ironman suit for sales managers. They amplify your coaching efforts. Every profession is made more effective with the right tool chain and technology stack. Sales management and sales coaching are no exceptions. One of the most critical sales coaching technologies is conversation intelligence software. Revenue targets are won or lost during the sales conversations that occur between reps and prospects. Yet most sales leaders are blind to what happens during these conversations. When sales leaders can record, transcribe, and analyze these pivotal moments in the sales process in an effort to help their reps sell better, they finish their quarters strong. Many of the world’s most forward-thinking B2B sales leaders have already jumped on the bandwagon of implementing conversation intelligence, and they’re seeing the results that would excite any CEO.
  • Increase in average deal size
  • Increase in win-rates
  • Shortened sales cycles
  • Reduced onboarding ramp time
See for yourself. Request a demo of Gong’s conversation intelligence platform so you can judge whether this is something that’s right for your sales team. If you liked this article you may also be interested in: Words to use in sales – New data show the impact of filler words on sales outcomes

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