How To Keep The Drama Out of Your Sales Coaching Sessions
Work drama. Seemingly childish and petty conflicts that can result in a serious problem when it comes to time management and your bottom line. According to a study conducted by CPP Inc., a whopping 85% of employees at all levels experience workplace drama to some degree. Even more alarming, they found that U.S employees spend 2.8 hours a week managing workplace drama. Yikes.
Many managers find that their sales coaching sessions are a key source of drama. That’s not a surprise: it can be difficult to provide candid direction and feedback (especially if it’s focused around performance improvement or skill gaps) while navigating relationships with your reps and being sensitive to their feelings.
If you’re finding that your coaching sessions devolve into drama — reps get emotional or defensive, or perhaps they use the time to vent instead of problem solve — then you can safely assume that your 1:1s aren’t having a positive impact on performance, culture and your rep relationships.
In other words: they’re not very effective. (And that’s a bummer — because effective 1:1s are critical, especially when your reps are remote).
Why Sales Coaching Sessions Get Emotional
Here are common scenarios that can lead to drama in your 1:1s:
A) They’re not happening frequently enough, so issues get pent up.
In this case, your employees don’t have a solid, consistent outlet for giving or receiving feedback. The risk here is that there might be an issue that gets held in and bubbled up when it’s already too late. If your employees aren’t happy, feeling heard, or given a clear path for growth, they may leave.
B) They’re informal — so maybe reps feel too comfortable.
Your 1:1s are happening, but they are way too informal. You may have backed yourself into a corner where you’re leaving your sessions too open-ended: enabling emotions or anecdotes to take over your 1:1s instead of facts and data. It may be time to take a step back and restructure your approach so your conversations are more productive.
C) Reps go on the defense.
This issue is typically a side-effect of in-frequent or impersonal sales coaching. Defensiveness is triggered by a person feeling threatened or anticipating a threat (meaning your approach to feedback matters). Worst of all, defensiveness can completely kill a conversation. It’s contagious, i.e., defensive words are typically received and responded to defensively, causing a vicious cycle.
6 Ways to Keep the Drama Out Of Your Sales Coaching Sessions
Here are the high-level essentials to have consistently productive and effective sales coaching sessions:
1) Let Data Drive
One of the fastest and most effective ways you can clean up your sales coaching sessions is by leading with data. Numbers don’t lie, and they tend to stick in your memory, too. Look at the following coaching examples below - which is more compelling, actionable and memorable?
Sales coach A: “Carolina, I feel like your productivity level could be better - I haven’t noticed any pipeline opportunities come into the funnel from your list of prospects. What is going on?”
Sales coach B: “Carolina, I’ve been looking at your activity in Salesforce and your outbound call rate is down 22% this month compared to last month. The last time your call rate went down, you missed your monthly quota by 10%. What goals can we set together today to work on getting your call rate up this week?”
Sales coach B was not only able to pinpoint the exact metric that was leading to a decrease in productivity, but they were also able to tell me exactly by how much it was down, the reason why it matters, and then open the conversation to find an actionable solution. Bravo.
Using data as the driver in your coaching sessions allows you to set clear expectations with your reps. It will also help highlight clear areas of achievement and growth opportunities. Keeping emotions or anecdotes at bay and facts at the forefront.
Data-driven 1:1s can produce benefits for the whole team, too. Using consistent metrics to measure performance in all of your 1:1s levels the playing field for all of your reps. Clear baseline metrics can help you engage your whole team and create program consistency.
2) Strike The Right Balance
There are two commonly recognized styles of sales coaching: directive and developmental. While it may be tempting to lean full-throttle into one particular style, finding a balance between the two is what will keep you from falling into a micromanaging trap.
The directive style is all about specifics. Feedback with this style should be measurable around specific KPIs. The developmental style, on the other hand, focuses on an open dialogue: asking questions to help the rep develop on their own.
Although directive feedback can sometimes be uncomfortable to deliver, it’s a necessary evil to set clear expectations with your reps. The main challenge with directive feedback is that it can lead to a one-sided coaching session. A simple way to allow for self-discovery and development in tandem with directive coaching is to sandwich your directive feedback with developmental coaching.
Let’s go back to our friend Sales Coach B. Dissecting Coach B’s words of wisdom we’ll find how they’ve managed to combine coaching styles:
“Carolina, how have you been adjusting to working from home?” < developmental coaching
“I’ve been looking at your activity in Salesforce and your outbound call rate is down 22% this month compared to last month. The last time your call rate went down, you missed your monthly quota by 10%.” < directive coaching
“What goals can we set together today to work on getting your call rate up this week?” < developmental coaching
The first part of Coach B’s feedback sets the stage: allowing me to know - what metrics they are focused on and why they matter. The second part invites me into the conversation and gives me an opportunity to act on the first set of feedback received.
Because of Coach B, I was able to hit my quota after all — thanks, Coach B! ; )
3) Foster a safe environment
An important part of establishing sales coaching sessions is getting buy-in from your employees. On a recent webinar, Cara from Resy expressed how she’d found success with using what she calls “the menu technique” where she essentially gives each of her direct reports a few options on how they’d like their 1:1s to be formatted.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach (especially if your team spans across multiple states or countries) - giving options and then deciding together what works best will start you off on a collaborative note. This way your employees will be more likely to hold themselves accountable and feel like they were a part of the process implementation vs. feeling like it was an obligation.
If you’re implementing 1:1s for the first time, making your first few 1:1s feel casual is a great low barrier of entry. Whether it’s going on a coffee break or hosting a zoom happy hour, create an environment where they are more likely to be comfortable to help bring their guard down.
Trust is the root of successful sales coaching. Remind your team members that the design of these sessions is to help them become more successful. Not only are you building trust with your employees, but you’re also encouraging them to inspire trust in others - whether it be fellow reps or prospects.
4) Ensure consistency
As cliche as it sounds, consistency really is key. Your employees will never see the benefits of your coaching sessions if they’re not happening on a regular basis. Not only this, but you’ll never get an actual read on their performance or know how to help them improve.
We know you’re busy, and 1:1 coaching takes hours out of your workweek - especially if you have a lot of direct reports. But consider this - a study by CEB global shows that sales coaching can increase sales productivity by up to 88%. Taking a few hours out of your week is well worth it when considering your bottom line and how an 88% increase in productivity could move the needle.
Historical data is the only surefire way to track your employee's improvements and know whether or not your coaching is actually working. An easy way to ensure consistency in your 1:1s is to go through the same set of questions each time and have your employee record their answers. Send the questions to your reps ahead of time so they know what’s coming and can self-reflect/record their answers before each session. Automate this process and keep track of their responses on the Ambition platform so you don’t miss a beat.
Consistency is also important because businesses are constantly evolving. As initiatives change, your employee’s performance plan will need to change too. Leave yourself the flexibility to discuss new initiatives in your 1:1s to make sure you’re driving change over the time that the new initiative is moving.
5) Be ultra-present
Yep, that means - close out of all of your instant messaging apps and your email, silence your phone and give your employee 100% of your attention. If you’re coaching remotely, turn your camera on. It’ll make you much more present during your session and enable your conversation to feel more personal. Plus, you may learn something new about your employees based on where they work.
During your 1:1s it’s important to give honest, coaching feedback that is open-ended. Rather than claiming something as right or wrong, use your 1:1 sessions as a space to become a sounding board and provide ideas for improvement.
Allow your rep to “self-discover” by asking questions that generate self-awareness (ex. What do you think caused your numbers to go down this week? What do you think you could’ve done better to get a better result?)
Once they’ve self-identified the problem and proposed what they think they could’ve done better, work with them on a plan to achieve that goal or improvement. Give your rep the structure they need, support them as they implement that structure, and then follow up on their progress.
We saved the best for last. Documentation of 1:1s is critical. We know what you’re thinking - You said to close out of my apps! Sitting and typing or writing during a 1:1 makes it too formal, my employee won’t open up. They need to see that I’m actively listening.
Great point, but consider this - If you don’t document, all you have to go off of is what you may or may not recall from your last interaction. This leads you to a path where you have to have essentially the same conversations over and over again: a method that is not constructive or reliable. Also, we’re not suggesting that you have to document during your 1:1s. In fact, we don't recommend it.
Here’s a pro-tip from our own VP of Sales, Mark McWatters,
“When it comes to 1:1s, don’t book the full hour - give yourself buffers between meetings to knock out your annotations.”
Mark has found that a 45 minute 1:1 followed by a 15-minute recap and documentation session have helped transform his own sales coaching and the performance on his team. Documenting 1:1s allows you to look through your coaching history and see what you’ve worked on and whether or not there has been an improvement in your team member’s performance.
At Ambition, there are 5 key elements managers use to rate their employees after a 1:1 check-in:
Coachability: How receptive was the employee to feedback?
Engagement: How engaged was the employee?
Hustle/Drive/Grit: Are you leaving it all on the court? Are you getting back up when you get knocked down?
Preparedness: How prepared was the employee?
Self-starting/Initiative: The quality of taking ownership of unknowns and learning/exploring/starting on your own instead of waiting for specific instruction.
Then track these metrics over time to see how your employee has improved in any given area. Recognize improvements and then focus on areas of opportunity.
There are over 3,000 sales managers on the Ambition platform that are using our coaching tool. We've compiled the best of the best of their coaching tips in one big coaching hub which you can access for free right here or watch the tool in action here.