The Truth about (Inside) Sales Call Coaching

By Lauren Bailey

Lately I’m hearing a lot about the magical abilities of call coaching for inside sales reps. It can spike revenue! Cure attrition and training retention! And, naturally, the whole leaping buildings thing.

Here’s the truth of the matter. GOOD call coaching can leap a good half building. BAD coaching – and seriously, most of it is bad – can dig holes in the pavement of your morale.

Let’s look at the numbers:

  • Companies without a formal program (most of us) leave call coaching up to the managers and have quota attainment just north of 50 percent – basically average. (CSO Insights, 2016).
  • A formal, well-integrated coaching program can lead to a 10-60 percent increase in quota attainment (CSO Insights, 2016). Quite a swing in the results there.
  • Other sources reported a 7 percent uplift in sales numbers from top-end coaching (Sales Executive Council, 2016).

OK, we go conservative and aim for a 10 percent uplift with coaching. Still tempting, right? And it’s in sales managers’ job descriptions anyway. Let’s put some focus on call coaching and take our 10 points!

(I’m beginning to get the hype.)

Here’s the “but” you’re waiting for:

  1. The 7 percent uplift from SEC comes at the price of three hours per rep per month. That’s 36 hours per month for a 12-person team – or basically 25 percent of the manager’s time. I’ve never seen a team pull this off for longer than two months. Ever.
  2. SEC also reported that coaching was the #1 WORST sales management skill – trailing just behind innovation in performance management and executive decision making (and aren’t those VP skills?)
  3. Sales managers report nearly double the coaching time their reps report. (Bridge Group, 2016). So, when they think they’re out coaching, their reps don’t. Ouch. Yeah, that’s a skill gap.

There are two major flaws in the coaching-as-a-silver-bullet thing:

  1. Sales managers just don’t have the time.
  2. Some sales managers are just not good at it.

I understand why some sales managers are really terrible at it. These are the folks who think, “It’s just SO much faster to tell salespeople what I want! PLEASE shut up and let me get this off my chest and we can get on with our day! Love you lots, but don’t have time for your story here!”

I’m telling you, you have sales managers who think that way! There’s a simple reason for this. More than half of our managers have come up from within, right? Meaning, not long ago, they were competitive, deal-hungry, fast paced, W-obsessed reps. So impatience with other people’s inability is a surprise to you? Thought not.  We’ve all tried that “promote my top rep strategy” – and watched most of them burn.

Back to pitfall 1: Managers don’t have the time.

Frontline sales managers are probably in the busiest position in sales. They juggle 12-15 reps; thousands of buying, escalating, might-leave-us accounts; more performance issues than any other sales channel; lots manual report generation; and a carnival of hiring responsibilities.

So they TRY – the kind of all-in, “We will not be defeated!” try. We are a people who overcome. Who win! We put it on our calendars, tell our teams about our commitment, and then sales happen.

Meetings are skipped.

Sinkhole.

Why?

Because sales reps are needy creatures. The best are some of the highest-maintenance little rock stars I’ve ever met. They have a constant hunger to be pet. To be appreciated. To be admired. Believe me, they notice when we skip a meeting.

And the research supports it too! Our Gen Y population is twice as motivated by time with management as they are by autonomy. Boomers were 3x in the reverse. (The Bridge Group, 2016). The tide has turned, folks. Our workforce demands this dedication to give face time and our jobs haven’t shifted to allow it.

So, naturally, we see the stats shift to exit data. The American Association of Inside Sales Managers and Aberdeen both report “a lack of development” as a top challenge and a top reason for attrition since 2014. They’re starving for training and coaching and attention. We’ve made the sales management job too busy to give it to them.

Frankly, this isn’t necessarily horrible news! Because, unless we’ve trained managers how to be good coaches, most of the call coaching happening out there truly stinks. Like painful bad.

Is no call coaching better than bad call coaching?

Yes.

It’s sad, but true. When we promote top reps, they don’t come with an “off” button for competitive drive. They spend most of the call coaching meeting trying not to physically grab the headset away from the rep and take over the call! (You’ve probably seen a few do just that, right?) Most think that sending an instant message with what to say to a prospect during a sales call IS call coaching. Ouch.

The vast majority of others spend most of the coaching meeting sounding a lot like, “Be like me.” They will regale reps with stories of how they rocked the headset, and many will actually write full scripts for your salespeople.

How’s that morale looking now?

(Inside) sales is a confidence sport. We need swagger people. We need a team chanting our name when we step up to the cold call. We don’t need a manager who clearly doesn’t believe in us.

And now let’s talk about all those studies on employee engagement. The need to connect with others, feel appreciated, and like our boss. Bad coaching interactions press every one of these buttons in a negative way.

And, even with training, we have to remember we’re trying to influence a very difficult and often unnatural skill set. One book on coaching will not transform a hunting predator into a nurturing den mother.

The bottom line on call coaching? It has potential. But only if we do it right. As leaders, let’s focus on two ways to make this work:

  1. Find three things to lift from your manager’s plates – I’ll vote for some dashboard reporting instead of manual number gathering and a dedicated recruiter who reports to sales (if you don’t mind the input).
  2. Second, get your managers some call coaching training – and maybe even their own coach.

Lauren Bailey is a 20-year veteran of inside sales and president of award-winning training and consulting company Factor 8. Voted “Top 25 Most Influential” people in inside sales, she and her firm are 100 percent dedicated to working with professional B2B inside sales teams.

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