The book is written by Michelle Vazzana and Jason Jordan, founding partners of the sales training firm Vantage Point Performance, which specializes in building research-based management practices that revolutionize sales performance.
Through this book, the author’s goal is to provide the reader with a practical, research-based guidance that, as the authors claim, will improve the ability to coach the right things, in the right way at the right time.
The twenty-five key takeaways I got out of this book are:
- One alarming trend worldwide is that the percentage of salespeople at quota has been in steady decline for the past six years. This is occurring at the same time revenue targets are on the rise.
- Although revenue attainment is vital, it is only one target by which sales manager’s effectiveness can be judged. Many organizations are now incorporating a new metric, one that gives better insight to overall manager effectiveness: the percentage of sellers on any given team who are making quota.
- Lack of accountability – it is alarming how infrequently sales coaching is measured, even in sales forces that claim it is a top priority. On the other side, accountability means the salesperson owns the commitments made during a coaching discussion. Lack of definition – the definition of coaching is nebulous as the definition of a sales process or sales enablement. For sales coaching to really take life in a sales force, managers need very specific parameters against they can execute it: when, where and what to coach; what topics to be discussed; what information to be brought; what to document afterward; how to measure the coaching process. Lack of urgency – if sales coaching is as important as we say it is, then it deserves a real sense of urgency. Perhaps sales coaching should be the first thing sales manager do each week, not the last thing they try to squeeze in before the weekend.
- Sales managers live in a reactive world – a sales manager could work 20 hours pr day and still not complete the necessary tasks. He could navigate the day and work like a maniac without making a single proactive decision. Just keeping up with multiple and varied demands of others (sales leader, HR, clients, marketing, other sales representatives, etc.) is an exhausting, yet unachievable goal. But if managers can get the right guidance, a transition from salesperson to sales manager can be smoother, take less time, and be less traumatic.
- Some of the most common types of coaching are: career coaching, behavioral coaching, strategic coaching, skills coaching, coaching to a competence model, performance coaching, etc. Which ones are sales coaching? The best sales coaching involves collaborative dialogue between manager and seller about the activities necessary to get that salesperson to quota. Valuable sales coaching is relevant, timely, and helpful to the seller. Sales coaching is equipping salespeople to execute activities consistently well. On the other hand, inspection is a forensic examination of what happened in the past.
- The curse of knowledge happens because once we know something (like how to sell against a thorny competitor), we do not remember what it is like not to know it. We assume that others (namely, our salespeople) have a similar frame of reference. So, the curse of knowledge causes os to be unintentionally unclear and ambiguous when providing direction to our salespeople. It is an error of omission.
- The culture of dependence is dangerous and potentially crippling for sales managers. As managers, we want to be helpful; we want to add value. Dependence is not inherently bad. It is the level of dependence that often goes awry. It is appropriate for salespeople to have some level of dependence on their sales manager. It is when this dependence becomes unhealthy that problems arise. Unhealthy dependence on the sales manager often occurs because of a lack of clarity between the role of the manager and the role of the salesperson. The roles become blurred.
- The coaching chasm – we coach to help our sellers reach their quotas. To reach our company’s revenue targets. We coach so that we can achieve the outcomes we want. This reasoning, sound as it is, creates what we refer as the coaching chasm. We coach because we want certain outcomes, but we can’t coach those outcomes directly. The outcomes we want are the culmination of many things we do as organizations, managers and salespeople. We can only coach to things that lead to quota and revenue attainment. We cannot coach the outcomes themselves.
- Instead of asking ‘what do you expect from me?‘ the right question should be ‘in order to succeed here, what do we need to do?‘ This is a very different question, which most successful managers answer for their salespeople. And when they provide this level of clarity, more of their salespeople succeed.
- There are three main things that matter regarding seller motivation (Doyle and Shapiro; on a Harvard Business Review article): incentive compensation, need for achievement, and clarity of the sales task. Of those three factors, clarity of the sales task was by far the most powerful predictor of motivation. Clarity of task is the degree to which the activities you ask sellers to perform are directly aligned with the results they are held accountable to achieve. As sales managers, we care about seller motivation; but we care even more about results – about quota achievement. We want evidence that focusing on activities leads to better performance.
- It is human nature to overestimate your performance – we all have very high opinions of ourselves. When asked, we typically feel that we are, worst case, at least slightly better than our peers. We want our salespeople to feel good about themselves; however, that is not enough to hit our revenue targets. As sales managers, we need to know how to get our sellers to quota, and that is the measure by which our coaching should be evaluated.
- Business results – revenue; profit; market share. Sales objectives – product penetration per account; sales by customer type; close rate. Sales activities – product demonstrations conducted; proposals delivered; call plan usage. Salespeople execute sales activities (sales calls, demonstrations, account plans, and so on) to achieve specific sales objectives (sell certain products, sell to certain types of customers, improve close rates) to achieve desired results (quota revenue, and volume targets). Activity measurement does not equate to activity management – just measuring something does not necessarily make it better.
- The four sales processes (distinct groups of activities in which sales people engage) – territory management (deploy optimum levels of effort across various types of customers and prospects); account management (acquire, retain, and grow selected accounts); opportunity management (initiate, qualify, and advance multistage deals); and call management (plan, conduct, and document individual sales interactions). Territory and account management are two primary processes that salespeople employ to create new opportunities. On the other hand, opportunity and call management processes work together to help salespeople win business they have identified. Coaching to activities is the only type of coaching that positively affects quota attainment – territory management is designed to help salespeople properly apply effort across many accounts, whereas account management is about applying effort most effectively within an account.
- Territory management activities – developing a prioritization scheme; prioritizing customers; designing call patterns according to the prioritization scheme; and executing calls accordingly. A territory does not need to be a territorial geography; it can be any set of assigned customers and prospects, whether that is a physical or virtual territory. Account management activities – assess the customer’s business needs; align your needs with the customer’s ones; develop a plan to create mutual value; execute the tasks according to plan; and measure and course correct. The most important activity within an account management is the development of an account plan. Opportunity management activities – qualify opportunity; influence criteria; develop and position solution; build confidence; and close. Call management activities – plan the call; execute the call; and document all outcomes.
- Standards as contributors to clarity of task – standards are specific guidelines, or expectations, that if met will lead to effective and consistent execution of sales activities.
- Good coaching is not something mystical, magical thing that only a few special people are equipped to do. It requires deliberate focus, not Herculean effort. Good coaching requires managers to make better choices during those precise hours they spend coaching their salespeople. One of the most effective, and often overlooked, elements of effective coaching is the use of an agenda. High performing managers spend almost as much time preparing for coaching as they spend coaching.
- Good coaching conversations are remarkably similar to good sales calls. They are highly collaborative, include a good balance of give-and-take, and result in actionable steps. The coach and the seller are prepared. An agenda is agreed upon. There is a balance of give-and-take on the part of the manager and the seller. Good coaches open their conversations by setting the stage with an effective agenda and gaining agreement on desired outcomes. Good coaching questions drive collaboration and build the critical thinking skills of your salespeople. Good coaches, like good salespeople, ensure that the information they provide is relevant and valuable to the conversation. At the end, having the salesperson summarize the decisions and the agreed-upon actions is a best practice.
- Coaching formality continuum – it is useful to think of sales coaching on a continuum of formality. On the high end of formality, we have scheduled and repeated interactions. On the other hand, there are ad hoc interactions that are unplanned, spontaneous conversations. When we are interrupted, our primary goal is to get back to what we were doing before the interruption. High-performing sales managers conduct scheduled coaching conversations less frequently and for longer durations than their lower-performing peers. Inspection is often mandatory, whereas coaching is discretionary. Formality is important, but it can be tricky. Too much formality and you paralyze your ability to coach and your salespeople’s ability to sell. More coaching is not better, but the right kind of coaching, in moderate quantities, leads to better outcomes.
- Eight types of interactions – one-on-ones; account reviews; territory reviews; pipeline updates; monthly field rides (in the field with the salesperson); team meetings; regional forecast calls; regional business reviews.
- Two criteria (dimensions) to prioritize customers – opportunity and growth potential (horizontal) and current relationship value (vertical). From left to right and bottom to top, the four quadrangles would be: minimize efforts; discover; maintain; and protect and grow.
- Prospective accounts questions – In which segment of accounts have you had the most success generating interest?; What messages are resonating? Which ones are not?; For which accounts have you been unable to establish contact? What have you tried?; Which competitors have a stronghold in your territory?; Which competitors are you best able to unseat? Why?; What have you done to differentiate our solutions in the minds of your prospective buyers? Existing account questions – Where have you had the most success up-selling and and/or cross-selling?; When have you had success improving product mix and/or improving share of wallet, which strategies have you used?; What have you done to reduce your service burden and create more selling time for your existing accounts?; When you have lost share, which competitors have taken it? Why?; Which accounts are at risk? Why?; What plans do you have in place to mitigate these risks? How can I help?
- Strategic account coaching questions – Which business units are the best targets for growth within the account?; What are the account or business unit objectives? How have they changed over the year?; Are there key initiatives in place that we can link into with our solutions?; Who owns the initiative? What are the critical success factors for success of the initiative?; Who are the key decision-makers and/or influencers in this business unit? What is the strength of our relationship with each contact?; Who within the account is most likely to be your advocate and/or coach?; Who are the strongest competitors within the account and/or business unit?; What is our value proposition and our most significant competitive differentiators?; Where are we vulnerable within the account? Where are we losing business or seeing a competitive thread? Tactical account coaching questions – What is the contact strategy and timeframe?; What is our initial value proposition for this contact and/or department?; Which of our resources can we bring to bear to add value for this contact?; What are our biggest barriers to making traction with this contact?; What proof resources can we bring to bear to generate interest with this contact and/or function? Do we have case studies that are relevant to this contact that we can leverage?; Who else do we know within the account who can be our coach and provide inside details about this contact and/or function?
- Buyers typically decide to change only when the pain of staying in their current situation exceeds the pain of change. So, the most successful sales managers require opportunity plans but for only a subset of sales opportunities. Less successful managers require plans for all opportunities.
- Coaching for better call planning – helping your salespeople plan upcoming calls is the most important type of call coaching you can do as a sales manager. The process should be: begin with the end; anticipate buyer interests; plan to gather information; anticipate objections; and plan the opening (pp 232-234; see sample planning worksheet).
- According to Jonathan Farrington, CEO of Top Sales World and editor of Top Sales Magazine, 2017 was the first year that the percentage of salespeople at quota dipped below the 50 percent mark. He lamented that this decline has been significant and that roughly 16 percent fewer salespeople are at quota today compared with four years ago. Our best chance for getting more salespeople to quota is by improving the effectiveness of our frontline sales managers, and training is a key enabler of that goal.
Throughout the book the authors give specific information that, if used correctly, as they claim, will help you be more successful without requiring you to work harder in the process. They state that, if you apply what is presented on this book, you will be a much more effective sales coach.