I have been around many sales teams long enough to say this with conviction: most B2B companies encourage sales culture and strategies that are outdated or flat-out incorrect. Sales reps’ productivity is one such victim of bad sales culture that gets crushed under heaps of flawed sales coaching.
Take the old-fashioned way of measuring rep productivity, for example. Productivity means different things for different people. For sales and business development reps, being productive usually means making a certain number of calls every day or booking more meetings. For account executives, it’s running a certain number of demos per day and following up with prospects.
And productivity for you—the sales manager—is an entirely different ball game altogether. The point is that you can’t use the same yardstick to measure sales productivity or apply the same coaching standards to everyone in your sales team.
In my role as the VP of Sales at Avoma, every month I talk to 10-12 sales managers from prospect companies who are evaluating Avoma for their teams. Most of these companies are growing rapidly on the back of their sales team’s prowess—and they come to us because they want to help their sales teams further improve their sales productivity, conduct better pipeline reviews and ensure they don’t let any deals slip through the cracks.
And yet, I often notice that there’s a clear pattern in some of the things that most of these organizations do in the name of “improving rep productivity”. In my experience, here are a few common mistakes when it comes to improving rep productivity:
❌They put more throughput in the sales pipeline
Since I joined Avoma, we have tripled our team size and it has, in fact, contributed to improving our overall sales performance. But I would be lying if I attributed the increase in our sales conversions solely to the additional hiring and throughput.
In the modern SaaS world, there often are other collaborative forces at play behind the scenes that contribute equally to the health of the sales pipeline. If anything, the growth in team size also comes with more responsibilities and lots of moving parts.
What most growing companies fail to understand is that doubling the amount of sales reps doesn’t guarantee improved sales. Putting more time, money, or other resources doesn’t mean we will close more deals from the existing pipeline.
Increasing the sales throughput is a growth mandate and it’s absolutely necessary when you’re growing rapidly, but you need to have all other ducks in a row to get the results you want.
At Avoma, we have improved our sales results because we value efforts over outcomes. We offer our prospects a delightful buyer experience that differentiates us from our competitors. And we continuously push ourselves to improve rep productivity with a laser focus.
❌They apply the same coaching standards to all reps
I have briefly touched upon this earlier, but it’s worth repeating many times over: offering the same coaching advice to all reps is like watering all your house plants the same way and expecting all of them to grow roses. Peace lilies suck a lot of water while Saguaros can survive on very little water—and they grow different flowers at different paces.
It sounds logical from a parity point of view to give them the same treatment, but coaching is an extremely nuanced activity—just like sales productivity. Coaching is not like training your sales rep to be more proficient in using new software.
Effective coaching takes many factors into consideration such as a rep’s personality, individual strengths, weaknesses, past performances, career goals, etc. This quote from Albert Einstein nicely captures the essence of good coaching:
Everybody is a genius, but if you judge a fish by the ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.
Sales coaching is exactly like coaching players in a team sport. There are general strategies that the whole team should know, but the team can win only when the quarterback plays to his strength and gets feedback specific to his abilities—which differs vastly from the coaching advice that the running back gets.
❌They might coach reps on irrelevant things
This overlaps with the earlier point about coaching your reps for their specific needs. Many sales leaders I interact with do the right thing by coaching their reps individually, but they send the wrong signals by coaching them on irrelevant things.
For instance, an SDR who breezed through her quotas last quarter but failed to book enough meetings in the current quarter isn’t necessarily slacking. For all you know, she might be taking the heat of a market correction in the face of a looming recession or other factors outside of her control.
Nobody has 100% control over sales outcomes. When you misattribute poor sales outcomes to a rep’s performance—despite their best efforts—you unwittingly demoralize them and set low coaching standards for the entire team.
Some leaders review their rep calls or dashboards and offer extensive feedback based on a single instance of a bad call or a lost deal. Coaches who do that are missing the forest for the trees.
Coaching is a big responsibility and it demands a high level of cognizance and attention to detail. Offer anything less and you will jeopardize the collective potential of your sales team.
❌They bank too much on metrics
I spoke about this topic at length in one of the recent episodes of The Modern SaaS Podcast. In my two decades experience of working in B2B sales, I have realized that most sales leaders are obsessed with numbers and metrics without actually thinking through them.
We are used to asking our reps questions like:
- What are you committing this week?
- What’s your worst case?
- What’s your best case?
As sales leaders, we tend to grab certain data points and move quickly because we look at them merely as a part of the reporting process. We are missing a lot with that when we don’t make an effort to understand what those metrics tell us.
Every metric has a story behind it and, as experienced SaaS leaders, we need to be really careful about not just collecting the metrics but also deriving good actionable insights out of all the sales conversations.
Whenever we are on the topic of sales metrics, I’m reminded of Palantir’s mantra about data. As one of the first and biggest heavyweights in the data and analytics domain, Palantir’s business premise was built around the message that they don’t just provide data to their customers, but allow them to ask critical questions about the data. That’s the real value of data.
Banking too much on sales metrics will drive you nuts if you don’t question it strategically or when you don’t gauge it with some amount of sales instinct that’s demanded of every good sales leader.
❌They enforce too much tech in the name of sales productivity
It’s impossible to stay productive in sales without having access to the right technology. However, sales productivity quickly turns into a mirage when you give your sales reps too many tools to juggle with.
We need to think about the user experience and the workflow of our sales team as much as we do for our customers—the things they do before, during, and after using a tool to accomplish something.
When we demo Avoma to our prospects from the sales background, we are sometimes shocked to hear the number of apps that they say they use to manage their sales processes. It’s no surprise to me that SaaS fatigue is a thing when you consider that most businesses today use an average of 110 SaaS apps—many of which are used to manage sales workflows.
And guess what sales leaders report as one of the biggest concerns when buying a new software? They fear that their reps won’t adopt the software fully.
Sales leaders want reps to use different tools for different purposes like prospecting tools so that they can automate the manual tasks, speed up the sales cycle, and improve their productivity in general.
But there’s usually a sweet spot for using technology in sales which, when you exceed, will turn into a liability.
Take for instance every sales team’s favorite solution in the tech stack—the CRM. Except for a few, most CRM solutions in the market are admin-heavy, suck on your valuable time, offer a siloed user experience, and lack visibility. It spreads your reps thin, distracts their focus from their core job, and moves them further apart from other functions in the organization.
There’s no easy answer to this problem, but all-in-one software are miles ahead of the garden variety of best-of-breed solutions in helping your reps be more productive—both individually and as a team.
How can sales leaders contribute to improving reps' sales productivity?
When reps are unproductive, you will start noticing certain worrying symptoms in their work routine:
- Too few sales meetings
- Too many internal meetings
- Too much time spent on the wrong activities
- Incomplete tasks/too many tasks on their plate
- Failure to block time for prospecting/follow-up/what’s important
If you start seeing these symptoms, it’s usually a sign that you should leave everything else and have an honest 1:1 conversation with the said rep to help them get back on track.
Based on my conversations with a sizable number of sales leaders in the last couple of years, there’s one thing that screams the loudest in terms of advice that every sales leader can benefit from, i.e. qualitative coaching.
Most sales managers evaluate their reps’ productivity based on quantitative metrics like the number of leads in the pipeline, time spent on each call/deal, the number of reps involved in an account, or even the number of software being used.
I suggest you turn this process on its head and start making qualitative observations about your reps (and teach them to do the same) to help them become more productive. Here are a few things we do at Avoma to coach our reps to be data-driven, but also to be productive by being judicious.
1. Take the manual note-taking out of the way
It’s 2022 and you are still coaching your reps to take better notes…with their hands? All the other software in your sales tech stack means nothing if your reps don’t have an efficient way to automate their most basic, painfully laborious, and time-consuming process of note-taking.
It’s like you have all the state-of-the-art water appliances in your kitchen like a touchless faucet, dishwasher, and refrigerator but you still need to ferry bucketloads of water to your overhead water tank.
That doesn’t sound very efficient, does it? Ditto with your reps nervously trying to scribble every word that the customers say when they can have an AI bot do it for them.
When your reps use the old-school technique of jotting shorthand notes, they miss out on subtle details that customers express in the sales calls. It could be their body language, micro-expressions, emotional cues, and other qualitative data points that your reps won’t notice if they are busy taking notes.
The simple solution to this problem is to add a layer of automation to their note-taking process. We have found that sales teams that use Avoma to automate note-taking and CRM updates for their sales calls see up to a 50% uptick in their rep productivity compared to their old ways of taking hand-written notes.
And no, automating the note-taking process doesn’t mean you can’t add your own notes. You certainly can add, edit, or delete notes during and after your meetings. Avoma has the highest accuracy score for real-time transcription, but you can add your own interpretation of the customer conversation to the notes to enhance its quality.
Your duty as a sales leader is to communicate the time that they are wasting by sticking to old habits and show them the opportunities that they can create by automating the process.
2. Empower them to figure out things on their own
You can’t be everywhere every time a rep needs coaching. The long-term goal in sales coaching is to teach your reps to fish—not to give them a fish every time they are hungry. At some point, coaching needs you to take your hands off of your reps and let them steer the boat on their own.
This is especially applicable in situations when the reps have to handle objections from tough customers. If you start coaching each of your reps on every objection that the customers come up with, you would be doing their job.
Instead, you should empower them to fish for the right answers to the customers’ questions on their own. That means pushing them to improve their product knowledge, research the prospects beforehand, and build the competence to tackle tricky objections.
For example, unlike other B2B sales teams, we at Avoma don’t have a long-drawn ramp-up process for new reps in Avoma. We do have a formal onboarding process, but most reps ramp up in no time and without a lot of hand-holding.
And there’s no genius at play here—we just make the most out of Avoma’s capabilities to accelerate the sales reps’ ramp-up time. Every rep that joins Avoma’s sales team has immediate access to a library of Playlists (that includes Avoma walkthroughs, best-of-the-best discovery calls, top-converting demo calls, etc.) that they can listen to at their own pace. It’s a time-mandated asynchronous training process that lets each rep learn about the product in a way that makes sense to them.
The reps learn to copy or create templates for their sales calls, set up benchmarks that are important to them, and reach out to the right product experts for help.
Essentially, Avoma is our de facto knowledge base or internal wiki that helps new reps look up any information they want. We also leverage our internal Slack channels to facilitate cross-functional collaboration between sales and other teams.
As you can see, our reps keep themselves busy by directly reaching out to product experts when they need concrete answers that might not be in the training manual.
As a result, most of our AEs are ready to take up their first customer demo within 30 days of joining the company. By the way, the industry average hovers around 90 days—talk about improving rep productivity.
3. Give them the sales productivity tools to speed up the deal cycle
Your sales reps’ productivity and speed are directly proportional to the amount of help and support they get from other functional teams. As a coach, you should teach your reps the value of connecting the dots in order to build a robust sales process. That means creating a direct feedback loop between sales, product, customer success, and marketing—among other teams.
In most B2B SaaS companies, product and engineering have a passive role when it comes to closing deals. Not so in Avoma—and it shouldn’t be the case in your company either.
Our sales team extensively uses Avoma to draw the product team’s attention to a customer issue, a bug report from a trial user, or a feature request from an enterprise account. Reps don’t have to write descriptive emails or raise a helpdesk ticket or attach half a dozen screenshots of the product to explain a customer complaint, for instance.
They can simply snip the piece of customer conversation reporting a bug, and share the snippet with their peers in the product team so that they can understand the context of the issue raised sans the rep’s bias in understanding and communicating it.
Other times, reps tag the product manager on a transcript or leave comments for them to see—like you do in Google Docs. Reps keep a close tab on the Deal Insights to monitor at-risk deals and pull in the right person at the right time to improve the deal progression.
In short, deal intelligence gives you:
- An overview of customer engagement across deals such as calls, meetings, and emails
- Understanding of the overall deal health, i.e. which of your deals are progressing and the ones at the risk of stalling
- Detailed and drilled-down insights into conversation insights, activities, deal stage progression, and more for each deal in your pipeline
These things heavily influence rep productivity because, over time, this collaboration turns into a well-oiled machine that helps every new deal coming in the pipeline sail smoothly through the pipeline—like passenger luggage gliding through the carousel belts. It saves your reps their time, resources, and headache of fighting through difficult deals alone.
4. Make receiving feedback for email copy efficient
Asking to review their email copy to customers is one of the most common areas where new sales reps need help. It’s all fine and dandy if your sales team is small—or the list of target customers is small.
But you can’t scale the process of coaching each of your reps to improve their email wordsmithing when you are growing fast and have to keep a tab on several things. Plus, the manual feedback process is slow and hinders your rep’s productivity.
But not having a system to audit the email copies that new reps send to prospects is like treading on a landmine field risking to set off a bomb. Not all sales reps possess impeccable English skills.
Imagine them sending a 300-word-long cold email—written entirely in lower case—with no punctuation marks whatsoever and 23 spelling mistakes, telling them how good your product is compared to the competition.
I know—it sounds reprehensible, and I have seen a fair share of those cold emails sent my way.. And I feel sorry for those who send them, but there’s no excuse for writing bad sales emails in an age where you have access to a dozen free tools (most of them with AI capabilities) that will help you improve your email copywriting.
Just to name a few:
- Hemingway App
- Jasper.ai (free trial)
- Sortd (only for Gmail)
- Just Not Sorry (Chrome plugin)
- HubSpot’s Email Templates Builder
Tools like Copy.ai and Jasper.ai are powered by GPT-3—a machine learning model that can conjure impressive copy choices when you feed it with just a small sample of texts. That means your sales reps can just give these tools a few hints about what they intend to say while the tools help them create sales copies at scale.
Here’s an example of cold email subject lines generated by Jasper.ai:
Looks pretty cool, right? No grammatical errors, typos, bad English, and no need for a sales manager to butt in on every cold email sequence.
Or, you can also use a collaborative email tool like Front app where you can collaborate with your team and get feedback before you send that email across to your prospects and customers.
5. Encourage predictable habits for better sales productivity
Predictability leads to productivity. In his book Fanatical Prospecting, 13-times author and CEO of Sales Gravy Jeb Blount says that a fanatical salesperson focuses on the next sale. They don’t fear the chances of being turned down, they pick up the phone even when they don’t feel like doing it, and they take a data-driven approach.
And I agree. The best and most productive salespeople I have seen rely on repeatable habits—not whims. They bring great (sometimes, unexpected) results because they have mastered the discipline of showing up daily and putting in the necessary work into a deal.
These reps aren’t more talented or put in more hours than the sales reps next to them—but they are highly reliable. They hustle and grind until the job is done because it’s in their second nature to push through the day without looking back.
And by doing so, they become unstoppable—not just productive. The most successful SaaS companies grow their revenue because they have reps who follow through with a deal with clinical precision.
Recurring revenue engine is the lifeblood of any SaaS business and it’s possible only when reliable processes drive more deals through the pipeline. Like in a scientific experiment, building predictable revenue is all about taking the right ingredients and putting them into action. In essence, the science behind building a repeatable revenue breaks down to the following formula:
- Predictable revenue happens when you have a predictable pipeline.
- Predictable pipeline happens when you have a predictable salesperson.
- Predictable salesperson is someone who has a predictable calendar.
- Predictable calendar is a result of building predictable habits.
Moral of the story—many things about building a predictable revenue engine boils down to the level of your rep’s productivity. While building such habits comes naturally to some sales reps, you have to help some reps get there.
At Avoma, here’s how we go about building predictable habits:
- We use the ‘backcasting’ approach to benchmark a predictable revenue. Simply put, we contextualize revenue predictability to our business environment, gain clarity about our end goal, and line up our sales tactics to align with the revenue target.
- We have built predictable marketing and sales processes so that other functions are equally accountable for the results. The other GTM functions help our reps reach out to the right ICPs (ideal customer personas) and convert them into customers.
- We apply the same principles to our outbound prospecting so that the reps have enough leads in the pipeline every day for them to reach out to and nurture.
And this culture isn’t limited to just sales, we urge all our GTM teams to ruthlessly block specific times on their calendars to carry out a set of activities that they can repeat every day—or at regular time intervals. The result is that our reps (and all other GTM professionals) are more transparent in their routine, predictable in their schedule, and productive at their work.
Coaching shouldn't be at the expense of sales productivity
Coaching can do wonders for sales reps and the sales team that have access to great coaches and mentors are a privileged lot. But coaching shouldn’t come at the expense of productivity—both for reps and the sales leaders.
At some point, the coaches should gently push the reps to jump into the deep end of the pool and learn to be a great salesperson on their own.
As a leader with several things on your calendar, the least you can do is offer qualitative coaching from time to time and help them overcome the inefficient processes. And one of the best ways to offer personalized coaching is to monitor all sales conversations with Avoma and give your detailed, contextual, and feedback for specific parts of the conversation within the call transcript.