Sales Coaching — The power of proper call listening sessions

These days with fantastic tools like salesforce.com or insight squared its easy to spend your life in reports and manage your sales reps via numbers, but those numbers only ever tell you part of the story, and more importantly if you manage your reps in this way they don’t get properly developed. Frankly its lazy management. Personal development and the need to learn and improve is more important to the Millennials than to any recent generation before them, so we as employers and managers have to ensure that we are providing that more than ever. Unfortunately what I see is the opposite, I see sales managers forgetting the basics, the pipeline review, the call listening session, the 1:1 coaching, the co-selling, etc in favour of a lower touch and a more paint by numbers type approach.

Besides all of this, developing your reps just makes sense for your business, if your sales reps are better at their jobs, your customers have a better experience and they buy more, its a simple equation.

I am only going to talk about one of these seemingly almost lost arts today, the call listening session. This is obviously focused at inside sales reps who are calling out to warm or cold leads, but can also be a useful tool for coaching account executives who are calling into actual opportunities. Early on in my career I had a sales manager who was obsessed with call listening sessions and because I took real value from them I inherited that obsession to a degree. I have sat through hundreds of sessions, maybe even towards a thousand and have seen the full spectrum in terms of the quality of the session. I’d like to focus here on the things that I think work well and aim to give you a few tips to try in your next sessions.

(1) Run the sessions as a group thing rather than 1:1 to leverage peer learning. This is an important point that often gets overlooked, two heads are better than one, and four heads are better than two. I find that 3 or 4 people is about the right amount for a focused session. Mix the groups up weekly so that over time each rep gets to work with each other rep during a session. Its amazing what they will learn from each other, and it helps to teach them that everyone has a slightly different style and these can be learned and then become part of your selling skills arsenal.

(2) Don’t listen to an entire call all at once, listen to a section then stop the call and discuss. Far too often I see sessions being run where the group listen to a single 5–10 minute long call with no breaks and at the end are asked to dissect the call. While the simple act of listening back to a call is always useful, there isn’t too much else good to say about this practice in my opinion. Its far better to play the first 30 seconds of the call and then stop it and ask questions, (1) what do you all think of the opening, (2) was the tone correct, (3) does the prospect seem engaged, (4) what could have been done better, (5) what do we know about the prospect? etc. Then run the call for another 30 seconds or so and stop the call again and ask more questions, (6) what else have we learned about the prospect, (7) given what we know now, what can we assume, (8) given our assumptions, what questions could we ask to confirm them, (9) what else do we need to find out, (10) how should we phrase out next question? etc. Then continue like this until the end of the call. Its true that you wont get to listen to as many calls this way, but my lord do you have great discussions. By continually asking the questions around what do we know, what do we need to know, how do we find out? you are coaching the reps about what’s important.

(3) Use a whiteboard to capture takeaways and to aid discussions. This one is probably self explanatory.

(4) Use a mixture of random calls and also calls that the reps choose to bring with them. Preparation for the session is important, you don’t want to waste valuable time looking for a good call to listen to, instead bring them with you to the session. I like to mix it up with some random calls that I’d find beforehand, I’d look for calls that were less than 10 minutes long and then skip through them to check its a useful call to listen to. I’d then also ask the reps to bring a call with them, ideally that either (1) showcased the rep using a skill we discussed in our last session, or (2) highlights a situation where the rep got stuck and this wants some help with. I find that once the reps learn that these sessions are not used to beat them with a stick, instead they are pure coaching/learning sessions, they become much more willing to show their soft underbellies and admit where they are struggling. This is extremely powerful and if you have this happening it shows that you are coaching well.

(5) Run the sessions regularly enough (1 per week) so that takeaways from one session can be demonstrated in the next. This is building on the point above. By using the sessions to showcase and critique skills discussed in the last session you are driving the message home and also showing follow through and consistency, two very important traits for any manager to show. I find that once per month just isn’t regular enough to make this happen.

I believe that I have learned more from call listening sessions than any other form of sales coaching or training, the only thing I have learned more from is jumping in at the deep end. I cant tell you enough, how powerful a well run call listening session is, but don’t listen to me, go and try it for yourself.

Ill follow up this post with another post focused on pipeline reviews and how to use the 3 step approach, (1) Results, (2) Pipeline, (3) Activities to run effective sessions.

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