Episode 258: Regan Barker on Effective Coaching in Today’s Sales Landscape
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Shawnna Sumaoang: Hi, and welcome to the Sales Enablement PRO Podcast. I’m Shawnna Sumaoang. Sales enablement is a constantly evolving space, and we’re here to help professionals stay up to date on the latest trends and best practices so that they can be more effective in their jobs.
Today, I’m excited to have Regan Barker from Grant Thornton, Australia join us. Regan, I’d love for you to introduce yourself, your role, and your organization to our audience.
Regan Barker: Absolutely, Shawnna. It’s great to be here. My name is Regan Barker and I am the head of sales and sales enablement here at Grant Thornton Australia. Part of my role is to work closely with the business on their sales activity and sales coaching. Grant Thornton is an accounting audit and consulting firm. We have six offices across our beautiful nation and seven service lines. We sell over a hundred products and services across 11 industry specializations with about 170 partners and 1,300 people.
SS: Thank you for joining us. We’re excited to have a guest on the podcast from the Australia region. Now, one area of expertise for you is coaching. I’d love to start there and understand why sales coaching is so important.
RB: Great question. I think for particularly working in professional services, slightly different from more product-based businesses, our partners are the owners of the business. They’re also the experts and they’re actually the product. For me, coaching and advising our 170-odd partners is pivotal.
In Australia, we have an ever-changing landscape across the business, regulation, and market pressure. We need to ensure that our partners and our people have the confidence to cut through the noise and really provide essential insights around business operations, regulatory change, and emerging issues for those businesses and senior leaders to make sound business decisions. Helping our partners in their activity helps them be more efficient as well as to be able to make sure that they’re talking to the right people around the right insights as well.
SS: Absolutely. From your perspective, what are some of the key components of an effective coaching program, especially in today’s sales landscape?
RB: I think for effective coaching, it’s really about meeting people where they are. Most sales programs are based on supporting sales operators, our partners are the owners, and service providers, they’re the team leaders. They have to run the billing, run the client programs, absolutely everything. Our effective coaching has to be integrated as a part of their everyday life to make sure that it is effective and efficient.
When I say meeting people where they are, really it’s about understanding their business, how it operates, what the sales cycles are, whether it’s heavily compliance-driven and you’ll be advising an organization and their CFO, for example, on a regular basis or cyclical basis versus some of our financial advisory experts that are heavily transactional. Meeting them where they are, both in how they operate, but also in terms of their own capability as well, some of which are extremely effective sales operators and others may be more introverted. It’s really about giving them confidence.
One of the pieces that we try to focus on is just focusing on one skill or development area at a time. Fine-tune that, making sure we find our efficiencies, and then as they build that confidence and capability, then we move on to the next area to help fine-tune something else, another skill.
SS: I think those are absolutely key components to effective coaching programs. In your experience, what does good coaching look like? In other words, what does it take to be an effective sales coach?
RB: I think the most powerful tool you can have is to also be a practitioner. In professional services, obviously, I’m not going to be a tax expert, I’m not going to be an auditor, but what I am is an expert around sales. A key thing that I’ve adopted here is in the last financial year, I took over inbound sales and really developed that channel.
Everything that I coach on, I test and I use as a part of our inbound sales program as well. That’s led to great success. It means that we frequently on a daily basis run alongside our partners in a framework that I like to call coach to close. We are working with the client, working with the partner, and ensuring that the tactics and communications, the cadence, and our tools are all adopted as a part of those sales opportunities. We can then give them to the partner and they can use it in other opportunities that they’re working on.
What we’ve seen in terms of our adoption of inbound sales as well as sales enablement means that we’ve actually increased our revenue by that channel by over 93% in comparison to the previous year. We’ve actually qualified and won more opportunities from it as well. Our median opportunity fee has increased exponentially as well. With that, it means that we can give our partners practical tips to adopt within their sales programs rather than the more high-level traditional coaching that has occurred in the past within professional services.
SS: That is fantastic advice in terms of what good looks like. On the flip side, a common challenge when it comes to sales coaching is ensuring that sellers and sales managers are able to make the time for it. It feels like productivity and staying on top of quite a few things are definitely a challenge for folks these days. How do you get buy-in from the sales team and sales leadership to lean into coaching?
RB: I think that one of the challenges for us is, again, because we are in professional services, the partners are everything. There is a power behind what we call the billable hour. There has to be enough time in the day for partners to be able to bill and provide services to their clients as well as sell. I think there are a few pieces to this one.
We’re not going to be able to influence every partner across the firm some of them are already great operators. Really it’s about working with the people that want to work with us as well. Really focusing on from their perspective, tapping into their growth mindset and their willingness to learn and more on the flip side for us is about integrating it into partners every day.
We try to integrate our sales coaching into our pipeline meetings. Everything from our inbound sales, everything from our outbound prospecting, working across the top, middle, and bottom of the funnel with our marketing team. Then, making sure that we support them across as many interactions as possible, rather than only focusing on carving out time for that one-to-one coaching.
SS: I think that is a great way to go ahead and get buy-in from the leadership organization. How can coaching help sellers better engage their clients and deepen those client relationships?
RB: This is probably my favorite question. I think that any good sales tool or anything that you can have in your arsenal will help you be a better provider to your existing clients. Take questioning, for example. We try to create a framework to ensure that we cover not just current questions, but say future and past questions to ensure that we can get the most information and the most effective information to help support our prospective clients, but also our current clients. Even adopting those components will help be able to ensure that we get accurate scoping with our existing clients and make sure that we’re delivering on our promises as well.
SS: I’d love to hear that. Last question for you, Regan. What are your best practices for measuring the impact of coaching?
RB: We measure a few components around everything from the usability and adoption of our CRM. We obviously look at the bottom line, so from a partnership, it is individual partner revenue and service line revenue. Whether they’re in tax consulting or financial advisory, the average days to close opportunities obviously would be dependent on the service line and the products we’re offering.
One of our key focuses, however, at the moment is around client mix. Making sure that when we are winning work, are we winning work with the right type of client that we want to work with? Given its services, there has to be a level of profitability as well. Also, we want to work with great clients that also want to work with us. Also, from earlier stage sales, it’s around outreach activity, the number of opportunities created, also that cross-collaboration between partners and service lines. Really looking to focus on introductions given, whether it’s across our firm, but then also our friends in other professional services like banking and law, for example. The overall engagement, particularly through say NPS scores, as well, because we want to make sure that while we’re growing as a firm, we really focus on delivering against the objectives of our clients as well.
SS: I love that. Regan. Thank you so much for joining us on the podcast today.
RB: It was great to be here. I really appreciate it.
SS: To our audience, thanks for listening. For more insights, tips, and expertise from sales enablement leaders, visit salesenablement.pro. If there’s something you’d like to share or a topic you’d like to learn more about, please let us know. We’d love to hear from you.