Sales managers need to coach their salespeople to perform to the best of their abilities. But even the best sales managers can fall into the trap of trying to coach too many skills at once, or coaching the wrong skill altogether. These approaches do little but frustrate both salesperson and manager, and rarely result in improved performance overall.

An alternative approach is one I use at HubSpot. We focus on discovering the sales skill that will make the most difference right now in a salesperson’s performance, and then coach them to improve that one skill. But avoid over-reliance on your “gut” to diagnose skill deficiencies.  Instead, turn to quantitative analysis supported by qualitative reflection. I call this approach metrics-driven sales coaching.

Here’s how to implement a metrics-driven coaching culture in four simple steps:

1. Establish a Measurement Framework

Your metrics framework should allow you to inspect every stage of your funnel and analyze it for deficiencies. How many leads have been prospected?  How many connects occurred? How many connects converted into discovery calls? How many discovery calls yielded qualified demos? How many demos closed to customers? What was the average revenue per customer? How did these metrics differ by division or team?  How did these metrics differ by sales person on each team?  How did these metrics differ month over month for an individual sales person?   You can get as fine-grained as your CRM allows.  

The graph below shows an example of a high level framework for this data.

Establish a Measurement Framework

Start small and over time expand your metrics framework.  “Peel back the onion” on key areas where you feel the metrics can be improved.  For example, if you see a significant drop off in the conversion from discovery call to demo, start requiring the reasons for disqualification after the discovery call.

Was the timing off for the prospect?  Did the prospect already have a solution?  Did the prospect agree to the demo but blow it off?  All of these outcomes would suggest a different skill deficiency and a different coaching strategy to overcome it.

2. Establish an Organization-wide Coaching Culture

On the second day of every month, I meet with all of my sales directors and review each salesperson in their division. I ask three simple questions:

  • What skill is each salesperson working on this month?
  • Why did the salesperson and sales manager choose that skill?
  • How will the salesperson develop the skill with the help of his/her manager?

Because my meeting exists, my directors meet with all of their sales managers the morning of the second day of the month to prepare, and they ask the same questions of their managers.

Because that director discussion exists, the sales managers meet with each of their reps on the first day of the month to prepare. This meeting is very much a two-way dialogue, not a one-way critique from the managers to the salesperson.  First, the manager asks the sales person to qualitatively reflect on his/her month.  “How do you feel you did last month?   What did you do well?  What would you like to improve?”  

Next, the manager walks the sales person through the team metrics. “Here is a chart of the total prospecting activity, by sales person on our team.  What do you observe about your performance from these metrics?  Why do you think you are above (or below) average in this area?”  The sales manager moves onto the next chart and repeats the process.  This combination of qualitative and quantitative review helps both salesperson and manager target the precise skill that needs coaching this month.

Finally, the sales manager and sales person co-create the coaching plan.  “What is the best way I can help develop this skill?”  Strive to lock in the coaching plan right in the meeting.  For example, if you decide to work on discovery calls, set a goal for the sales person to record 2 discovery calls this month. Schedule two 90 minute reviews during the one-on-one to ensure the task gets done.  This entire process empowers sales people to drive their own professional development.

3. Establish Daily Progress Reports

Use daily dashboards to automate your ongoing measurements. We use dashboards at HubSpot, and every day we send the full funnel metrics by division, team, and salesperson by month, by week, and by day to the entire sales team, me, and to our CEO. This establishes full transparency and accountability throughout our team. It also helps keep everyone aware of how the coaching is working, and gives you the opportunity to intervene or intensify as the need arises.

This level of accountability requires a particularly strong culture. It’s important that this level of insight isn’t perceived as an overbearing level of micromanagement. It helps if the entire organization, from marketing to sales, to services, to engineering is subject to these daily reports so that everyone is equally accountable to one another. The image below shows an example of a marketing and a sales chart holding the two teams accountable to daily progress.

Establish Daily Progress Reports

4. Establish a Sales Coaching Archive

Capture a historical record of each salesperson’s monthly coaching plan. This archive will allow you to see improvement and persistent deficiencies over time, either of which might go undetected otherwise.

An archive will also allow you to see which coaching plans work best at overcoming specific skill deficiencies, and who has most recently overcome them. Knowing that a plan has worked in the past will give both manager and salesperson confidence that their hard work will pay off. And a salesperson who has recently overcome a common deficiency could be of great help to those currently struggling with the same issue. Even a simple conversation over coffee can accelerate the struggling salesperson’s development on this skill.

To learn more about metrics-driven sales coaching, such as the most common skill deficiencies and the coaching patterns that work to overcome them, download the full version of my 2012 Dreamforce presentation.  

ROI Of Sales Coaching