Episode 35: Cori Hartje on Preparing Sales Managers to be Effective Coaches

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Shawnna Sumaoang: Hi, and welcome to the Sales Enablement PRO Podcast. I am 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 they can be more effective in their jobs.

I would love for you to introduce yourself, your role, and your company.

Cori Hartje: My name is Cori Hartje, and I lead the sales enablement team, as well as a group of folks that do technical training, for Poly. Our technical training side is what you typically think of as the “university” and our sales enablement side is a global team that does all things sales enablement – from onboarding to skills and improving the continual learning of our sales folks.

SS: I would love to get some advice from you on how to go about seeking executive buy-in for global sales enablement initiatives.

CH: You want to have the outline of the people, process, priorities, and programs – and products. You still want all those things discussed by sales leaders. And one thing that we do is have quarterly check-ins and briefing discussions with the different theaters. In that call, a group of sales leaders will be invited, as well as the regional marketing teams, different sales enablement people, anybody that we think is a really big stakeholder, and maybe a couple of key salespeople. And we’ll brief them on what we’re planning to roll out and get feedback on that. We don’t want surprises, and we want to talk about our big initiatives.

One thing that we did recently was we decided to do an analysis on our own, in the sales enablement team. We took 50 teams of salespeople and their direct reports, and we went and talked to each of them separately and asked them about their coaching, asked them about what they needed. And it was interesting because it showed us where the gaps were. For instance, here’s an example: We asked the salespeople, “What is your week like? Are you getting sales coaching?” And the managers would say, “Oh yes, I give lots of coaching” and their salespeople would say, “No, I don’t get any coaching, we just talk about pipeline.” So, that started an initiative on sales coaching.

Now that we’ve gone through our change management, we’re really focused on making sure that these teams that have now newly come together and many times have new managers to them are fully prepared to do a management coaching. And so, we’ve been going through some initiatives. We’ve hired a vendor, we’ve also been trained, and we’re teaching them how to discuss coaching, asking the how, what, doing pre-call discussions, rather than just focusing on pipeline.

I won’t go through all that we’re doing in that, but I will say how we’re measuring it. One way that we’re measuring our impact on sales coaching is that we are looking at improving what we’d call the middles. So, every sales manager has a few people on their team that are really good, and they probably carry the team, they’re always 100%. Usually, they have two or three people that are 110%, 120%, and they really carry that sales manager and make that sales manager look great. But if you look at the data, there are maybe four or five people that are below 100%, maybe below 60%. And so, what we’re saying is we’re setting a baseline right now and we’re telling our sales managers we’re going to look at the middles.

The top performers don’t need sales coaching very often – they might be able to coach you, but you don’t need to be coaching them. They are great, they’re doing their deal, they’re consistently high performers. The low performers are probably low for a lot of reasons, but what we know is that those middle performers probably need the most support from their manager. We’re doing a trend line on each quarter of where those middle performers are.

So, we’re looking between the 60% to 90% quota and we’re tracking, is the number of people meeting quota on your team going up? Not the percentage of your quota, but, “this quarter you had two people meeting quota, next quarter you had three people meeting quota.” Or you could say, “this quarter you have 70% meeting quota, next quarter you have 80% meeting quota.” We want to make sure that the middles are coming up. We’re going to use that as a proxy for, “we’re doing a lot better coaching.”

SS: I love that, I love that. I have two follow up questions then, just in regard to coaching. One is, oftentimes frontline sales managers tend to have been, maybe, the best performing sales rep – not necessarily the most encouraging sales representative or sales leader. So, how do you teach those sales leaders to be better coaches?

CH: Just like any team sport, often the players become the coaches and sometimes it works out, and sometimes it doesn’t work out. Coaches have a different make-up and responsibility than being the salesperson on the field. One of the areas that I just recently discovered watching a whole lot of really high-level sales managers is that they struggled a lot of times between asking questions during a coaching process and telling the answer. So, what we started off with was: don’t assume that you know the answer, because the person doesn’t learn when you just tell them the answer. They’ll listen to that. But what you get when you ask them the question of self-discovery is that they can internalize what they should be doing.

If they’re out on a sales call and it’s going poorly instead of saying, “Here’s what I would do, next time I would do this, this, and this”, the person will go, “okay, uh-huh” and they haven’t thought it through. They don’t know why they’re doing it. But if that sales manager says to them, “You know, I observed that this was the reaction of the customer when we mentioned some topic, how do you think that went? What were you going for there? What’s your next step in turning that around? When do you plan to have the next conversation?” So, it’s more how and when and what did you observe.

We try to get them not to use the word why, because why can get defensive, so trying to use those other words. That’s just a very practical way to get managers to think. And surely, they probably were great salespeople. Most people don’t get promoted to be a sales manager without having been a good salesperson. But it should not be taken for granted that they don’t need some extra help. In fact, right now, we are putting people in our sales enablement team that are specifically focused on sales management coaching. And we’ll have those in our various regions to work as a business partner with the sales management team.

SS: That’s very cool. Are you also, by any chance, incentivizing frontline managers to incorporate coaching more into their practice?

CH: We do not have a particular incentive except that we’re going to measure those middles, and we’re going to make it really public.

SS: That’s the best kind of incentive.

CH: We have found that salespeople are often motivated not just by commission or by accolades, but by competition with other salespeople or other sales managers. They will do a lot just to make sure that on that leader board, they’re on the top.

SS: Absolutely, absolutely. I love that. So, I just wanted to check in with you and see if there were any other initiatives that you’d highly recommend to some of the other practitioners out there.

CH: One thing that the team has done in onboarding which is interesting is that onboarding isn’t a few days in time. Typically, when you onboard as a salesperson within an organization, they send you off for a couple of days somewhere and then you’re done. Maybe you’ll go back to a quarterly sales meeting. So, we’ve tried to take a slightly more comprehensive approach because that firehose approach is very difficult to absorb. And while you may be an enthusiastic newcomer to the organization, it’s hard to know what you need to know and what you don’t know. So, we are actively doing a different process.

The first few weeks that you’re on board, you’re meeting with your manager. We give you a checklist of items that you need to do – people you need to meet with, things you need to do, individual learning that you do on your own so that you’re more prepared to do a formal learning experience at a new hire sales training. Sometime between week four and eight, you’ll likely be sent to a multi-day sales training where we expose you to products and to other salespeople – because that’s really important, to have a network of people that are also new. So, you have sort of a cohort and people you can confide in and check progress on and look for resources. We bring people together into a new hire sales training and we do soft skills training, we do product skills, and we also help them understand the priorities of the company.

Then after that, we have sort of a continuation program and that same cohort goes through about ten weeks of calls, webinars, and check-ins on certain different topics. So, maybe one week will be about compensation. Hosted by the sales enablement team, you’ll meet with a compensation leader. Another week, you might work on the pricing tools. Another week, you might have a competition lead talk, or any of the other areas that are important to salespeople. And we’ll do that for about ten weeks. We continually look at that and refine what needs to happen based on the needs of the business. But that way, you’ve got about a whole quarter of onboarding in a more paced out, spread out way to help absorb it.

SS: 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 want to know more about let us know – we’d love to hear from you.

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