Moving Beyond Rep Development: Learning as We Go
“Joel is definitely not renewing this relationship” was a recent note I received from a key contact at…ahem…a customer who is now tagged in our customer success application as “Severe Risk”. I’ve been the CEO of CommercialTribe since we founded the company three years ago. And while today we’re fortunate to call some of the world’s most progressive companies customers, the below note is not necessarily focused on our successes, rather in what we’re learning from our failures.
You see I made the early mistake in thinking our initial solution—a rep watches an example of “what good looks like”, practices, and then submits for feedback, coaching, and/or certification—was an answer to a broad spectrum of rep development issues. It’s not, and I’m not upset, angry, or surprised by the customer’s message. We learned our early solution was too narrow and episodic. We were both out of rep and manager workflow as well as we created more work for an already overworked constituency…the frontline sales manager.
As a fledgling entrepreneur, I’m realizing that at our stage value shouldn’t be measured in revenue growth or the number of customers we’ve acquired, but rather in what we’re learning. And, this “reflection” is an attempt to share what we’re learning, which is how to unlock the potential of each rep by improving the effectiveness of the frontline sales manager.
Unlocking rep potential
I had the opportunity to listen to six recorded sales calls based on the above-mentioned customer’s framework. I’ll spare the details around the evolution of our product and get to the point. Today, to unlock the potential of reps, CommercialTribe needs to assist the frontline sales manager:
- Observe reps across multiple selling situations: modeled scenarios, role play, live call capture, and others.
- Assess reps with a consistent, timely, and accurate framework.
- And this is the kicker: Coach the frontline sales managers on specific development paths that enable the rep—and the manager—to get better.
The observations we made across those six calls were based on our emerging Live Call Capture modality. We then assessed each call based on a specific framework and made targeted development coaching suggestions.
The following is the Executive Summary of the result—perhaps with a dramatic flair—yet probably not too far from the truth:
Rep A is at risk of resigning within the next 6-9 months. He’ll leave simply because the volumetric nature of the business will burn him out. Interestingly, it’s not that Rep A finds the activity nature of the role disenfranchising—in fact, he chose to become a salesperson. Rather, despite all of his hard work, he’s not getting any better.
If you were to listen to his first 50 calls (assuming someone had the time), my sense is you’d see an improvement from the first call to the tenth, but then see very little improvement from his tenth call to his 50th. Rep A was elevated from a business development role after four months directly into and AE role, and now after almost 18 months in his current role he lacks several skills you’d expect to see in a rep of his tenure.
From his three calls that we observed, the skills or behaviors he needs to develop are clear:
- Setting a clear and structured agenda
- Identifying key priorities and asking effective questions
- Effectively articulating and contextualizing the the solution
- Summarizing key takeaways and outlining next steps
While the “what” Rep A needs to develop is straightforward, the “how” is dependent upon his coach…who is also the frontline manager.
Developing better coaches
Manager A is a talented individual, yet could absolutely benefit from coaching assistance and the construction of development plans for each of his reps. But Manager A’s job has become untenable—pure and simple—and denying this fact today makes senior leadership complicit.
In my experience, the average profile of today’s frontline sales manager has them managing 10-12 direct reports—with two open headcount, three net-new hires, four high-performers (one of them is threatening to quit, of course), and they haven’t hit their forecast in the last 90 days. Beyond the personalities, frontline sales managers are challenged with SFDC compliance, accurate forecasting, training, new product releases, marketing campaigns, and, of course, hitting the number.
CommercialTribe customers —all world-class companies—agree, and have made demonstrable changes to invest in frontline manager development. We know this is where CommercialTribe is heading. And in Part 2, I’ll lay out a concrete example of what that looks like.