Focus on sales coaching, coachability when hiring reps

We know that effective sales coaching increases rep performance. But sales coaching can only have that impact if it’s accompanied by three things: a manager who prioritizes sales coaching; a formal sales coaching process; and a team of coachable reps.

As Harvard senior lecturer Mark Roberge told an audience during last year’s Sales Acceleration Summit, if you bring highly coachable people into an environment of world-class coaching, you’re going to create success.

It makes sense. But all three parts must be present. Even with a seasoned sales leader who understands the importance of sales coaching and a comprehensive coaching process, sales coaching can’t help a rep who doesn’t take feedback well or doesn’t want to be coached.

While it’s not impossible to turn an uncoachable rep into a coachable one, the better bet is to focus on hiring reps who respond to coaching from the get-go. Of course, you won’t know if they’re coachable right away. That’s why Varsity Tutors senior director of sales Josh Schwartz coaches his sales managers on what traits to look for during new candidate interviews. He was nice enough to share with us a few quick exercises that help. Here’s what we learned.

A quick sales coaching exercise for rep interviews

Before they do anything else, Josh and his team of sales managers decide what traits they’re looking for in reps. They come up with questions that will help uncover those traits, and then screen potential candidates based on those traits. Coachability is at the top of their list.

Especially for someone making a high volume of calls, they need to be able to take immediate coaching and implement it right away,” Josh told me.

To uncover a candidate’s coachability, the managers conduct role plays. During the interview, each candidate is given a scenario that they’re allowed to brainstorm about during the first half of the interview.

Before the initial role play, the interviewer tells the candidates what they’ll be looking for, including …

  • How the candidate introduces the conversation
  • What kinds questions that the candidate asks
  • How the candidate handles objections
  • How well the rep digested the initial information he/she was given
  • What kind of recommendations the candidate makes

Then the role play ensues. Immediately after, the candidate receives coaching. The interviewer explains two things the candidate did really well, along with one thing they could have done better. The candidate receives a few minutes to let the coaching feedback sink in. Then they engage in another role play.

“Can they take that type of feedback and implement it quickly? Because it’s so important, especially for a sales development rep or someone who doesn’t have a lot of experience,” Josh said.  

Another way to go about finding these types of traits is to ask candidates what can’t be discerned about them from a resume or LinkedIn page. This gives them the opportunity to share characteristics or experiences that can demonstrate important skills like grit, self-reflection, or personal growth. Josh recommends asking about a time the candidate failed or struggled, and what he or she learned from it.

Remember that a successful hiring process doesn’t stop when someone accepts a job. It includes onboarding, playbooks/certifications, and continuous training. Make sure you’re equipped with everything you need.  

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