Effective Sales Coaching

Measure This! How to Ensure You’re Sales Managers are Coaching Effectively

A development leader I’ve known for quite a few years now was lamenting during a recent conversation about the lack of coaching in his organization.


I remember him saying, “Our sales managers aren’t really coaching. They are just another level of people in the organization trying to manage the funnel.

Naturally, I asked, “Well, why do you think that is happening?

His reply … “Because that is all their leadership is asking them to do. It is easier to look at the numbers than it is to understand how they are produced and drive a change in behavior.”


Unfortunately, this conversation is not at all unusual.

In fact, when we speak at events or conduct coaching webinars, the most frequently asked question is, “How can we measure coaching effectiveness?” Before answering that question, let’s talk about WHY it is important to measure coaching effectiveness. In our experience, we find that not being committed to measuring coaching is actually a much more difficult problem to overcome than most leaders realize. To be certain, the case for coaching is incredibly strong — so strong, in fact, that when we make a statement like “coaching is the pivot point for change in any sales organization, or coaching will have a greater impact on what salespeople do than all other sales enablement initiatives,” we almost never get any disagreement.

Yet, most sales organizations have few or now coaching metrics as a part of their senior leader scorecard. Despite the overwhelming evidence that better coaching produces better results, most organizations still don’t set coaching objectives or measure performance against these targets.

But why is that?

Why aren’t more companies committed to measuring coaching effectiveness?

The answer lies in the response from my learning and development leader – measuring coaching isn’t nearly as easy as measuring the sales forecast or the opportunity funnel. So, it doesn’t get done. But measuring coaching effectiveness doesn’t have to be all that difficult, either. Most sales managers are having conversations with their sellers … conversations about their pipeline, key accounts, and outside opportunities. They are also going on calls with their people. But are they providing coaching, or just feedback? Do they understand the difference?

You see, coaches don’t simply look at numbers and tell us to produce more. They don’t watch us perform and tell us to do better. Real coaches uncover opportunities for improvement and identify the ROOT CAUSE of performance gaps. Real coaches then recommend assignments or activities that will help us shrink those gaps by further developing our skill or knowledge. This means that the output of a truly effective coaching conversation is almost always an assignment of some sort, and assignments can absolutely be tracked.

So, what should an organization measure, in order to determine the effectiveness with which its managers are coaching?

Here is a simple list of the key coaching metrics:

1. Coaching Sessions Conducted

Every conversation between a manager and seller about an opportunity, account, funnel, or meeting should be captured. Ideally, this is as simple as pressing a button inside the CRM and then providing the manager with a place to take notes. Want to get more sophisticated? Distinguish between the different types of coaching conversations to be certain there is adequate balance between opportunity coaching, funnel coaching, account level coaching, and joint calls. In any event, this shouldn’t be a heavy lift for managers. They need to keep track of these conversations any way. By allowing them to do it in the CRM, you can make the job easier for them and, the reporting easier for your operations team.

2. Learning Assignments Given

 The ideal output for a developmental coaching conversation is a developmental or learning assignment. The challenge for many managers is they don’t know what questions to ask to determine the root cause of a performance gap, and even if they did, they wouldn’t know what assignment to give to address the gap. Technology can be leveraged here to lead them through the diagnostic conversation to the appropriate assignment. If the manager can simply select the activity to assign and the appropriate due date, assignments can be tracked easily and efficiently.

3. Selling Assignments Given

 Not all sales issues require developmental assignments. In fact, even when a development assignment is needed, a follow-on selling assignment is needed for the person to apply what they have learned to their current opportunities. This assignment not only helps cement the learning, but it also delivers the ultimate value by advancing sales performance. These activities are nothing more than tasks or events and can easily be assigned, and therefore tracked using the CRM.

4. Assignments Completed

One of the most telling metrics to evaluate the effectiveness of sales coaching is the assignment completion rate. If managers regularly assign learning and selling activities that are not completed by the team, it is likely a larger issue exists. Perhaps the manager has a credibility issue with the team. At minimum there is an accountability issue that must be addressed in order for coaching to be effective.

While all these metrics can be tracked in the CRM, using the typical CRM to support coaching effectiveness is a bit like using Microsoft Windows to create presentations. It is necessary, but not sufficient. If you are going to create presentations, you need to enable PowerPoint for that Windows machine. Similarly, if you want to enable coaching and capture these metrics without creating considerable extra work, you need a coaching solution that enables managers to have more effective and more efficient sale coaching conversations while tracking these critical behaviors.

To be fair, simply tracking these metrics won’t tell us how we are performing unless we compare the actual metrics to some targets and see how they are changing over time. A simple rule of thumb would be to have a target of at least two coaching conversations per seller per month with at least one developmental and one selling assignment.

This approach also facilitates use in a scorecard for those senior leaders who like red, yellow, green visualizations of their team’s performance. An effective coaching solution will actually allow you to set individual targets and measure performance against these for even greater impact. While metrics around funnel health and sales forecasts are absolutely essential for sales excellence, the reality is we won’t really affect those numbers until sales coaching becomes a core competency.

To achieve that, senior leaders should add coaching effectiveness metrics to their scorecard to drive more attention and thoughtful discussion around this most critical success factor.

Want to learn more? Download the Guide to Sales Coaching.

Axiom provides a unique alternative to traditional sales training. Unlike traditional sales coaching events, we embed our methodology into your sales cadence, delivering dramatically better sales results. To learn more about our methodology, Kinetics Sales Effectiveness Platform, or unique, guaranteed approach, please visit us at www.axiomsaleskinetics.com

Frustrated Sales Manager

The Big, Hairy Sales Problem

We recently spoke to a senior sales operations leader who confessed that they paid more than $2B in sales commissions and had no clue what they actually got for it.

That sounds pretty insane, right? Surely, they got $5B to $20B in revenue for that investment. They had to — or did they?

Therein lies the critical sales problem: Did we win because we outsold the competition, or did we win despite the fact that they’re outselling us? Most sales organizations don’t know the return they’re getting for their sales investment because they don’t have any insight into their selling and coaching behaviors.

That doesn’t mean they don’t recognize the correlation. They simply don’t know whether or not their investment causes them to win more often.

This makes the sales profession the overwhelming laggard in putting quality/process improvement and performance systems in place. It also means this is an opportunity for companies to solve the problem and gain a sustainable competitive advantage. 

Production and Performance Profession

Sales is a unique profession in that it is part production job (think new opportunities, calls, meetings, etc.) and part performance job (think consultation, presentation, differentiation). And unfortunately, most companies’ approach to managing this unique function provides little insight into how a team or individual is doing in either part of the job. 

Let’s start with the production side of this. As we have written before, sales results are the output of a process — one that can be expressed by a simple mathematical formula: 

Activity X Proficiency = Sales

This means that for every person and team in your organization, you can work your way backward from a sales objective to determine exactly what must be produced in terms of predictive metrics such as:

•    New opportunities

•    Proposal ratio

•    New proposals

•    Closing ratio

•    Average sale value

Every person in every sales organization can and should have their own unique “sales success plan.” However, less than 10% of the people we meet have created and are measuring performance against this type of plan.

Why? Primarily because without customization, their CRM won’t allow them to set these targets and measure performance against them.

That’s right! The CRM won’t do the math! Perhaps this is also why many sales organizations create “funnel standards” or “activity standards” instead of creating mathematically valid sales success plans. 

Want to read more about the fallacy of this approach? Check out our blog post on the worst metric in sales

In sales, most sellers, teams, and companies are measuring sales performance and reacting to what happened after the fact rather than looking at leading indicators that can help them proactively act to shape the outcome. So, approximately 90% of all sales organizations are missing the mark on the production side of the profession. Surely, they’re doing better on the performance side, right? Clearly, companies make tremendous investments here. In fact, ATD estimates the average company will invest over $1,400 per person annually for sales training. 

The majority of that training is specifically designed to help more people become proficient in the skills needed to win in the marketplace. However, studies indicate that only about 20% of the people who attend sales training actually use what they learn.

Again, we have to ask, why?

And the reason is shockingly simple — leadership has no insight into who is and isn’t engaging in these behaviors and which managers are and aren’t coaching to the training. They also have no way to determine the impact these behaviors they can’t measure are having on sales performance. 

It isn’t that training programs aren’t measured. It’s that the measurement approach almost ensures that the results aren’t actionable. In today’s world, the “impact” of training is most often determined by interviewing participants and asking questions about what they learned, how they’re using it, and the impact it’s having on their success. To get participation, the results must be anonymized, which means we may uncover themes such as:

•    I would use it more if my manager coached to it.

•    I don’t use it as much because our systems aren’t aligned with it.

•    I don’t remember everything I learned and don’t have easy access to the reinforcement I need, when, and where I need it.

However, we won’t uncover precisely WHO is and isn’t using the training, to what degree they’re using it, who IS and ISN’T coaching, and so on. This means we can’t intervene with the people who need help. To use a medical analogy, it’s great to know in general that certain conditions are linked to heart disease, but it’s of no value to a specific patient if we don’t know about her condition. Moreover, the CRM and LMS systems aren’t designed to trigger the need for learning reinforcement, deliver the learning at the point of need, and then measure its impact.

Not a People Problem … a Systems Problem

Without near real-time visibility into learning, coaching, and selling behaviors, it’s nearly impossible to understand the return we’re getting for investments in selling and coaching initiatives, let alone maximize that return. In the absence of actionable insights, sales teams often replace the people who aren’t performing in hopes their next hire will deliver a better result. This is a wildly expensive approach to performance management and coaching.

The lack of insight combined with investments reaching as high as 25% of revenue has caused many CEOs to refer to sales as a black hole. And this may be the most unique characteristic of the profession: These problems exist DESPITE the fact that other parts of the business, and other professions, solved them long ago. 

For example, the production analytics in manufacturing and logistics are now wildly predictive, thanks to a concerted focus on quality management that began in the 70s. Meanwhile, performance professions such as athletics capture powerful data about the effect of training on skills, behaviors, and performance and use this to coach teams and individuals to achieve greater performance. Considering the size of the sales profession and the impact better (or worse) sales performance can have on the success of an organization, isn’t it time we apply the same rigors to sales performance that we do to manufacturing and golf?

Axiom provides a unique alternative to traditional sales training. Unlike traditional sales coaching events, we embed our methodology into your sales cadence, delivering dramatically better sales results. To learn more about our methodology, Kinetics Sales Effectiveness Platform, or unique, guaranteed approach, please visit us at www.axiomsaleskinetics.com.

Buyer Decision Criteria

It Cost What? Understanding The Buyer’s Criteria

Suppose you’re in the market to make a major car purchase. You go through the entire process, and after going through your “buyer’s criteria,” you notice two dealerships with the same car —from the color down to the floor mats. The vehicle comes from the same automaker, has the same warranty, and the dealerships offer similar services and support. In fact, they are even the same distance from your home. But that’s when you notice that one vehicle costs $1,000 more than the other.

Unless you have a relationship with someone at one of these dealerships, are you going to pay a $1,000 premium for what appears to be the exact same alternative? Absolutely not.

Think about What You Sell

We have all heard this from a buyer at one point or another: “You really need to do something about your price.” Unfortunately, not many salespeople truly understand WHY the buyer is saying this. In many cases, the buyers tell us that they see no appreciable difference in our products, the support we offer, or the companies we represent. This leaves them with no basis for a decision other than price. Many times, what they are really saying is, “I think you and your competitors are basically the same. So all I have to decide on is price.”

Does this mean we need to “do something” about our price? Not necessarily. In fact, these buyers may have some ideas about what would make one option better in terms of the product, support, and company that provides it. They may have a clear picture of the BEST alternative and may even be willing to pay a premium to get it.

However, we don’t yet know what that picture looks like, and we haven’t demonstrated that we can provide it.

Get the Picture

We all use buyer’s criteria to make decisions, whether it’s for something as complex and expensive as a car or as simple and relatively inexpensive as a loaf of bread. I will even be so bold as to say we ALWAYS have criteria in at least three areas: product, support/company, and price. Moreover, we rarely buy anything, including a loaf of bread, based solely on price.

You may be shaking your head and insisting that you do buy bread based on price, but hear me out on this. Unless you are a rare person who buys all of your bread from the “day old store,” you don’t purchase bread on price.

How the Most Basic Purchase Decision Is Made

We determine that we need a loaf of bread and then head to a specific store (often based on support characteristics such as selection and/or location). And when we get there, we select a particular loaf of bread (based on specific product characteristics). Does that mean we don’t care about the price? Of course not. If you find that your preferred loaf is suddenly $150 instead of $1.75, you will likely move on to another option.

This is really no different from what your buyers do when evaluating your offering. They began by determining (either on their own or with the assistance of a salesperson) that they have a need for something they believe you can provide. From there, they may even have formulated a picture of what would make one option better than the others.

If we want to differentiate ourselves from other alternatives, we must get a clear picture from them of what is BEST. I’ll take this a step further by saying that it is our obligation to go past their basic needs to understand what the buyer’s criteria will be to decide which solution is BEST in terms of product, support/company, AND price.

Think about this: Wouldn’t it be great to know how the customer/prospect will decide what is BEST in terms of all these areas before we ever spend time putting together and presenting a proposal? Let’s face it, any loaf of bread can be used to make a sandwich. But for a buyer, one will be a better overall choice — and it usually won’t be the cheapest loaf they can buy!

From Need to Criteria

If we are going to bring value to our buyers, we must get beyond needs and develop criteria. Keep this in mind, a need is a requirement, and a criterion is a standard of judgment, rule, or evaluation principle. Needs can be transformed into criteria, if we can help the buyer define what would make one alternative better with respect to a particular need. Not only does developing clear, differentiating criteria help us better understand how to demonstrate value and win, it helps our buyers develop more comfort with their decision. When we do this, we become trusted advisors our buyers will depend on for years to come.

It’s time to stop the “sameness” routine and understand how your prospect will determine what is best so that you can demonstrate that you are!

Want to learn more? Axiom provides a unique alternative to traditional sales training. Unlike traditional sales training events, we embed our methodology into your sales cadence, delivering dramatically better sales results. To learn more about our Mindful Selling Methodology, Kinetics Sales Effectiveness Platform, or our unique, guaranteed approach, please visit us at www.axiomsaleskinetics.com

Effective Sales Metrics

The Worst Sales Metric: Why the Most Widely Used Sale Metric is Also the Most Problematic

We will get somewhat controversial with today’s article and go after perhaps the most widely used sales metric in all of sales management: The amount in the seller’s funnel. While it is absolutely true that sales is at least (in part) a numbers game, this particular number creates more bad behavior than any other sales metric.

Generally, the implementation of this metric works something like this: sales leaders decide that to achieve their sales objectives, they need to set some minimum performance standards around pipeline or funnel activity. While there’s certainly nothing inherently wrong with that logic, it usually takes the form of an educated guess on how many open opportunities people must have in their funnel at all times.

For example: If leadership believes the team has an average closing ratio of 20%, they must keep 5X their quota in their funnel at all times. If it’s more like 25%, they should maintain 4x their quota.

This seems rational at first glance, right? But assigning a single target for the aggregate amount of opportunities in their respective funnels at all times actually creates some of the least productive sales behaviors we’ve seen.

The Formula for Sales Success

The motive for setting a funnel objective is sound. In fact, sales success can be expressed as a simple mathematical formula: 

Activity X Proficiency = Sales

The key to its usefulness is understanding that we are using it to define how things flow through a process. Unfortunately, measuring the number of opportunities accumulated at a given stage doesn’t ensure adequate flow. 

In fact, it can create the opposite effect. 

Let’s consider a typical example. In this case, the company instructs its sellers always to maintain 4X their quota in their funnel. Naturally, the first thing people do is fill the pipeline until they hit that objective. No problems here. That’s a good outcome. Unfortunately, dysfunction sets in as they work these opportunities. The team expects to close 25% of the opportunities in this case. However, the 75% that don’t close are still in the funnel — or at least a good portion are. 

You see, people who don’t buy from us often invest little to no energy letting us know they’re not going to purchase. When was the last time someone on your team received a call from a prospect to tell them they lost a sale – that they should mark their opportunity lost and remove it from the funnel? It happens, but it certainly isn’t the norm. 

So, let’s assume in this sample scenario that another 25% of the opportunities we lose actually let us know we have lost. This means that to maintain 4X the quota, the seller needs only replace the 50% they know is either lost or won.

The reality is that ALL of it needs to be replaced regularly, but the seller doesn’t realize it. With this 4X standard, the pipeline will degrade over time, and the closing ratio on those opportunities will actually decline. Consider this: If a seller doesn’t close any opportunities and adds anything to the funnel, the aggregate amount will increase while the seller fails miserably. 

This is definitely not the desired outcome!

The Result of a Mismanaged Funnel

And what is the dysfunctional behavior this sales metric is creating? Clinging to existing opportunities instead of prospecting for new ones. In organizations that take the approach of creating a standardized target, sellers and managers debate individual opportunities.


Manager — “This opportunity has been in your pipeline forever. What makes you think it is ever going to close?

Seller — “The last indication I got was that he really liked our proposal. He has just been swamped lately, so we haven’t been able to connect. But I really feel like we are in a good position.

Manager — “When do you expect to hear from him?”

Seller — “I will ping him again today.


Unfortunately, this conversation is in lieu of a more productive coaching discussion about how the seller is prospecting and qualifying and what changes can be made to improve the flow of activity into the funnel. And, candidly, the extent to which these conversations often devolve and distract can be overwhelming.

Perhaps you think that this is why your organization applies some additional logic, such as an aging rule to the funnel. Maybe you determine that anything over a certain number of days will no longer be counted. The downside is that some of those older opportunities are actually still qualified, so you may arbitrarily reject opportunities that should still be worked. There is still another problem with this approach. Many companies find that they miss their objectives over time despite the activity targets. So what do they do? They raise the target. Soon, these companies find that their top producers don’t actually have the minimum opportunity volume because their closing ratios and average sale values are higher than that of other sellers.

This leaves the entire organization questioning the logic of the target, further diminishing sales effectiveness.

Creating a Personal Sales Success Plan

The good news is that there is a simple, practical alternative that maintains an even greater focus on funnel activity while eliminating dysfunctional behaviors. Rather than a single target for an aggregate amount applied to everyone, why not use the above formula to create a Personal Sales Success Plan for each individual on your team? As you can see below, the math is quite simple.

Annual Sales Volume Required


Number of weeks (or months) available


Weekly (monthly) sales volume required


Average value of each sale made


Weekly (monthly) number of sales required


Proposal ratio (percentage of opportunities that reach the proposal stage)


Weekly (monthly) number of NEW proposals needed to achieve target


Closing ratio (percentage of proposals won)


Number of NEW opportunities required each week (month) to achieve target

By using this mathematical formula, each person and team can have their own specific sales success plan. Note the emphasis on NEW opportunities and NEW proposals. Unlike measuring the aggregate amount in a funnel, this approach focuses on continuous and consistent prospecting efforts, helping to keep sellers and leaders from becoming complacent when a stagnant funnel leads them to mistakenly think they have an adequate flow of opportunities. Moreover, since each person has their own unique plan, there is no risk that your most successful people “invalidate” your activity targets because they succeed without achieving them.

Perhaps the one challenge with this approach is implementing it into most CRM systems. Unfortunately, most are designed to report the volume of opportunities at a stage instead of the flow through the pipeline. That’s where the Axiom Success Plan application can help transform your funnel conversations by allowing you to create and roll up these individualized plans for every person and team in your organization.

Axiom provides a unique alternative to traditional sales training. Unlike traditional sales training events, we embed our methodology into your sales cadence, delivering dramatically better sales results. To learn more about our Mindful Selling Methodology, Kinetics Sales Effectiveness Platform, or our unique, guaranteed approach, please visit us at www.axiomsaleskinetics.com

Problem Solving

Solving the One Problem All Buyers Have

From selling solutions to challenging customers and prospects, there seems to be a never-ending barrage of recommendations for salespeople — tell a better story, bring insights, focus on solving problems … the list goes on and on. Most salespeople will benefit from these recommendations and improve in a variety of areas. However, we can’t always say the same for buyers. Many of the most popular sales tactics do little to benefit the buyers and some even put buyers and sellers at odds.

Moreover, challenging them with insights is great — provided that you know more about their business than they do.

And that’s about as rare as volcanic lightning.

Helping buyers solve their problems requires us to understand exactly what those problems are. Or does it?

How to Be a Valuable Resource to Everyone You Meet

The reality is that there is only one reason a modern buyer meets with a salesperson, and it isn’t to relieve their boredom or make a new friend. It’s because they need help. You see, all buyers who take the time to meet with sellers have a singular problem:

They don’t know which product or service they should buy!

Think about that for a moment. If a buyer knows exactly what they want, they rarely need to meet with one salesperson, let alone several. Most products and services can be purchased over the internet without interaction. Perhaps you’re thinking, “but they don’t know about MY product or service.” That may have been true roughly 20 years ago, but there’s so much product information available online today that they can probably learn as much about your product as you know. They may even find someone in their network who already uses it.

So, the only reason to meet with salespeople is to figure out which alternative is best.

This is the first or primary problem for every buyer we meet. Unfortunately for the buyer, most salespeople are so focused on their product or service solutions that they can’t help buyers solve their most basic problem – making an intelligent, informed buying decision. If the salesperson is driving to get deal, and the buyer is trying to figure out what’s best for them, there is a conflict of objectives from the very beginning of the relationship.

While this creates huge challenges for most sellers, it can create tremendous opportunities for those skilled at helping people make better, more informed buying decisions. When salespeople learn to think like buyers, they differentiate themselves throughout the buyer’s journey and transform their relationships. Not only do these people develop stronger, more sustainable relationships, but they will also deliver dramatically better sales results.

Want to learn more? Axiom provides a unique alternative to traditional sales training. Unlike traditional sales training events, we embed our methodology into your sales cadence, delivering dramatically better sales results. To learn more about our Mindful Selling Methodology, Kinetics Sales Effectiveness Platform, or our unique, guaranteed approach, please visit us at www.axiomsaleskinetics.com.

Sale Boat Races

You Know You Have a Sales Challenge. Now What?

Let’s suppose you run or support a large sales team, and you’ve got a sales challenge. It could be because of missed top line or perhaps shrinking margins. It could even be the wrong product mix or inaccurate forecasts. Or maybe, growth simply isn’t meeting aggressive expectations. Regardless, you definitely have a problem.

So now what?

You analyze the sales problem to find THE root cause, only to find a plethora of underlying issues:

  • Your people don’t qualify well.

  • They aren’t even attempting to sell the full portfolio.

  • No one puts anything into the pricey CRM until the last possible minute, and even then, only when coerced.

  • Forecast accuracy is really forecast inaccuracy.

  • Tons of time and resources are being invested to pursue opportunities you don’t win.

  • Price pressure is intense, and the sales team is constantly asking for better pricing, eroding margins.

So, you decide you are going to do something about it; you are going to train them!

They’ll be trained on everything from bringing insightful ideas to customers to developing buying criteria. You’ll set some standards for what goes into the CRM and start holding people accountable. And perhaps most importantly, you will emphasize coaching so that your managers play an active role in driving better skill, knowledge, and selling.

Investing in a Solution

And what will all this cost, and what return will you get? Well, the typical sales training event will run a large enterprise customer anywhere from $500 to $1,200 per person just to conduct the event. Want to have live events where people meet in person instead of web conference? You’ll need to add travel at approximately $300 per person per day. So, just getting this thing started for a 500-person team and a two-day event requires an “investment” of somewhere between $550,000 and $900,000.

And don’t forget the logistics of scheduling all this. Chances are, if everything works out right, you can get everyone through the training sometime in the next six months, and hopefully, the CSO and CEO will give you that much time and money.

The Impossible Objective of Sales Training Events

All this would be reasonable, of course, if the training actually worked. However, there is mounting evidence that it won’t. In fact, a cursory Google search of “sales training doesn’t work” returns more than 296M hits. Interestingly, many of the articles are actually written by … wait for it … sales training providers. Your training event MAY provide all the right information about all the skills and knowledge your people need to be successful. However, within 30 days, most will forget most of what they learn, and precious few will use, let alone master, any of it.

This phenomenon is illustrated by the now famous Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve shown here via TrainingIndustry.com. The reality is most sales training programs have far more information, and more skills to develop, than can be absorbed by participants in the allotted time. The reason for this is simple. Neuroscience has shown us that people must go through a cycle of learning a skill, practicing that skill, applying it, and then evaluating their effectiveness (preferably with a coach) for each new skill and/or iteration of a current skill. Key to this cycle is sleep! At least one sleep cycle is needed for each skill or major iteration to allow the brain to properly process what it has learned. A good sales training program will likely have dozens of new skills for your people to learn, but only a couple days in which to make that happen. It is simply impossible. 

Of course, there is an option to overcome the forgetting curve: Pay the training provider to keep coming back or trickle follow-up training out to your team. This may actually help IF they have everything you need (or will ever need), and your entire team has a single homogenous development path. Unfortunately, neither is true.

However, some people do become proficient with new skills – if they didn’t no one would invest in sales training, but they do. In fact, in a recent webinar with more than 100 participants, more than half had implementing a new sales methodology as a primary sales enablement initiative. Having worked with Western Michigan University’s Evaluation Center to analyze why and how this happens, we know that the difference between high adopters and low adopters has little to do with the training events. The difference is what happens after these events, and therefore the solution isn’t to abandon sales training, it is to reimagine how we do it.

An Alternative Approach

Instead of depending on sales training events, sales skill development needs to happen on the job, one skill at a time, when learning can actually be applied to real selling scenarios. In order to accomplish this, learning must be continuous as a part of the normal sales motions. And, critically, sales managers must transition from feedback to coaching that drives continuous learning and improved execution. Finally, technology must be employed to help promote the adoption of new skills by surfacing key concepts as they relate to real-world opportunities. Meanwhile, online learning content must be accessible to coaches and sellers with as little friction as possible.

Teams that get into a cadence of learning and coaching as an integral part of their regular sales motions are able to realize dramatically better adoption of new skills, corresponding business impact, and program ROI. More importantly, they develop the habit of continuous improvement through regular learning and coaching, making them more adaptable to their environment as markets, solutions, and buyers evolve. They truly develop a sustainable competitive advantage – better learning, better coaching, and better selling.

Want to learn more about how you can embed learning and coaching into your sales motions? Connect with us and we’ll help you determine the best approach for your sales organization.

Axiom provides a unique alternative to traditional sales training. Unlike traditional sales training events, we embed our methodology into your sales cadence, delivering dramatically better sales results. To learn more about our Mindful Selling Methodology, Kinetics Sales Effectiveness Platform, or our unique, guaranteed approach, please visit us at www.axiomsaleskinetics.com.

Transforming Sales Manager

Webinar: Making Sales Managers Your Most Valuable Enablement Resource

Sales enablement initiatives have the potential to drive exceptional sales performance. However, the most critical link in the sales enablement value chain is often missed, resulting in mediocre impact, or even failed programs. Transforming sales managers to sales coaches has the potential to supercharge all other enablement initiatives and drive exceptional results.

During this session, Axiom partner Bob Sanders will show why sales managers are the most critical resource in sales enablement initiatives. He’ll also share Axiom’s GUIDE model, which helps sales enablement transform managers from super sellers and compliance officers to exceptional coaches.

Sales Interaction

3 Steps to Radically Improve Sales Engagement and Business Results

Here’s an exercise you can do right now to check on the effectiveness of your existing sales engagements. Start by pulling a report of the Top 20 opportunities in your organization, and then go line by line and see if you can answer the following questions.

  1. What is the probability we will win this business? And is that answer based on the seller’s gut feel, what is automatically generated by your CRM based on the sales stage, or what you know about the prospective customer?
  2. Who in the prospect’s organization is involved in making this decision, what role will each person play and, and what influence will each evaluator have on the ultimate decision?
  3. Which alternatives are being considered and/or favored by these evaluators? Why are certain alternatives favored over others?
  4. What are the key business issues, and how are those issues affecting this decision?
  5. What criteria will they use to determine which alternative is best for their business?
  6. What steps are involved in their decision process, when will those steps take place and what is driving that timeline?

While there is little doubt this exercise would provide powerful insights about how your sellers are engaging with buyers, the unfortunate reality for most organizations is that this type of review will likely never happen. Why? Because this information, if it does exist, is being stored in either the mind or possibly on in the notes of individual salespeople. It isn’t in a form or location where it can be easily shared, let alone analyzed to see what’s missing. And therein lies one of the greatest obstacles to better sales engagements and dramatically higher win rates – not knowing what we know about our opportunities. Put another way:

It isn’t what we don’t know about an opportunity that kills us, it’s what we don’t know we don’t know.

You see, if we could conduct this review in an efficient manner, and if in doing so we realized we were missing key information, we could almost certainly (unless we are literally at the end of the buyer’s journey) go back and gather the information we are missing. In fact, most buyers don’t want to be sold, they want to be helped and we can’t help them if we don’t properly understand them. Therefore, most are quite willing to share more information, provided that information is being used to better help and serve them.

How Bad Does it Hurt?

  • Does it bother you that this kind of information — if it exists at all — only lives in your seller’s mind or personal notes?

  • Does it make you uncomfortable to think that if this person were to leave, so would all the information about that account and opportunity?

  • Does it pain you to think that the only way anyone can help this person win the sale and get better is to go through the tedious process of having them recall everything they know?

If the idea that such critical information might be getting missed in your sales engagements, or might walk out the door with a salesperson drives you nuts, we can absolutely relate. And if it makes you a bit uncomfortable, maybe even slightly nauseous to think about how time-consuming and ineffective opportunity reviews often are, believe me, we are right there with you!

Thankfully, there are ways to address the root cause of this problem and radically improve your sales engagement and business results.

Step 1 — Establish Common Information Objectives

The more we know about our prospective customers (what’s happening in their business, what they want to buy, how they determine who has it, etc.) the better our chances of winning the opportunities we can win. Maybe just as important, this information also gives us a chance to walk away from the business we can’t win without wasting our time or that of our prospects. Sadly, many organizations never get to the point where they can agree on what information they need in order to understand an opportunity. Naturally, this dramatically reduces their chance of developing individual and organizational effectiveness around eliciting important customer information.

To overcome this, establish a shared set of information objectives. To be clear, this shouldn’t simply be anything anyone believes they want to know, and it also shouldn’t be limited to a few important things your management team thinks you need to know. Instead, it should be everything you need to know to fully understand a sales opportunity — a static set of commonly understood terms and definitions that anyone can recite at any time.

You’ll want to get to the point where these terms and definitions become part of every conversation moving forward. Want a sample template for a comprehensive set of information objectives? Click here and we will send one to you free of charge, along with a note-taking tool to help people gather this information during their sales conversations.

Step 2 — Help People Gather, Analyze, and Leverage the Information

Next, provide your people with a tool, any tool, that can help them better gather, analyze, and leverage this information. Ideally, you will integrate this information into your CRM, however even a word form or printed note-taking tool is better than nothing at all. If you are planning to integrate into your CRM, the information entered must help your salespeople:

  • Work more effectively and efficiently.

  • Forecast quickly and accurately.

  • Win more business.

  • Create benefits for the seller and manager.

A couple important caveats here:

  1. Don’t expect your salespeople to type information into fields in your CRM … they won’t do it and there are better ways to leverage technology to capture what they do know, and perhaps more importantly do not know about their opportunities so that it can be used to help them.
  2. Avoid the temptation to punish people for what they don’t know. Instead create transparency and promote objectivity. If you beat people up for what they don’t know, they will likely make things up.

Step 3 — Provide Ongoing Learning and Coaching to Improve Skill and Knowledge

Once we have a common set of information objectives and we are leveraging them to help people better understand their opportunities, sales managers can begin helping the team become more proficient at engaging buyers and gathering this information. However, it is critical to understand the difference between the typical manager-seller conversations and truly productive coaching.

Most sales managers were promoted because they were great sellers. Therefore, their natural tendency is to do what they do best. This is why so many sales managers are really player-coaches who rely on team members to bird dog opportunities while the manager is deeply involved in working the deals. In other words, the manager is running the plays.

We want an environment where the managers have their sellers handling the sales engagement. Meanwhile, the manager is actively involved in developing the strategy. So rather than run the plays, they are calling the plays.

Better play calling improves performance. However, really maximizing results requires moving beyond calling plays to developing better players. Managers must be held accountable for diagnosing the root cause of performance gaps among their sellers and determining what corrective action or learning can be leveraged to shrink the gaps. Want more information on the model for effective sales coaching? Click here to download our Guide to Sales Coaching.

In an ideal world, the CRM or some other tool is available to help improve coaching conversations by:

  1. Making it easy and efficient for managers to identify potential performance gaps, even before they affect results.
  2. Giving the manager questions to ask or steps to follow to diagnose the root cause of any performance gaps.
  3. Presenting the appropriate learning activities based on the root cause and being able to assign these from the CRM.
  4. Tracking both coaching and learning to help you identify and help people who are struggling with these two critical behaviors.

When we settle on clearly defined information objectives and provide tools to help people better gather and analyze the information then use that information to coach and develop sellers, we can transform our sales conversations and dramatically improve sales results.

Want to learn more? Axiom provides a unique alternative to traditional sales training. Unlike traditional sales training events, we embed our methodology into your sales cadence, delivering dramatically better sales results. To learn more about our Mindful Selling Methodology, Kinetics Sales Effectiveness Platform, or our unique, guaranteed approach, please visit us at www.axiomsaleskinetics.com.

X-Ray of Broken Collarbone

Missed Sales Targets: How to Avoid the Crash

I knew it was broken as soon as I hit the ground. My shoulder had shifted nearly two inches on impact, and now, sitting by the side of the road, I could feel my collarbone poking up from beneath my skin. Needless to say, the pain was unbearable. Just a few years earlier, I had begun riding as a knee problem was keeping me from my normal release of running. By now, I had become a full-on cycling enthusiast; or, according to my wife, an addict.

As a cyclist, you learn quickly that you fall into two groups — those who have crashed and those who will. I had just graduated from the latter to the former. And for the next eight weeks, I’d be in a sling. What’s crazy about the wreck, though, is how much clarity I had afterward about WHY I crashed. Looking back, I could see all the signs as if everything had happened in super slow motion. As I recalled the events in great detail, I reflected on the past two decades and the many conversations I have had with sales managers just after their team had crashed and missed their sales target.

Like me, they always seemed clear about what had happened after the fact, even though they could not avoid the wreck before it happened. So what is it that causes sales teams to miss their targets and suffer the painful consequences of the crash?

No Shortage of Data

When I had my accident (a pseudonym, really, since it was my negligence that caused the wreck rather than a chance occurrence), I had no lack of information that could have helped me avoid the crash. I knew the conditions, had good visibility and was even provided adequate signals from other riders in my pace line about road hazards.

Similarly, most sales organizations and their sales teams find that the root cause of their failure is NOT a shortage of data. While there are undoubtedly helpful analytics and supplemental reports that can extend the value of the information available through the company’s CRM/SFA tools, the lack of this data is rarely the underlying cause of the team’s failure.

Thus, while better information can facilitate improved management, it will not in and of itself prevent performance gaps.

Sales Teams — Don’t Fixate on the Wheel

If lack of data isn’t to blame, what is? Looking back on my crash, it’s easy to see that I was simply too focused on the wrong information. Every rider knows there are certain axioms governing safe riding in a pace line.

For example, don’t look behind you; keep focused on what’s happening in front of you.

This one is probably obvious to even the most novice rider.

Less obvious however, is the importance of avoiding the trap of fixating on the wheel of the bike in front of you — and this particular problem is also far more difficult to avoid. Even seasoned riders can become “entranced” by the rear wheel of the bike in front of them, especially when it is just inches away and you are cruising along at 20+ MPH.

That’s exactly what happened to me. Instead of looking ahead, I got caught looking down.

The result was a big OUCH!

Fixating on the wrong information can be equally as devastating for sales leaders. Managers often “fixate” on certain metrics, such as funnel activity, only to find the sales teams increasing the value of their pipeline while still missing sales targets.

In one case, we had a team that was required to keep seven times their quota in the pipeline at all times, so every person did precisely that. Unfortunately, at the end of the year, this team only achieved 60% of their sales target. Clearly, something was missing, and this excessive focus on a single metric wasn’t allowing the sales leader or people on the team to properly diagnose the problem.

The Predictive Metrics for Selling

So, what should be the focus of sales teams and their managers? Like cycling, sales leaders must force themselves to look forward and consider a COMBINATION of metrics that predict success or failure. While pipeline activity is certainly one of these things, it should not be the sole focus of a manager’s analysis if it will lead to excluding other key metrics. We recommend every salesperson on the team have a mathematically valid sales success plan that defines targets for:

  • New Opportunities

  • New Proposals

  • Average Sale Value

  • Proposal Ratio

  • Closing Ratio

You can download a simple Excel spreadsheet for creating the sales success plan here. By regularly reviewing each seller’s performance relative to the target for these predictive metrics, sales leaders can identify gaps BEFORE a crash in sales results. Further investigation into the behavioral issue producing the gap, and the underlying skill or knowledge gap that is the root cause, allows both the manager and seller to define corrective action that will minimize the pain of the miss and perhaps help them avoid the missed targets and sales crash altogether.

And take it from me, avoiding a crash is a far better outcome than explaining it after the fact!

Want to learn more? Axiom provides a unique alternative to traditional sales training. Unlike traditional sales training events, we embed our methodology into your sales cadence, delivering dramatically better sales results. To learn more about our Mindful Selling Methodology, Kinetics Sales Effectiveness Platform, or our unique, guaranteed approach, please visit us at www.axiomsaleskinetics.com.

Allen Iversion

Practice? What are we talking about, practice?

It’s NBA playoff time again and for some reason this always reminds me of the now infamous 2002 interview with then-Philadelphia 76ers superstar Allen Iverson. As you know by now, a reporter questioned Iverson’s effort during practice, which caused Iverson to get so upset that his ensuing tirade became one of the more entertaining moments in the history of the NBA.

“But we’re talking about practice, man,” Iverson said. “What are we talking about? Practice? We’re talking about practice, man.”

If you haven’t seen it yet, check out this link. In fact this moment is so iconic, Ted Lasso did a highly entertaining flipped version, which you can see here – great stuff!

An Important Lesson

Iverson was a rare talent for sure. However, seeing how his career ended, this clip may also provide one of the most enlightening lessons for professionals in all fields – including sales.

While it’s true that during the interview Iverson accepted responsibility for his actions and even expressed awareness of his need to be a leader of the team, his disdain for practice was evident.

For more than two decades now we’ve seen a similar view permeate the sales profession. Unfortunately for many, if this doesn’t change, many salespeople and sales leaders may find themselves in the same position as Allen Iverson: Looking for something new to do.

Pressure to Perform

Sales organizations will feel increasing pressure to execute better than their competition as businesses shift their focus from cost cutting measures to growing top line performance.

With this pressure comes the need for common processes, and the requirement that people practice their craft in order to develop the habits that will help them execute more effectively in the Held.

Successful individuals and teams must practice skills together in order to identify gaps in their performance, and Hnd opportunities to improve.

While wins and losses allow us to keep score in selling, the fact is customers generally make bad coaches. After all, when was the last time a customer gave you some pointers on how to make a more compelling presentation and scheduled a time to try it again?

Practice Counts

The reality of any performance profession, be it athletics, music, surgery or sales, is that practice makes an enormous difference and represents the greatest opportunity for improvement.

Unfortunately, many sales professionals don’t commit adequate time and attention to this – to their own detriment. Why? Similar to Iverson, they fail to understand that game time performance is ultimately a reflection of the habits created in practice. Many appear to believe that their innate talents will allow them to excel against their competition, and that practice is more trouble than it is worth.

The truth is that Practice is THE KEY to winning. So, if we want a long and prosperous career filled with more wins and fewer losses, we need to consider Allen Iverson’s counter-example and develop the habit of practicing on a consistent basis. And if we want an to build a sales organization that consistently improves its effectiveness through practice, we must start by having coaches that help drive that habit.

Want to learn more about how effective coaching can help create the habit of continuous improvement and support sales excellence? Click here to download our free Guide to Sales Coaching, including a coaching readiness assessment to help you prepare for your sales enablement initiatives.

Axiom provides a unique alternative to traditional sales training. Unlike traditional sales training events, we embed our methodology into your sales cadence, delivering dramatically better sales results. To learn more about our Mindful Selling Methodology, Kinetics Sales Effectiveness Platform, or our unique, guaranteed approach, please visit us at www.axiomsaleskinetics.com