Sales Coaching: Mapping, Scoring, and Coaching Key Competencies in The SDR and AE Roles
Author: collin stewart
Aaron Evans has been in sales enablement since “way before it was called sales enablement.” He started his career working in a publishing house and was quickly earmarked for his ability to develop people, and was moved into a coaching and training role.
For the next 13 years Aaron has travelled all over the world working with and consulting clients on coaching, training, and getting the best out of people. Along the way he has picked up processes, techniques, accreditations, and best practices, and turned them into his own methodology.
SALES PROCESS VS SALES ENABLEMENT?
A guided sales process is the tasks that a rep needs to complete with an opportunity to progress it from initial engagement to contracted business. It is the common language that every person in the sales organization speaks and understands. For example, if an AE mentions that an opportunity is in “discovery,” everyone on the sales team knows from a company, departmental, and individual level what that means.
With sales enablement, we start to examine the competencies that sit within each task of the sales process. Once we’ve identified each one, we can start to score them to track metrics within our department.
How do you determine the competencies that exist within each task? First you have to understand what a competency is. It’s the hard skill a rep needs to have to achieve the task.
For instance, the tasks required of an SDR are sourcing opportunities, engaging them, finding pain, qualifying the opportunities, and then getting them excited and prepared for a call with an AE. The competencies that go along with these tasks are the SDR’s ability to introduce their product, ask qualifying questions, ask open ended questions, and to give a hook.
The intention behind clearly mapping competencies is to be able to pinpoint where exactly a rep needs work so you, as a coach, can focus on just improving a few things at a time. You must seek to uncover unconscious incompetencies within your reps. Then, show them what “good” looks like, and you’ve turned their unconscious incompetence into a conscious incompetence.
Once you have identified each competency, you score them 1-3 (1 being awful, and 3 being great). The goal with scoring is to take a conscious incompetence and work on it until it becomes a conscious competence and, eventually, an unconscious competence. Look at your most successful reps to be the benchmarks for a score of 3, and then work on getting other reps to a 3 as quickly as possible.
Scoring is so important because, in Aaron’s words, “it’s prescribed learning based on a metric.” A competency is something qualitative, but scoring it makes it quantifiable. We often focus heavily on the grit and determination it takes to become successful in an SDR role.
While these attributes are a prerequisite for success in the role, it often takes many months before the role “clicks” for an SDR and they find their groove. If we focused on improving the competencies necessary for success we would enable our SDRs to hit their stride much more quickly.
It’s industry knowledge that SDRs need to be self-motivated and self-directed, but the traditional coaching methodologies don’t empower them to do that. You can’t just be reactive, look back at something an SDR has done and say “this is how you should have done it.” Similarly, you can’t just reward the output of an SDR, you have to acknowledge all the right steps that were taken to get there. You want to create self-awareness in performance and behaviour, and that starts with coaching.
Take Aaron’s example. If someone asked him where to find his scissors and he simply said “third drawer on the left in the kitchen.” They’d go get the scissors, use them, put them back, and maybe remember where they are next time, maybe not.
But when they go looking for a bread knife, they’ll ask Aaron where to find it because he’s conditioned them to know they get to their desired outcome by asking Aaron what to do. Instead, when asked about the location of the scissors, Aaron asks “where would you keep them?” When the person is in the kitchen, he asks “where in the kitchen would you keep them?” and “which drawer?” The person has then learned something along the way about the thought process that went into keeping the scissors where they are.
When that person is curious about the location of the bread knife, they won’t just ask Aaron where to find them. They’ll think to themself “if I ask Aaron, he’ll ask me questions about where I would keep them” and they’ll take themselves through the process.
With the right type of coaching, you encourage your reps to coach themselves. They become self-analytical and start catching and improving mistakes before they make them, and can critique their own work.
And coaching should be very specific. As Aaron says, we’re not trying to “eat the elephant whole,” it’s focused, narrow coaching that wins the race. As a coach, you should identify 2-3 things that a rep needs to work on, and help them do so for a week or 2 so that the rep can improve on these things very quickly. This makes the process easier and more fun for the rep as well as the coach.
Sales process is what you do, methodology is how you do it. People often conflate these two things, but Aaron believes that they are intrinsically different. His methodology is this score-based coaching working not on what competencies people are using, but how well.
An added bonus is that, when you coach these competencies in a rep, you’re preparing them for their next role. Once they’ve mastered a single competency you have them work on another, then another. Then, you start to add in competencies required for their next role.
With this strategy, as a business, you’ll only ever have to hire for the very bottom role because when one person leaves, everyone else is ready to move up. So in that way, this competency framework is also an aspirational one.
There’s a lot of conflicting information out there when it comes to how best coach your salespeople. You read books, you follow thought leaders, but it’s difficult to strike that balance between the anecdotal and the scientific – or the very human behaviours and the numbers.
That’s where my guest’s competency frameworks come in. The sales process is the hard steps a salesperson must take to achieve their goals, but a good coach focuses on the nuance in not only what steps the rep takes to achieve a desired outcome, but how they perform each step. And while this “how” may seem like an ethereal thing, Aaron Evans’ scoring framework makes it quantifiable, tangible, and effective.
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