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How to improve sales rep performance in 7 steps

By: Rebecca Herson
June 25, 2021
4 min. read
how to improve sales rep performance

Not every salesperson you hire will jump on a call, smooth talk your customers, and immediately win the opportunity. There simply aren’t enough legendary salespeople looking for jobs to fill your sales team. Your new hires may have ticked all the right boxes on an employment assessment test, or come in with a track record of sales success. That doesn’t mean they are ready follow your playbook and sell your products on day one.

Even those with natural sales skills need to align with your sales process. Over time, they need to understand the nuances of your messaging and learn how to tell the right stories that move someone from prospect to customer. And not everyone is blessed with natural sales skills, so your company’s training and coaching of sellers may need to go beyond messaging and product features.

As a manager, one of your biggest challenges is identifying which members of your sales team are underperforming. After placing a significant investment in targeting, marketing toward, and nurturing leads into prospects, the idea of losing a sale due to lack of sales experience or underdeveloped sales skills can be demoralizing to everyone who contributed to getting that prospect onto the pipeline in the first place. More importantly, it also wastes the company’s precious resources.

Fortunately, you can evaluate the members of your sales team, and ensure that they have the sales skills and product knowledge needed to close.

1. Identify the underperformers

The first step to bringing your underperformers up to speed is to identify them, and long before they are clicking “closed-lost” on opportunities in Salesforce or other CRM. You need to identify these underperformers long before they reach the last stage of the pipeline, and you can do this by evaluating them consistently and often.

Begin by establishing your criteria for success and keeping track of how well your sales team are meeting them. This can be things like deal velocity from stage to stage, number of calls completed, and how well next steps are defined.

One easy way to identify them long before the last stage of the pipeline is to use AI role plays, for example with Second Nature AI. Each simulation is recorded and scored automatically, so managers can see at a glance who is acing their sales conversations and who needs a bit of an extra push.

While you may be tempted to fire an underperformer, if you catch it early enough and they are amenable to being coached, it’s in your company’s interest to make the effort to help them excel. Whether it’s a need to polish their soft skills, brush up on the competition, learn how to do a better discovery call, or any of the other crucial sales skills, there are many ways to bring your underperforming salespeople up to speed. Let’s take a look at some of them:

2. Assign an experienced mentor

Mentorships are a tried-and-true methodology for generating improvement and growth within the team. Your underperformers will get a first-hand look at the efforts that go into a sales pitch – from crafting a sales plan to doing deep customer research – from professionals with proven track records who know what it takes to close.

Let them sit in on customer meetings with their mentor so that they can see all the intangible actions that go into preparation and the pitch.

Mentorships offer benefits that go far beyond performance issues. Your new salespeople will be indoctrinated into the company culture and learn work procedures from someone who has been in the company for a while. They tend to learn skills faster and adapt to the new environment rather quickly. Over time, employees who have been mentored are loyal to employers, which reduces your need to onboard new salespeople.

3. Offer recorded sales pitches as a learning tool

If you routinely record sales calls with tools such as Gong, Chorus, or other sales enablement solutions, save some of the best and worst calls and then have your underperformers and new hires listen to wins and losses. Challenge them to pick out techniques that were used successfully, and identify points of failure.

Listening to calls will help drive home the type of messaging they need to use to reach their customers, and familiarize them with the pace and cadence of a sales call. Too often, new sellers push to close, rather than really listening to what their prospect is saying and tailoring the message to those needs. Listening to other people’s calls will help them understand the nature of a sales pitch.

The lessons derived from recordings will be invaluable, as they pick up on the nuances of the sale. Recordings from within Second Nature can also be used for this purpose.

4. Practice role plays with experienced team members

Role playing is another method your sellers can use to improve their skillset. Working in front of experienced team members, they can practice demos, sales calls, and pitches.

Role playing benefits everyone involved, as it creates an environment of continuous learning within the team. For the presenter, performing a simulated sales call in front of peers helps them prepare for the pressure of being in front of a customer. For others involved, the honest, constructive feedback from peers allows everyone involved to learn from the experience.

5. Leverage AI sales coaching for practice anywhere, any time

AI-based sales coaching software can also help prepare your sales professionals for objections, by throwing out questions during the pitch and preparing your team for real-world conditions. The simulated sales conditions ensure that the next time your sellers are on a live call, they’ll be ready to handle anything thrown their way.

An added benefit is that AI sales coaching can be used at any time by anyone on the team, so they can continue practicing whenever they want. It generates management reports highlighting areas where employees have improved, and where they still need more work.

AI-driven sales coaching, like that developed by Second Nature, takes the benefits of role plays and puts it into hyperdrive. Conversational AI allows your salespeople to practice their pitches with an AI “virtual customer,” aka Jenny, that can ask and answer relevant questions just like a real prospect. The salesperson speaks with Jenny just as they would with another person. After each conversation, Jenny provides immediate feedback to help improve sales performance.

Whether salespeople are delivering a pitch, practicing a discovery call, doing a product demo, or any of the infinite types of sales conversations they can have with Jenny, they will always learn some way to improve. Using objective measurements, the AI can grade salespeople’s ability to tell the product’s story, overcome objections, and respond to claims about competitor products.

It helps measure hard skills, such as playbook knowledge, and soft skills including storytelling ability and presentation style. The AI offers real-time feedback, helping underperformers take their selling skills to the next level.

6. Create a culture of improvement

The key to getting the most out of your team members is to develop an environment of support and improvement. Salespeople should receive specific, judgement-free feedback on areas where they need to improve. Constructive feedback should become an everyday part of the company, and salespeople should be encouraged to practice as often as necessary in order to ace each type of sales call. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect 😊. Sharing success stories internally about salespeople who were able to improve their results will go a long way towards normalizing this culture.

7. Gamification

Gamification is another tool you can use to drive continuous improvement. Creating internal competitions will help push all team members to practice and improve on their pitches, so they can have positive sales conversations and finish at the top of the leaderboard. This not only helps your underperformers and new hires, but drives improvement across the entire team. Zoom certified its global sales team using a fully gamified process that got great reviews – watch the Zoom Sales Certification video.

Weed out underperformers early to drive business value

Managers are focused on deriving more value from the sales team, and to accomplish this it’s important to identify weaker salespeople as early as possible. Then, mentorships, call recordings, role plays, AI sales coaching and gamification can all come together to help you identify the areas where your team members are struggling to sell, and provide you with the tools you need to improve in those areas.

After investing in hiring, training, and certifying your sales staff, it simply makes sense to take a look at your underperformers and find areas where you can help them grow, rather than cut them loose and find someone new.

Your team members will appreciate it, and you’ll feel confident every time you dispatch a member of your sales team to talk with a potential customer.

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Rebecca Herson

Rebecca leads marketing at Second Nature