Call coaching is essential to transforming an Inside Team into All Stars. For my teams, call coaching has generated stellar returns in lead development, opportunity management and bookings. It’s allowed me to be directly involved with what’s happening on the sales floor. It also builds strong bonds within my team and is yet another opportunity for upleveling my reps.
The Inside Sales Dude Approach to Call Coaching
For New Reps (NRs), I like to break call coaching into the 4 steps below.
- Role playing which I covered in an earlier post.
- Shadowing an Experienced Rep (ER) and listening his calls.
- Coaching while listening to recorded calls.
- Live call coaching.
Shadowing an ER. After training the NR using role play, I’ll have the NR listen to the ER make calls for a few more hours. After each live conversation, the ER should briefly explain the call to the NR. (Note: It’s imperative to use dual headsets so the NR can hear both sides of the call).
Listening to recorded calls. The NR and I will then listen to recorded calls together with me pausing the recording and dissecting the call to teach the NR our process for prospecting, qualifying and closing. I’ll point out where the ER is doing the basics: breaking the ice, building rapport, probing for more info, qualifying the prospect, and closing for the next step.
Then we’ll listen to more calls and I’ll ask NR to break them down. I’ll prompt him with questions about the basics. I’ll ask him if he thinks the call is going well and what could be done differently.
It’s best to have several good and bad recordings lined up in advance. Otherwise, we’ll spend too much time just trying to find recordings with content.
Preparing for Live Call Coaching. At this point, I’ll have the NR start to work on his “call script” for calling leads.
I’m not a big fan of formal call scripts. I thinks it’s preferable for reps to use their own words vs. following a written script. That said, most NRs need some kind of “starter script” when they first begin making calls.
I’ll provide the NR with several scripts that the ERs use. Then I’ll instruct the NR prepare his own call script for use the next day. Some will simply copy one of the scripts I provided. Some will write an entirely new script. Others prefer to use an outline or a list of questions.
Once he’s written his script, I ask him to run it by a few ERs for their input. After that, I’ll review his script and may offer a few minor revisions. Then it’s ready.
The important thing here is to get the NR on the phone quickly. I won’t let him spend too much time “perfecting” the script. It’s just a tool to help the NR start having conversations. He will undoubtedly modify it once he begins making calls.
Live Call Coaching.
Now it’s time for the NR to hit the phones and start calling leads. I tell all my NRs,
“Nothing will make you a better sales rep than making a thousand calls and having a hundred conversations. So let’s get started.”
For the live call coaching, I’ll sit right beside him in his cube as he’s making calls. I’ll have my laptop with me.
The first time we do this, it’s usually a disaster. The rep won’t have a systematic approach yet. He’ll be clicking all over the place, won’t have a good list prepared, will be nervous with me watching and will stumble during the calls. We’ll be lucky if he makes 4 dials in an hour.
BUT THAT’S OK. During this hour, I’ll help him develop a routine for pulling lists, using the dialer, making call notes, using the CRM efficiently and all of the other tasks. He’s been introduced to this system when shadowing and when going through training, but it’s not yet routine for him. (That too will be resolved after a few hundred calls).
The NR will leave a few voice mails and maybe even have a conversation. I’ll be giving him a lot of feedback and coaching after each one.
After an hour of this, we’ll stop. I’ll direct the NR to call leads to generate new pipeline for the next several days and then we’ll follow up with more call coaching.
Tips for Live Call Coaching
- I must be able to listen both ends of the call. If I can’t hear the rep and the customer, my coaching will be generic and marginally effective, at best.
- Wireless headsets for both the rep and manager are preferred. Trust me – being untethered makes this 100x better than being wired to a phone.
- No whispering, barging in or real time interruptions. These techniques are intrusive and not helpful. The rep cannot pay attention to both the customer and me simultaneously.
- No sneaky call monitoring. Occasionally, I’ll listen to calls from my office. Anytime I am going to do this, I let the rep know.
- If a NR needs to be bailed out on a call, he should put the prospect on hold. We’ll then discuss and if necessary, he can bring me or an ER onto the call.
- Sticky notes are OK for occasional real time advice during a call. Eg. “Ask him now if we can schedule a demo”.
I try to make call coaching a pleasant learning experience for my rep. I’ll crack jokes or share a funny anecdote. We’ll high five when he does something well. I’ll have an ER jump in to provide advice on how to handle a situation. The other reps around us are always listening — so the effect of any coaching I provide while on the floor is multiplied.
I celebrate successes loudly and criticize gently when first doing live call coaching. In later sessions, if the rep keeps repeating mistakes that I know he can avoid, I’ll bust his chops while we’re together on the floor.
However, If he’s really screwing up, I’ll meet with him privately to discuss. I don’t publicly shame reps. It never helps.
Call Coaching for Experienced Reps is a tool my teams use regularly. Here’s how we do it.
- Live call coaching as described above. This should be very streamlined with an ER. I recommend having the ER select a type of call (eg. prospecting, lead qualification, closing) and then work that type only for the entire session. My coaching here will focus on optimization techniques, creative suggestions for breaking through barriers, more advanced closing techniques, and observations about tone/pacing/cadence etc.
- Random live call coaching. When I’m doing administrative work, I’ll sometimes listen in on calls from my office. If I do this, I always let the rep know. If I catch an interesting call, I’ll pause my work to focus on it. Once it’s completed, I’ll walk out to the floor to discuss with the rep.
- Recorded call coaching. I have an ER select call recordings to listen to on his own and critique. Then we’ll listen together and discuss. My goal here is to teach the ER to analyze and improve his calls independently. (My best ERs would pull their worst calls and review them off-hours to figure out what they could have done differently.)
- Peer call coaching. ERs will do call coaching with other reps. This is one of my favorite techniques. The reps all benefit from it.
Investment is required to make call coaching work. In addition to a manager’s time and effort you’ll need software and hardware. Most companies have some of this in place but not all.
- Automated call recording – You may need to make a case for this. Legal often wants to minimize any risk by insisting on obtaining permission that would completely disrupt the call. (How do you obtain permission to record when making outbound cold calls?) Check your state laws. These can very.
- Click to Call and VOIP software– Ideally, reps will dial by clicking in the CRM. Call recordings should be linked to the lead and opportunity records. Both managers and reps should have the ability to search and review recordings. My teams have used home grown dialers, InsideSales.com, Cadence, Zoho, and Five9 with varying degrees of success.
- Good wireless headsets – Most of my in-house teams used Plantronics headsets. I’m sure there are other good brands too. I look for volume controls, mute, hold, noise cancelling microphones, directional microphones and remote answer/disconnect as features. I recommend testing several different models before making a volume purchase. Certain models picked up too much “heavy breathing sounds” from some reps but not from other reps.
Wrapping it up.
Like everything else in Inside sales, effective call coaching requires people, processes, systems and some hard work.
But once your reps are used to call coaching, they’ll just consider it part of the way “our team does things.”
You’ll know it’s really come together for your team when everyone is cranking out the calls, the conversations are better than anything you ever taught and the need for call coaching diminishes.
Then one of your reps will pop into your office saying.
Did you hear that last call? No? Let me tell you about it!
Enjoy that when it happens.