Research indicates that without systematic, ongoing learning and reinforcement, approximately 50% of the learning content is not retained within five weeks, much less applied. Within 90 days, 84% of what was initially learned is lost. — Sales Performance International
In college or the military, sometimes you hear the expression “drinking from a fire hose”, which means that you are trying to learn so much in so little time. With sales coaching, the expression can also ring true as sometimes managers only set aside a couple of days for sales coaching and want to maximize how much information is pushed out in that short time so that the sales reps can get back to selling. However, the problem is that when there’s so much to learn in such a short time, most of the knowledge usually goes unabsorbed.
Instead of packing everything you can into a couple of short sessions, consider more coaching sessions, more frequently with more follow-up on retained knowledge. There’s no point in spending time and money on coaching if nobody will retain the knowledge. So, try scaling your coaching over time instead in order to allow it to sink in and to allow the sales reps to familiarize themselves with the concepts and put them to use.
First, split your training sessions into bite-sized chunks of 30–45 minutes. This is long enough to keep attention without becoming boring and it allows for a structured series of continued lessons.
Next, cater to your audience. Keep in mind that everyone is different and therefore each employee will have different strengths, weaknesses and learning styles. It’s hard to cater to every person, but try to figure out if there are common weaknesses within the group or preferred learning methods. This will create buy-in from the reps and will help tailor the program to suit their learning styles best. As an example, here is one strategic framework by the sales readiness group that seems to work well, based on skill level and motivation level:
· Empowerment (High skill/High motivation) — These are your top performers and A-players so give more freedom, flexibility and management opportunities. They will feel respected, appreciated and able to grow.
· *Training — (Low skill/High motivation)*— These are generally the rookies who are excited to start getting their feet wet but don’t really know what they’re doing. This is not individual sessions, but rather group training on things such as calls, demos, meetings and other basic/intermediate skills.
· Directing — (Low skill/Low motivation) — This group is either in a slump or simply not interested in being there. That’s okay as everyone struggles a bit from time to time, but you’ll need to be very direct with them in order to fix it. You’ll need to be specific in your directions of what to complete, how and when.
· *Performance Counseling — (High skill/Low motivation)*— These tend to be people who are generally high performers or have the potential to be but simply lack the motivation and enthusiasm to give their best effort. You’ll need to address motivational issues and figure out what’s causing the problems and why. HR should probably be involved to ensure that things go smoothly when discussing impacts of negative job performance.
· Coaching (Average skill/Average motivation) — Coaching is the most common tactic because it’s generally focused on the middle of your bell curve, commonly known as “core performers”. The goal of coaching is to identify skills that need help and then to focus on those particular skills with a performance management plan.
Then, separate all the learnings into groups. For example: Opportunity management, account management, territory management, call management. Then teach on only one section until it is complete. This will create ongoing learning reinforcement. Each group should contain lessons that apply specifically to that individual skill and allow for hands-on training and feedback in later sessions.
After, be sure to eliminate everything that is unnecessary from the curriculum. If it sounds boring or irrelevant to you, I guarantee your sales reps will be rolling their eyes in the backs of their heads… so, get rid of it! Try to think like a younger sales rep when creating your coaching strategy. Short, sweet and to the point.
Finally, be sure to get buy-in from all levels: salespeople, management and executives all need to show their support and enthusiasm for a coaching program for it to be truly effective. The good news is: this is much easier than you think! Bring in a few people from each tier who are willing to share a bit of their success formula and then create a capstone style discussion around it and viola!
For the bonus round, learn to create peer-to-peer coaching. On average, the number of sales reps per sales manager has been increasing over the past decade and continues to climb (about 6–1 average in 2009 and 8–1 average in 2016). This means that managers are spread even more thinly than before. A great way to alleviate some pressure is by facilitating strategies that allow sales reps to coach and mentor each other. Peer reviews of demos, meetings, calls, emails and other core sales tasks builds teamwork and collaboration while scaling coaching effectiveness. It’s quite possible that your reps may be more willing to learn from peers as well. So, give it a shot!