The two keys here are 1) to have a credible process and 2) to use it. The best way to make sure sales reps are using the process – and using it effectively – is through coaching conversations between sales managers and their teams.
As the HBR article also reported, companies that spent at least three hours per month managing each sales rep’s pipeline performance saw 11% greater revenue than those spending less time.
Further, how those three hours were spent was equally important. “The primary focus of a pipeline meeting should be to help reps develop a game plan to move deals forward, not just scrubbing CRM data and forecasting revenue,” say authors Jason Jordan and Robert Kelly.
At Richardson, we call this “pipeline coaching.” This term is part of the common language we advocate for sales teams in order to keep everyone on the same page. Simply put, pipeline coaching involves a conversation between sales manager and rep that focuses on deals in the works.
High-impact coaching questions help managers confirm that their reps have the level of skills and knowledge needed to achieve verifiable outcomes at every stage in the sales process. In the qualification stage, for example, verifiable outcomes might include confirmation from the prospect that an issue or problem exists and needs to be addressed. The sales manager’s high-impact coaching questions might be along these lines:
- What are the business issues and compelling needs or pain points the prospect is trying to address?
- Who cares about these business issues, and why?
- What do they expect to achieve by addressing these issues?
- Why can’t they achieve this today?
- Who confirmed that this need exists, and where does it fall in terms of priority?
If the verifiable outcomes involve feedback from the prospect about possible solutions, then the sales manager’s questions might be as follows:
- Which solution is the best fit for this prospect? What did the decision maker say?
- How will the recommended solution meet this prospect’s business needs now and in the future, according to the decision maker?
- What is our unique value proposition? Does the prospect agree with it? What benefit do they see in the unique value proposition?
- Why did the prospect say a competitor might be a better fit? More than just price; what about capabilities, responsiveness, level of trust?
- Who else will be involved in evaluating the solution? Have you met each of them? Describe their perception of us, in their words.
Such high-impact coaching questions also help the manager identify behaviors that the sales rep either needs to change or has being changing, along with the rate of adoption of desired behaviors.
Another way for sales managers to verify skills and knowledge levels is through direct observation of their reps. This can be through a ride along or participation in a sales call. The caution here is that most sales managers used to be super sellers, and they find it difficult to step back and let their reps do their jobs. One statistic says sales managers step in to run the call 95% of the time.
Sales managers need to develop their skills in observing their reps while curbing their tendencies to step in. They need to pay close attention to what is being said and the behaviors displayed, and then coach accordingly. If, instead, they interrupt their rep and take over, they do themselves and their reps a disservice. Instead of helping their people improve their skills and move deals forward, they teach reliance on the sales manager.
To get the most out of the sales process, sales managers need to commit at least three hours per month per rep to ask high-impact questions, review the details of deals, and verify outcomes at each stage. These coaching sessions need to be documented and tracked in order for the sales manager to know which sale rep is at what stage in the pipeline and the commitments they make to adopting new behaviors. This is how sales managers use a formal sales process to lead change and achieve their revenue goals.