10 Ideas to Improve Sales Rep Performance By Using “Conversational Intelligence”

There’s a lot written about optimizing sales pitches, and even entire customer journeys, using data. But what about using data to optimize the performance of your sales reps themselves? And what if the insights to improve sales came from calls your sales reps are already making?

We recently hosted a webinar with Steve Richard and David Stillman, the co-founders of Riverside Acceleration Capital portfolio company ExecVision, an AI platform that finds “coachable moments” in every conversation your sales reps have. The platform uses AI, NLP and machine learning to highlight what makes a call successful, or a failure, so your managers and trainers can coach your sales teams at scale to improve performance and increase revenue. Steve and David live and breathe sales coaching, and they have tips that anyone can use to improve their sales training and get better results, with or without ExecVision’s tech. (It’s just easier with it.)

You can watch the entire webinar here.


Does this sound familiar?

“I don’t know what my sales reps are saying.”

“I don’t know what my managers are coaching.”

These are phrases Steve and David hear frequently from their customers. Reps say they aren’t being coached; managers say all they do is coach. The answer usually lies somewhere in the middle, but unless you have a process to manage what’s really happening, no one is really held accountable.


Here are some ideas that you can try now to increase sales and give your sales reps the support they need to do their best work.

1. Who do you coach first for best results: Managers or sales reps?

“Managers first! If your managers aren’t aligned and calibrated, you’re gonna fail.”

David and Steve learned this one over years of implementing training processes: “At first we got the reps onboard, and they were gung-ho, but then the managers got left behind.” They’ve realized that managers who haven’t themselves been trained do not have a real understanding of what it is they’re trying to build.

2. The best reps don’t automatically make the best managers

It’s common practice to make managers out of the top-performing sales reps, but it's also true that the best sales reps rarely make the best managers. That’s not because of any failing on their part, it’s that they don’t receive coaching on how to manage and coach their people. The emphasis has always been on providing coaching to sales reps, but few companies think about the importance of coaching the managers on how to successfully help their teams. That’s a recipe for frustration and poor performance, especially for sales reps who want to improve, but aren’t getting the support they need because managers aren’t taught how to provide it.

3. Changing who you coach is more important than how you coach

Coaching is not a democratic activity! Don’t waste time coaching the wrong people. Have your managers categorize their reps into A, B and Cs: Top performers, middling performers, and poor performers. Then, have them track how many hours they spend with the reps in each category. They are probably spending far more time coaching the C group. But here’s the hitch: The C group shouldn’t be getting managed up, they should be getting managed out. They will never improve as much as the B group can. If you recalibrate this one thing - who managers spend the most time coaching - you will see results improve across the board.

4. It’s human to coach subjectively — but it’s not the most efficient

You can have a great coach listen to recorded sales calls and give feedback, and it will help. But, that feedback is subjective, based on the coach’s impressions and experience. David says “When Steven and I listen to calls, we pick up very different things — on the same call, with the same rep — based on what we think is important. There’s a lot of individual bias that comes into the process based on what you think they’re struggling with and what you think will have the greatest impact.” By using an objective set of criteria to look at the elements of a sales call, what must-haves are present (and which are left out), and how successful the call ultimately is, you can remove the ‘human element’ from what truly needs coaching and focus on what will actually have the biggest impact on the business. David says that when using conversation intelligence as a coaching tool, “We’ve seen managers become much better coaches, much more quickly.”

5. Calibrate your team around what a good call looks like

What a “good” call looks like varies from company to company, even from customer to customer, so your definition of a “good” call is unique to you. But it’s important for your sales reps to know what that looks like. Try creating a scorecard, with 5-10 key performance indicators, things you’ve seen work again and again. Then take a sample of calls and rank them in each category. Think of conversion techniques like, “Does the rep use a tailored, head-nodding common challenge [problems, topics, trends, use cases, stories] and follow it with an open-ended question and/or pregnant pause?”

6. Consider the vocabulary of your top performers

Your top performing sales reps use a different vocabulary, different word choices, and say things in different ways than average performers. For example, their rate of speech may be slower, or they may use specific phrases that work really well. Record the calls of your top performers and try to break down what they do, what they say, and how they say it, to train others.

7. Script or Freestyle? Find the happy medium

Does this mean you should use call scripts? Or let reps freestyle? What works best is a happy medium. Think of it like playing jazz: There are notes you have to hit to stay on melody, but in between, there’s room for improv. Your sales reps should hit key points, but give them room to make genuine connections.

8. When coaching, focus on 1-2 improvements at a time

You can’t coach on too many things at one time. The process of changing behavior to achieve mastery is slow and incremental. So start small with your reps, focusing on just 1-2 improvements, until they gain mastery over them. Don’t expect instant results: it takes 6 weeks to change each behavior.

9. How much time should you spend coaching each rep?

David and Steve have observed that spending 30 minutes on call coaching, per rep, per week, seems to be “the magic number.” But that doesn’t necessarily mean 30 minutes of manager time per rep, per week. You can coach small groups of reps or set up peer mentoring to get those minutes in. To get the most out of your coaching time, Steve and David also suggest having reps submit two calls a week that they self-score, comment and annotate for what went well and what they could have done better. Then you can see how the reps perceive their own performances, giving you insights into how they think, and a chance to coach them on your priorities.

10. Start strategic small group coaching

If you have a group of B performers who all want to improve, offer to do small group sessions with those individuals. And, mix up the trainer/manager who’s providing the feedback. Research shows that having different coaches results in a faster learning curve and a larger positive impact on the business.

Bonus: Track your results

If you can measure it, you can improve it, so find a way to track improvement so you can hold people accountable.


For more great insights (and there were a lot more!) listen to the full webinar here, and check out ExecVision. They’re in RAC’s portfolio so we’re obviously biased... but we think it’s the best software out there to help you turn that black hole of call recordings into actionable insights and coaching plans that directly improve sales rep performance.

Jonathan Drillings
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