Sales Enablement Soirée: Panel – Creating a Sales Coaching Culture with Impact, Fall 2020

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Cassandra Tenorio: Welcome to our panel on Creating a Sales Coaching Culture with Impact. I’m really looking forward to hearing from our panelists today on how they’re creating sales coaching programs at their organizations and how they’re measuring success for continued improvement. So I’d love for each of our panelists to just go around, say your name, your company, a little bit about yourself. Let’s start with Cathy. 

Cathy Estabrooks: Well, thank you for having me. My name is Cathy Estabrooks. I am with BirdEye. BirdEye is a company based out of Palo Alto. Our sales division is located here in the Dallas area. So I am head of revenue enablement for BirdEye. 

Cassandra Tenorio: Awesome. Mark?

Mark McWatters: Hi everybody, I am Mark McWatters. I lead a sales org at Ambition. Ambition is gamification and coaching for sales teams. Our fit right now in this work from home culture is typically trying to rediscover visibility, motivation recognition for frontline sellers. And that’s certainly where we play best.

Brandy Ringler: My name is Brandy Ringler. I run sales enablement for Gong. Right now that spans across our SDR, AE, and growth teams. I’ve been at Gong for about a year and a half. Prior to Gong I was in enterprise sales. So, my journey into enablement has been a sales rep myself, and then moved into Gong where we are a fast growing startup.

Cassandra Tenorio: Absolutely. Well, we have a full panel today and we are going to jump right into these questions since we only have about 30 minutes. And we’re really going to start by talking about what effective sales coaching looks like for you. So, what does successful sales coaching look like at your organization? And Mark, I’ll start with you. 

Mark McWatters: Sure. Effective sales coaching for one, it has to be scheduled, it has to be consistent, and it needs to be employee led, not manager led. So, really what I’m referring to immediately is the one-on-one, there’s obviously a lot of unscheduled coaching that happens, but for us, we have one-on-ones each week. I have one with everyone on my team. My managers have one-on-ones with everyone on their team. They’re typically 45 minutes. They cover five open-ended questions that I pick, usually they’re the same each week, but the employee is the one who is leading most of the conversation. They talk me through the questions, I ask more questions, and the last question is always, “What else?” And that tends to lead to other things that they want to discuss regarding maybe it’s personal, maybe it’s a sales opportunity, perhaps it’s an employee interaction. And when you let the employee lead the conversation, that sort of takeaways happen. But first it’s gotta be, you have to have scheduled time. You have to ensure it’s documented and tied to metrics. But you also have to give the employee the voice of the conversation. 

Brandy Ringler: So effective coaching at Gong, it takes a couple of different forms. So we look at manager to rep coaching, we also look at peer to peer coaching. For us, we drink our own champagne. We use Gong at Gong and one of the ways that we use it and track it is through manager and rep engagement. So, with coaching we can track things like how many comments or how much feedback, how many calls has a manager graded over a period of time? So usually over a 30 day period, we take a look back by each segment and see how the managers fared across each of their teams. Usually we expect to see that there is a higher ratio toward newer reps. So we would expect that they’re spending more time with reps that have just joined the organization. We don’t just look at the number of feedback they’ve given on calls. We looked at calls tended. So, part of the beauty of Gong is in past lives managers have said, “Hey, I haven’t been able to coach on calls, because I’ve spent so much time on them myself.”  And so now we have really clear understanding and metrics across.

If that’s actually the case, let’s take a look at what that ratio is. How many of your team’s calls are where you want over the past 30 days, and how does that look compared to the feedback that you were giving your team? In a remote environment, like we’re all in, it’s become especially important. And we’ve seen even with our customers a steep increase in the commentary managers are leaving within our own product because it really is the only way to stay connected to these conversations that are happening with customers and prospects. So, we look at things like that and then we have implemented peer to peer coaching. So we have a program depending on the initiative or training topic we are running that month. We’re typically pairing two reps for the team to score each other’s calls based on the last training. 

So an example I could give you now is we typically close business through pilots, and we’re really focused on that closing business insights call for a pilot. So we typically roll out a training. We’ll provide a scorecard associated with what a good training or meeting looks like with the customer. And then we ask our reps to actually buy into that and coach each other. So they understand the framework that we’re looking for, but they also get to participate, and hearing how their peers are doing on that exact call. So we look at it in terms of those two aspects when it comes to coaching. So that hopefully it feels really well-rounded and they’re not just being coached, but they’re also providing that coaching. 

Cassandra Tenorio: And how can sales enablement really help to foster a strong coaching culture? Cathy, I’d love to hear from you.

Cathy Estabrooks: I think giving the managers the primary focus of coaching. I think a lot of times sales managers end up focusing a lot of their energy on closing deals and working to close deals instead of really being able to grow their people, right? So sometimes it’s time constraints, sometimes it’s different levels of skill. So for us, you know, we encourage them not just to do coaching, but to think about it in small bites. I think giving feedback is important, but how they do that is important. So we’ve put together a manager training program that allows them to better themselves as managers on an ongoing basis so that, you know, the coaching is more and more effective.

And I agree with Mark, I think anytime it can be led by the employee, it puts the focus on them to say, “Hey, I listened to like, we use chorus, all these calls and chorus that I did. And then I listened to calls that our top rep did, and I saw the differences and these are the things that I want to work on.” And then for the manager, it’s really more about taking that input and saying, “Okay, let’s focus on one little part of that, perfect that, and then go on to the next thing.” But what you don’t want to do is this layout all of these things they need to work on, and then they’re just defeated, right? That’s not fun because especially today we need a little optimism, so it keeps it so that it is a positive thing. And it’s self nominating, you know, where you’re like, “Hey, I need to say I’m short on this.” Or my demo to close is weak or whatever it is, so self-awareness helps, but then also making sure the managers are continuously educated and supported. 

Mark McWatters: I love if I can just add, I love that you talk about keeping it simple, not giving too many things as takeaways or else it gets lost. One of the things I learned early in my career that I still use today is when coaching an employee, two simple questions: What went well? What would you do differently? There are commitments that happen, “Okay. On your next call, we’ll ensure that X happens.” And oftentimes I think coaching is over-thought. If you can keep it simple like that, and people have one takeaway or two takeaways, you’re moving the ball forward. You don’t have to fix it all at once. And when you said that, I love hearing it because that’s certainly a similar philosophy here. 

Cathy Estabrooks: Yeah. 

Cassandra Tenorio: Slowly. I love that. And so what are some of those big coaching challenges that you faced and how can you really address those? Cathy, I’ll start with you. 

Cathy Estabrooks: I already mentioned it, but for us, we’re a growing organization. And again, everybody’s wearing a lot of hats. Everybody’s doing a lot of things. So again, it’s privatization of coaching and it’s, you know, we’re so pulled and focused on making sure that we are client focused and that we’re driving revenue and we’re selling our full platform. And all those things are really taking attention constantly from the managers, because they’re hands-on, right. So for us, it’s again, it’s giving them a little bit of room to breathe and understand that, you know, to Mark’s point, you have the one-on-ones, but you know, how are you spending that one-on-one time and giving them, again, we have different segments so that the focus is different and maybe they’re managing a BDR, maybe they’re managing an AE, so it varies on how you approach that. So we work with our managers and our VPs very closely to be prescriptive.

We’re prescriptive with our reps on how they need to improve, but we’re prescriptive with our managers to say, “Hey, how are you doing this? How much time are you spending on this?” We recently started a QA audit of how things are being done, and so what we’re trying to do is not to control, but to understand. And then once we understand from an enablement perspective, we can be more prescriptive and allow improvements to happen again in a short bite way so that it feels supportive instead of demotivating. 

Brandy Ringler: I think everyone probably runs into a challenge that not everybody needs to be coached on the same thing. And so identifying the right gap and focus area for reps is always a challenge because you’re looking for the coaching opportunity that actually moves the needle toward performance, toward success and happiness in the role. So, with us, we typically do an analysis using our product, but we put it back on the rep as well. So, it should be a two way conversation where we’re presenting the rap based on our findings. Both in Gong and based on average metrics we’re seeing across the team. So, you know, we look at it, is it just strictly metrics? Is it just that they’re not getting enough calls? They’re not doing enough outreach? Or is it sales skills? Is it, you know, doing the right discovery based on the persona, is it, use case mapping in a demo flow? And so there’s a couple of different areas that we can coach on. And, what we’ve been trying to do as a culture is take a quarterly coaching approach so that we can see if we actually move the needle.

So, our CRO has been great at setting the framework for this. The manager will come up with two potential areas of coaching, and then we ask the rep which area they think would move the needle for them and where they would like to spend their time so that it’s a dual buy-in, and that’s really helped us both from a manager standpoint of like understanding that there’s multiple areas to focus on, but for the rep buying into the fact that we’re going to key in on this one area, and set up the ability to look back at the difference. Right? So if it’s a deeper discovery, how many calls with that persona have you had? And what is your question right within that call? What is the conversion between that early stage meeting to a later stage? And so there’s multiple metrics we’ll look at on the back end. 

Cassandra Tenorio: Absolutely. I love that answer. I want to shift gears a little bit to this topic of really understanding the impact of coaching, and I love to hear how you’re measuring the impact of coaching at your organization. So, Mark, let’s start with you. 

Mark McWatters: Sure. Measuring the impact of coaching is a challenge for just about everyone that I talked to as a sales leader or a sales enablement leader, I’d say. And really, even in HR, when you talk about coaching of like, “Hey, I have these coaching programs, but how do I justify that they’re working by just simply taking a training course.” It doesn’t tie to the fact that whatever you’re training on is actually improving. And so, the way that we do it, the honest answer is we use our own platform that tracks it. And really you can do this without software to automate it, but you have a call coaching program. What the call coaching program is about it’s about discovery questions. Well, in that call coaching program around discovery questions, there are metrics that are gonna come out of that.

Not how many questions did they ask, but how often did a first meeting convert to a second meeting? That’s an example of something you could track and you could also track how long it takes. From the first meeting to get to the second meeting, because obviously you want to shorten that if you can. And so inside of Ambition, we have ways to track that data and provide the ROI of a coaching program, but there are other ways that you could run that out of Salesforce and get some of that data too. So, most importantly, make sure the coaching program has metrics attributed to it. Most of them don’t, they’re like, “I do my one-on-ones. They’re complete.” But what if that one-on-one sucked? Right? We need to know if it’s working. So anyway, make sure metrics are attributed. Make sure there’s a purpose to the conversation, and then as you track that over time you’re going to know pretty quickly whether that coaching is working. And it’s a way to know if your coaches are effective. 

The last piece I’ll say here, and I just heard a client talking about this last night and I loved it, was a big enterprise company. Oftentimes the frontline managers are pretty decent coaches. It’s the second line manager that doesn’t have a lot of accountability around the coaching and that person has so much impact on training the other coaches. So it’s not just, is your frontline coaching working? How is your coach, your second line, coaching your frontline? And being able to attribute that can really move the business forward. So anyhow, love the topic, big struggle for everybody, and there’s how we’re trying to solve and how some clients are solving at Ambition.

Cathy Estabrooks: You know, just to add to that too, Mark, obviously we all want to make data driven decisions. We all want to make sure that we’re keeping a close eye on how things are executed, a hundred percent. A couple of ways that at BirdEye, what we’ve done is we’ve put in place a sales advisory board, right? Where I’m listening to a handful of reps, in a manager free zone, and I’m asking them, “how do you feel? What is it like, what are the problems? What do you want attention paid to?”  And, really just taking that feedback right back to the managers anonymously so they can hear. “Oh, wait. That’s how they took that.” And you’re like, “Yes.”  So it really is about transparency, I think, is so important because kind of to your point, Mark, if a one-on-one doesn’t go well, sometimes it’s because the personalities are clashing or the objective is different for each person and there’s a bad communication situation.

So for us, the sales advisory board has been very helpful for giving that. We also look at our culture a lot and we talk about employee happiness and how do we drive that? And, you know, we’ve determined that it is about transparency and communication and making sure that at every level, whether it be first line, second line, all the way down to a brand new entry-level person, do they feel heard? So we use our own platform to drive surveys internally and say, “How did you feel about this?” And we even do it after every meeting. Right? What were your thoughts? And the feedback we gathered from that is actually applied towards continuous improvement. So I think, yes the metrics are so important in driving that, but I think holistically going at this from a continuous improvement approach has been helpful in some circumstances we’ve also done basic process engineering. Understanding how are you going after the actual coaching? What are you doing? And then helping the managers kind of come to their own conclusion about what is working and what isn’t. 

Brandy Ringler: So we typically look at it, we look at it and maybe there’s a few different ways. The way that I think most people look at it is just sheer performance, right? It’s not even a metric against coaching. It’s just, are we achieving quota? Are we hitting the ratios that the company set out? But on a deeper level, we try and take a look at how much customer facing time is the rep able to spend? So within Gong, another beauty of the platform is we can see how much time were our reps actually spending on customer facing calls?  How many meetings did they have at each stage in the sales process? Was there what their conversion rates are looking like through reporting? And so we can see if there’s a sticky phase.

And so if the issue is just sheer, we on metrics, we’re going to look at metrics month over month. A time that’s customer facing compared to the top performer on the team. So if we have like that guiding light based on who we know as a top performer, we’ll typically measure the rest of the pack against that performance or the top one or two, if we’re talking about a soft skill or a sales skill. The truth of the matter is it’s a little bit of feeling and it’s the confidence of the manager to leave the rep on calls without attending, and move that sales cycle forward. And ideally we’re seeing like higher conversions in the sales cycle or for our longer sales cycles we’re saying that deals are staying active. But it is a hard measure to track. 

And so I think a lot of it comes down to, does the rep feel like there’s a coaching environment and an environment for them to grow? And so we do surveys within the org to get a sense of whether the team actually feels like they’re being coached on the right things. And that’s a bit of a true North for us. 

Cassandra Tenorio: How are you really using all of these insights that you’re gleaning? Whether it be through a platform or maybe you don’t have a platform,  how can you use them to really dry rep performance? So, Mark, I’ll start with you again.

Mark McWatters: I mean, based off of the data of how a coaching program is working or not working, the answers to the test, there are pretty simple to understand, if you graph the metrics and you should see progress, if you don’t, then you have to ask yourself, is the rep actually using the coaching or is the coaching core? Well, one way to uncover is how are the other reps doing under that manager? Like, is this everyone across the board? That’s probably an issue with the coach. So that’s session, then moving the ball forward is much easier because you have that visibility that’s desperately needed in a work from home world where yes, I’m in my office today, but I’m here by myself. Typically I’m sitting in my bedroom, six inches from my bed. I’m not available all the time to see what’s happening. So by using call recording, by using Ambition, we’re able to get the visibility we need. 

Cathy Estabrooks: I think too, with the call recording our call analytics, it’s so helpful because you know, once you’ve coached someone on that one piece they need to work on, then you can set up your tracker, right? Or your scorecard to track. Are they actually taking to heart you’re coaching? And you could say, “Hey, we talked on Monday and listened to your calls on Tuesday, Wednesday, nothing has changed. Let’s reassess. Let’s really refocus and get this.” So again, it’s just fine tuning and it allows you to do that. So it’s very hard.

Mark McWatters: And the ones who are the hardest to change are the ones who have been around the block for so long. Right. And they’re like, Mark, I don’t need that new thing. And they’re the ones who you really need the Gong, Chorus, whatever you’re using to show if they’re adhering to the process, because the old curmudgeon is often the most difficult one to shift. And if you don’t have the visibility around it, my guess is it’s probably not shifting, they’re doing the same way that we would look at that  and look at that in order to know, “Hey, is this working and what should we do off of it?”

But typically what you understand with the metrics moving. If we’re using a call recording, which we do, just like Cathy , then you’re able to dig in a little deeper on the actual conversation. These softwares, as most people are figuring out now you can track the specific word or the specific question to know if it happened. And that also gives you instant visibility to if your process is being adhered to. When I think about sales enablement, a huge part of their job is to make it easier on sellers. And to provide the answers to the test of what right looks like at BirdEye. Well, if we know what right looks like, and we have tools that can tell us if it’s happening without having to sit in on every call or administer every coaching they’ve done forever and maybe it’s working, but isn’t working as well as it could. So anyhow, 

Cassandra Tenorio: Absolutely. So really as you plan for this upcoming year, since this is a topic that is so top of mind for so many practitioners today, how are you really leveraging all of these insights to evolve your coaching programs? Cathy , let’s start with you.

Cathy Estabrooks:  As far as evolving the coaching program, I feel like that never stops. I think there’s so much with enablement that it isn’t like, “Well, let’s just do this project and it’ll be better.” it’s continuous. Right. For us, I mentioned we’re implementing the auditing program. The other thing that we’re doing that’s new that I’m pretty excited about is we’re doing a promotion prep program. And so, you know, when you have sales reps who are just not gelling with their manager, or they’re like, “Oh, my manager cares about his numbers. They don’t care about how I’m selling,” or, you know, there’s that feedback where it’s kind of, like he said, she said, it doesn’t work.

So what we’re doing is we’ve asked everybody who’s interested in managing someday. That’s a rep to self-nominate for this program. So we had 18 people self-nominate and say, “Hey, I think in the future, I want to be a manager.” So we’re going to put them through a workshop that is feedback, coaching, pipeline, and forecasting. And we’re going to show them the other side of the desk. Right. And some of them are going to be like, “Oh my God, I had no idea how intense this is.” And then some of them are gonna be like, “I’m good. I just want to sell stuff,” you know? But we’re doing that in some ways to highlight, what does that really look like? What is the other side of that coin? And again, I think it just speaks to transparency and really keeping that line of communication and awareness open. So for us, and again, we’re growing, we can still do this, but the idea is to set the stage for a culture of understanding and appreciation for each other. And that’s really what we’re trying to do.

Mark McWatters: I love that so much. I need to do that. One thing that we’re doing that is less formal, but like in a similar light, and that we also see some of our clients doing is that there’s a team lead on my team. Why is he a team lead? He’s interested in potentially leading teams. He’s also interested in just professional development and he’s a really good performer. And so how do you multiply his knowledge set across the team? The reality is maybe, and I’m not, but maybe the best manager of all time. I’m still the manager. Right? And so the frontline sellers, when they talk to other frontline sellers, even if that person is a team lead, the feedback is taken differently.

And really they’re going to be more receptive because they’re peers, we’ve all been there. You remember being in that seat and you were mostly interested in what the top woman, man is doing versus what your boss is telling you to do. So the point being is you’re trying to push that down. The other part of that is there are people on your team who are really good at certain parts of the process that you also need to replicate. Maybe they don’t want to be a manager, but maybe they’re really good at the technical sales conversation, which is difficult in your environment. Just making this up. Well, why not task them? Or use that knowledge set in meetings in order to talk about what works and how they got there. So you can, again, multiply that knowledge set across the team.

I don’t love the term SMI, but that’s really what it was at previous companies that I worked for. Like, “Hey, you’re the technical sales SMI”. And like, how do you have a responsibility to make sure other people on the team or are up to speed on that topic. So managers try to do it all themselves. Just like a lot of top sellers try to do it all themselves. And there is beauty in the teamwork and admitting that your sales leader don’t have all the answers. People on your team might have better answers than you do, be self-aware enough to recognize that and empower those people because that’s how you really start to create a team. The functions at a high level and doesn’t need you to make every decision be on every call do every important piece that ultimately wins business. 

Brandy Ringler: Yeah, I think the big change for us is the surveying is that understanding like do the reps feel and are they bought into the fact that there is good coaching and do they feel like it’s too much coaching or are we coaching on the right things? So that actually influenced us allowing reps to say, “Hey, this is what we’re thinking.” The two areas of coaching are, which is the route that you want to take, and what do you think are the benchmarks we can set up? I have an idea, but I would love to hear like how you would see yourself progressing and what those markers would be.

So that’s been the big one. The other one is just really giving managers an understanding of where they’re spending their time, because prior to Gong, you could think you’re spending all of this time evenly amongst the team, or, you’re spending time with newer folks, but it turns out, you have somebody on the team who’s just asking for time all the time. And they ended up getting that attention, is being able to track when the last feedback was given over a specific amount of time and spread across all of the reps, is really where managers spend their time kind of assessing. Is this an even split or if it is lopsided, is it lopsided in the right way?

Cassandra Tenorio: I love that answer. To end all of our panels, we love to end with one quick takeaway for our audience. So if you could leave our audience today with one takeaway, what would that be? Mark, let’s start with you. 

Mark McWatters: Make sure coaching actually happens. Make sure it’s documented. Make sure it’s tied to metrics. Make sure it’s easy for the manager to administer. It shouldn’t take 30 minutes to prep for every one-on-one. Put the data at their fingertips. And last, most importantly, to let the employee lead the conversation. 

Cassandra Tenorio: Absolutely. 

Cathy Estabrooks: I think empowering your managers to coach effectively is the most important thing. I think letting them know that it’s okay to inform, especially that rep you really like working with, that they need to work on something, to not let favoritism happen. That happens a lot in the companies I’ve worked for. And for me, it’s gotta be even keel. Everybody’s got to have the same approach, and be treated equally. And I think that’s important, but really honestly, empowering managers to be effective, but also giving them guidelines to work with because a lot of times managers don’t know the best way to code. Right. So working with them, providing them with a continuous education.  

Brandy Ringler: Actually my key takeaway is probably a little bit of my answer for the last question. I would say that in order to influence coaching in your organization, you have to be close to what the frontline leaders are already doing today to coach. And so my number one takeaway to any of this would be, if you don’t have that meeting set on your calendar, set one and set an agenda for why you think it should be a recurring meeting. And my feedback or my suggestion would be that in order for you to influence and reinforce and be a partner to them for those trainings, it’s important for you to understand what they’re focused on so that you’re not pulling the team in a different direction, but you’re all aligned around that one goal. So there’s nothing else that you took from that and you don’t have that meeting. There’s never been a better time to meet with sales leaders and understand how you can support their efforts, given the new remote environment that we’re in. 

Cassandra Tenorio: Well, that is all that we have time for today, but thank you so much to our speakers for all of your insights. Now we’ll open it up to Q and A. So to our audience, if you have any questions, type those into the question section and we will get some of those answered by our speakers today.

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