20 Minutes | Sales Performance

Make Your Sales Coaching Stick: 5 Proven Strategies Using Habit Formation Psychology

Marc Bernstein

CEO, Balto

5 Proven Strategies Using Habit Formation Psychology

  • If this report fails to give you at least three extremely useful ideas that you can use to improve your sales coaching program, then we consider it a complete failure.
  • This report contains no references to Balto’s technology, and it has no calls to action.
  • We created this report for you by conducting more than 13 months of research into sales coaching strategy and behavior change psychology. Our sole intention is to help you improve your coaching.
  • If you have been thinking about revamping your sales coaching process, this report will provide you guideposts to ensure that your coaching sticks.

IN THIS REPORT, YOU WILL LEARN:

1. Why Sales Coaching Fails

2. 5 Strategies You Can Use to Make Your Sales Coaching Stick

3. Resources to Learn More

THE 5 SALES COACHING STRATEGIES

1. Analyze the ABCs of Habit Formation

2. Record Behaviors in Writing, Immediately

3. Reinforce Skills Quickly and Frequently

4. Make Goals Public

5. Craft Skill Development Plans

Why Sales Coaching FAILS

Effective sales coaching consists of a long chain of events involving you, your reps, and your customers, in which all of the events in the chain need to go right.

The chain spans from:  your reps’ sales calls, to your coaching sessions, to reps’ execution of your coaching on live calls. If one segment of your chain is broken, your coaching program collapses.

Here’s a typical coaching chain. Yours might look similar.

First, sales reps record their calls. Your automated call recording is in place, so you have audio available for every conversation. So far so good.

Next, you implement some sort of filter on which calls to coach. Maybe you only coach calls that led to appointments or to complaints. Maybe you only coach calls that reps marked with certain flags or dispositions. In any case, you resign that it would be impossible to coach on every one of your reps’ calls, so you discard something like 95% of them, hoping that the discarded calls didn’t contain any nuggets. The 5% of calls that you coach on, you assume, is good enough.

You review your 5% chunk. How many calls do you have to listen to before you find one that provides a solid coaching insight? How much time does this take you? How many days every month do you dedicate to this process?

There is an obvious managerial bottleneck here. Given your broad spread of responsibilities, you only have so much time to dedicate to coaching. Unfortunately, a good portion of that time is spent listening to audio recordings instead of conducting one-on-ones with your reps. If you are lucky, you will be able to accommodate a coaching session with each rep every week. If you are closer to average, though, you will find that 2-3 weeks elapse between coaching sessions.

Let’s assume that three weeks have passed since your last coaching session. You sit down with one of your core reps. You load the recording of his call. He barely remembers what he was thinking at the time. You barely remember what you were thinking when you listened to it. You try to decipher what the heck you meant by “faster listening”, which you hastily scribbled in your not ebook in preparation for the session. You eventually manage to make some sense of your note. Your rep thanks you for the fifteen minutes, and he returns to his desk.
Now, your rep needs to remember what you discussed in those fifteen minutes. At first, his memory serves him pretty well, and he has a few strong calls that day, probably because of your coaching.

The next day, he’s forgotten 22% of yesterday’s coaching session. After one week, he’s forgotten 59% of your coaching. After one month, he’s forgotten as much as 80% of your coaching.

With only 20% of your coaching session still intact, your rep finds himself on a call one Friday afternoon hearing the exact objection you had coached in your last session. Frantically, he scans his memory: “How exactly did that rebuttal go? What was I supposed to say?” Time’s up. He decides the rebuttal wouldn’t sound natural at this point, anyhow.

This is the chain that links sales calls, sales coaching, and sales execution. And it’s tragic. It makes sales coaching incredibly difficult, and it leaves your reps deserted in the moments that they need to call upon your coaching the most.

The 5 Sales Coaching Strategies you find in this report will help you build a solid chain, one that makes your coaching effective and magnifies the impact of your limited time.

LET’S DIG IN!

SALES COACHING STRATEGY #1:

The ABC’s of Habitat Formation

To help your reps build effective habits and break harmful ones, organizational psychologists suggest evaluating the ABCs of habit formation.

The ABCs are:

Antecedents – the context that occurs immediately before behaviors you want to coach
Behaviors – the coachable behaviors
Consequences – the positive or negative aftereffects of behaviors

The ABCs remind us of a simple but easy to forget fact: every behavior occurs in context. To better understand how ABCs apply to your sales coaching, consider a common challenge that sales reps experience: talking when they should be listening. Most sales managers agree that talking too much hurts sales conversations. Sales managers try to correct this behavior the only way they know how… “Be quiet and let the other guy talk!”

Most sales managers only coach on the act of over- talking, that is to say, the behavior. Yet it is equally important—perhaps more important—to coach on the situations that occur directly before and after the behaviors you want to improve. With careful analysis, you will find that even seemingly random flurries of talking too much occur in shockingly consistent patterns. Perhaps a rep tends to dominate the conversation when he or she is nervous, after long silences, or after receiving an objection. In all cases, chances are that the behavior you want to coach predictably follows others.

Let’s discuss best practices for analyzing ABCs. We’ll start by considering the role of antecedents.

Here is why analyzing antecedents is so important: if a blunder can be predicted, it can be prevented. Likewise, when reps are diligent about establishing foundations for effective conversations on every call, strong selling behaviors naturally follow.

To analyze antecedents, consider adding the following questions to your sales coaching repertoire.

• Can you remember what you were thinking right before…?
• Can you remember what prompted you to say that?
• How would you describe your emotions before…?
• Can you think of a time where you felt that executing was particularly easy? Why was it easier in that example?

Look for patterns in the language your reps and buyers use that precede the behaviors you want to coach. For example, you might find that after a rep says, “What I really meant to say was…”, the rep tends to ramble. Pay attention to antecedents, and you will find prime opportunities for coaching and discussion.

Now, what strategies can you use to analyze behaviors? With behavior analysis, this point is crucial: the rep needs to be the one to describe the behavior. Not you! Organizational psychologists have found that when we verbalize our behaviors, we become more attune to them. As a result, when your reps take ownership of describing their selling behaviors during your coaching sessions, they become more capable of “catching themselves in the moment” during live sales conversations.

To amplify this effect, encourage your reps to describe their behaviors as vividly as possible. See if these questions do the trick.

1. How would you describe your tone here?
2. How would you describe your pacing here?
3. How would you describe the language you’re using? Formal? Colloquial?
4. Can you think of a different sales technique you could have used here?

Finally, it’s important for reps to clearly identify the consequences of their behaviors. When the rep interrupts his or her buyer, what happens next? Does the buyer become more combative? Does the buyer shut down? How thoroughly can your rep remember and describe the buyer’s response? Picking out what occurs as a result of your reps’ behaviors motivates the why behind your proposed changes. Your reps must be convinced that the relationships you discover between their behaviors and the consequences are real… and that they are impactful. Otherwise, even when your reps do remember their coaching, they might opt to do what’s most comfortable—to do it the way they’ve always done it—instead.

See if these questions help your team link their behaviors and consequences.

1. How would you describe your buyer’s response to…?
2. And after that, how did you then respond? 3. If you had done X instead, how would your conversation have progressed differently? Why do you think so?

Pay attention to the ABCs of habit change— Antecedents, Behaviors, and Consequences—and you’ll find that what might have been a typical “do this better” coaching session becomes phenomenally insightful, collaborative, and very, very sticky.

SALES COACHING STRATEGY #2:

Record Behaviors in Writing, Immediately

Here are 3 reasons why reps should record behavior in writing, immediately.

Memory is highly fallible. As a result, when reps revisit call recordings from days or weeks ago, they are likely to misremember significant chunks of what they were thinking and feeling at the time. Preserving the truth behind the details that call recordings can’t tell you is critical to analyzing reps’ behaviors honestly and objectively. The act of recording improves performance. Committing observations to writing significantly increases your chances of successfully executing good behaviors and curbing bad ones. Psychologists call this proven phenomenon “reactivity”. Recording makes tracking progress easy. Reps’ progress should be measurable . When progress is measurable, it’s easy to celebrate wins and correct course when skills are not developing as hoped. After your reps have been recording their behaviors for 2-3 weeks, consider graphing their progress. In this short time, with little intervention required on your part, their graphs will likely showcase dramatic improvements.

How should your reps record their behaviors? As simply as possible. Here are a couple of ideas:

• Reps could carry pocket-sized memo pads with them and jot down a minute of notes at the end of every call.
• Reps could mark a tally on a piece of scratch paper every time they successfully execute a particular skill.

SALES COACHING STRATEGY #3:

Reinforce Skills Quickly and Frequently

You might be surprised to learn that the timing of reinforcement is perhaps more important than the form of reinforcement itself.
Think about it this way. Let’s say that you were a sales rep working to improve your asks. At the end of every call, if your ask was strong, one of the reps seated near you would ring a bell. If your ask was weak, the rep would sound a buzzer. As a human, because you are a natural problem-solver, you would quickly recognize patterns among the bells and the buzzes and discover how to deliver a strong ask in no time.

Now consider an alternative scenario. Let’s say that you were a sales rep receiving one-on-one feedback on your performance every 2-3 weeks. Whereas you might have heard 100 bells and 100 buzzers over this time period with our previous strategy, with this new strategy, you receive feedback just one time. You receive only one opportunity to learn whether your efforts were on the right track, and if they were not, you just wasted 2-3 weeks before adjusting your strategy.

Psychology proves that when feedback closely follows the behavior you want to improve, you progress the most. At the same time, especially if you coach a large team, dedicating sufficient time to constant coaching may seem near impossible. If this is the case for you, you might find this next strategy to be indispensable.

SALES COACHING STRATEGY #4:

Make Goals Public

If you coach a large team, you have a tremendous opportunity in front of you.

You know the particularly repetitive, time-consuming aspects of coaching? You know the activities that require you to pace about the sales floor and jump in on reps’ calls? You know the parts of coaching that make you feel like you are more of an annoyance than a champion?
You can outsource all of these activities to your own sales team.

If you commit to building not only a team of sales reps, but also a team of sales coaches, you create a self-sustaining, scalable coaching system where you can “sub out” any day of the week, and your coaching program won’t miss a beat. To build your team of sales coaches, implement these four rules.

1. Limit Your Coaches’ Span of Control
Each coach should provide feedback on the skills that his or her fellow reps have expressed they are working to improve and nothing more. You could ask reps to affix sticky notes to their computer monitors with the skills that they have dedicated to improve that week, and neighbors would limit coaching to those skills. This strategy helps reps focus on improving just one skill at a time and prevents peer coaching from snowballing into a battle royale.

2. Ask Reps to Being Open to Feedback
All of your reps must commit: they will approach everyone’s opinion with an open mind. They understand that by publicly naming a skill that they wish to improve, they agree to receive feedback on that skill. They commit to embracing progress over pride.

3. Focus On the Positive
To paraphrase Charles Schwab, ask your reps to be gentle with their criticisms and gushing with their praises. Ask your reps to seek out examples of success in their peers and highlight them every time. An emphasis on positive feedback has the added benefit of improving reps’ happiness in the workplace too.

4. Make Them Accountable
Social support is the single most impactful predictor of an individual achieving his or her a goal. If your reps announce their goals publicly and ask peers to hold them accountable, reinforcement becomes immediate, frequent, and consistent.

SALES COACHING STRATEGY #5:

Craft Skill Development Plans

If a sales rep begins to falter on a skill that he or she developed some time ago, behavioral psychologists have a dramatic name for this problem: relapse.

How do you prevent your reps from relapsing?

The best way to prevent relapse is to continuously reinforce all of the skills that you teach your reps… forever. Before we discuss the pragmatic implications of this statement, try to recall an example of relapse in your own life. When was the last time you kicked a bad habit? In times of stress, or with a lack of sleep, or in any other trying circumstances, did your habit resurface? Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, calls our need for endless reinforcement the Golden Rule of Habit Change.

The Rule says: “You can’t extinguish a bad habit. You can only change it.”

The reverse is true for good habits. Every good habit is in a constant state of instability, perpetually at risk of slipping away.
In terms of sales coaching, if you were to dedicate your time each week to reinforcing all of the skills that you previously coached, you’d find yourself without time to coach on anything new. Spending your time rehashing old coaching sessions isn’t an efficient or scalable way for you to lead your team. That’s why you need to create a skill development plan. A skill development plan will help you reinforce sales skills without rehashing them.

Here’s how it works:

A skill development plan requires a few inputs. Each week, in a running log, you and your reps should record:
• The date of your coaching session.
• One skill that the rep should focus on developing until your next coaching session.
• The progress (measurable, if possible) that the rep has made since your last session

It’s simple. Yet, without this running log, within one month, your reps will forget 80% of what they learn. Skill development plans enable you and your reps to craft cohesive coaching narratives—to tie your coaching sessions together in elegant stories, where one skill seamlessly blends into the next. Your reps come face-to-face with these narratives every single time you meet. Coaching becomes more impactful than trying to fix a random set of sales behaviors. With skill development plans, you will be able to highlight the significance of each coaching session and demonstrate how they all fit together to contribute to a well-rounded sales professional.

In a strong skill development plan, every skill builds off of the previous one. As a result, what a rep learns this week requires the rep to employ the skills that he or she learned the week before. Every new skill works as an anchor, linking reps to both the skills of their past and to opportunities for what they may learn in the future.

Resources to Learn More:

You might find these books particularly helpful when it comes to coaching your sales reps.

• “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business”, by Charles Duhigg
• “Self-Directed Behavior: Self-Modification for Personal Adjustment”, 10th Edition, by David L. Watson and Roland G. Tharp
• “How to Win Friends & Influence People”, by Dale Carnegie
• “The Challenger Sale”, by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson

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