Are you familiar with the famed Psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus?
If you said no, you’re not alone. But you experience Ebbinghaus’ pivotal discovery every day without even realizing it. I’m talking, of course, about the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve.
Still not ringing a bell? Here is a quick summary: In 1885, Ebbinghaus mapped out the rate in which humans forget information. By his calculations, humans retain 100% of new information at the time of learning, but rapidly forget over 60% of the information over just a few days. After a month, the number is as high as 90%.
In the sales world, this annihilates results. How many sales coaching sessions are totally forgotten? Though not the sales rep’s fault (humans are human, after all), it costs organizations billions in lost revenue, as sales mistakes continuously occur despite ongoing sales coaching.
So how do you make sales reps remember their sales coaching?
That’s where Immediate Reinforcement comes in. You may be familiar with this concept already — the sooner the reward to the trigger, the more likely a person is to change behavior.
As an example: Imagine if every time a sales rep talked too fast during a sales call, alarm bells immediately sounded throughout the office. That rep would slow down right away — no sales coaching required.
Frequently, organizations manually apply immediate reinforcement. Managers or peers provide feedback immediately after the conclusion of the call. Though effective on a small group, it simply doesn’t scale well and sales reps are hesitant to commit time to something that doesn’t immediately help them hit quota. The result is a bit ironic: immediate reinforcement is used less and less as companies grow and become more sophisticated.
Here are a few things, manual and automated, that you can try with your team:
1. The Trusted Ride-Along
A peer listens to live calls and provides guidance during and after the call. Frequently, a peer or manager connects to the call externally and listens on mute, providing suggestions via single-side audio that only the sales rep can hear (called “Whisper Mode” by most phone providers).
For fairness and objectivity, managers should use the same evaluation criteria for each sales call. They should also make sure that reps have a clear understanding of the criteria they will be evaluated on.
Here is a general sales call evaluation outline that works for most sales environments:
- Allows for immediate reinforcement, both during and immediately following the call.
- Provides managers with specific context around the call for a more informed coaching session.
- Provides an opportunity to work directly with reps who may not otherwise receive 1:1 training.
- It can be awkward.
- It can be distracting.
- It’s still subjective – the manager may give advice based on what’s worked for him or her, not what is objectively correct.
2. Personal Reflection
Write down behaviors immediately after the call. For example, reps might carry a memo pad with them and jot down a minute of notes at the end of every call. Alternatively, they might mark a tally on a piece of scratch paper every time they successfully execute a particular skill.
After two to three weeks, consider having the rep graph out their results against a goal. By committing to a clear goal, they are more likely to keep it top-of-mind during their sales conversations — a phenomenon known as “reactivity.” Additionally, it gives an opportunity to celebrate small successes along the way, as the rep’s ongoing improvement is recorded.
- Feedback is fairly close to the antecedent.
- It can be done personally, without the pressure of a manager, prospect, or peer involved.
- It can be done simply — simply tallying a piece of paper when a trigger occurs can have great results.
- It’s generally time-consuming and often energy-intensive, especially for longer meetings.
- There is no second opinion, so mistakes still go unnoticed and bad habits may be inadvertently reinforced.
- Reps often don’t like doing it, especially if they have immediate deadlines.
3. 1:1 Peer Coaching
Routinely, every sales rep listens to another rep’s call and provides comprehensive feedback.
In order for peer coaching to be successful, sales managers must proactively schedule out coaching sessions. At Balto, we schedule team-wide peer coaching during our Monday morning sales meeting, when the entire sales team is in one place, and reps coordinate schedules on the spot. If you wait until later in the week, everyone will be too busy.
- Reps sometimes feel more comfortable giving and receiving feedback amongst peers instead of managers.
- It can scale well, as it increases the total “coaches” available for feedback.
- It builds trust and camaraderie amongst sales teams.
- It’s still after-the-fact, when the call has already been lost.
- The coaching abilities and experience of the reps affect the quality of the feedback.
- It’s still very time consuming and some portion of reps won’t want to do it.
4. Real-Time Speech Analytics
Sales coaching software that listens to calls and provides guided insights, live on each call. Believe it or not, recent advances in speech recognition and artificial intelligence now make it possible to automate immediate reinforcement. For example, Balto understands phone conversations and tells sales reps what to say, live on each call. That way, immediate reinforcement happens automatically.
- Provides immediate reinforcement, live on call.
- Provides objective insights based on data analysis.
- Is always available and happy to help.
- It’s an additional cost burden on an organization.
- Without buy-in, reps may hesitate to trust the technology’s feedback, especially compared to a trusted peer or manager.
- Requires technical time and resources to set up and roll out — not a quick fix.
These options will have a substantially different performance impact, both in terms of upfront investment and final results. As a starting point, calculate what lost calls are costing your team, here. This gives you a better idea if a big investment is even worth making.
If you still don’t know where to start, try something basic; for example, have a rep jot down every instance in which he or she uses a specific sales buzzword. It won’t be perfect, but it will reduce buzzword usage over time. You can rinse and repeat for new habits.
Good luck selling!
Chris Kontes – hubspot