I was at a crossroads. 26 years old, a newborn baby, University of the Pacific cancelled the football program where I was employed and I was in the last semester of grad school. I loved coaching. The kids you coached, the coaching staff, the comradery. Coaching was an awesome experience and I loved it. Coaching was a grind though, a 7 day a week job for months without a day off. Your family never sees you. I could stay in coaching but Lou Holtz wasn’t knocking down my door to join his staff at Notre Dame. My immediate future was coaching at a small school, running a dorm, and taking odd jobs to make ends meet. I thought about getting my PhD in Sports Psychology but I couldn’t handle any more school and I wasn’t going to put my wife and baby daughter in the all-male athletic dorm. I left coaching professionally to spend more time with my young family and started a career in sales, but I have been coaching for 25 years. Whether it was student athletes, entrepreneurs, Fortune 500 executives, or my own children I am still a coach to this day.
My philosophy in coaching was to serve the team, the players and the coaches and when I got into sales I kept the same principles for our customers and our team. To help our customers and help our sales team be as great as they wanted to be and I was there to help them.
One of things I didn’t fully appreciate until after I started managing a sales team was how lucky I was and how I took coaching football for granted. The technically advanced field of coaching football, the science and leaders of innovation. Not really, but football had one thing managing a sales team didn’t. I could see everyone, they were right in front of me and I was watching every drill and every play in real-time. I could run down the field and coach a guy all the way back to the huddle. Constant movement and constant feedback and coaching and we filmed everything. We left the practice field and we ate dinner and right after dinner a 2 hour film session reviewing the days practice. Coaching, the entire team in real-time and recorded for more coaching.
You could imagine what it was like to go from seeing everything to seeing nothing. Welcome to the world of coaching a sales team. Before I started to manage my team I started thinking when do you practice and when do you play? When do we prepare to sell and when do we sell to a customer? My boss told me there is no practice it’s all game day and you can’t coach unless you take your team to a class, your monthly sales meeting or go on a sales call with them. We had call reports but you can’t coach from a sales call report. I decided early on to make my first couple of weeks to get to know the team and observe and see what I could learn about them and our customers by going on sales calls.
What I didn’t realize was how helpless I felt not knowing what everybody was doing, at first not learning fast enough about our team and our customers and later the frustration of not being there to help everyone when they needed it. No way to be with everyone on the team. No film to watch. Everything was a private lesson. I had no control and a feeling of panic that I wasn’t doing enough, that I would let the team down and I was going to fail. That’s when I started to think about what can be done to be in everyone’s car between sales calls, how could you document everything they did, was it film, was it voice, there had to be some technology somewhere that could give me what I had. Real-time coaching for sales. Nothing existed.
This was the mid-late 1990’s. I was reading the Wall Street Journal newspaper waiting for internet pages to download, cell phones were just starting to get ubiquitous. There wasn’t a lot of tools to capture performance in the field of sales. “This call may be monitored for customer service training later” was about as sophisticated as it got for any kind of performance recording for coaching later. I envisioned a day where I could be in the ear of every salesperson, just like a newscaster might hear from a producer what questions to ask a guest. A day where I was coaching everyone all the time from wherever I was, listening and coaching. What to say and what to send the prospect. That day still hasn’t come and I don’t know when it will but I have thought of the problem often for 20 years and until recently I had no answers. Something changed…
While I was solving another problem in sales I came across natural language generation (NLG), think artificial intelligence for generating stories you read on your favorite sports team or earnings report on a stock you own that’s written by a machine and not a writer. I can put data into the machine such as numbers and text and the outcome can be a customer success story.
For my project it meant I can take every sales win from our Salesforce CRM system and all the data generated from that win, emails, texts, demos, content whatever data was associated with that win I could start to determine what were the patterns in content and buying journey that could result in having the right content at the right time to generate a sales win. I can create that content in seconds, I’m not waiting for marketing to produce content and my team isn’t wasting time creating content. The machine is generating content for us automatically. It’s all based on data and the machine is generating valuable information to move my customer along the buying journey in seconds.
Salespeople are spending one-third of their day hunting for and creating content, that’s a big problem in the field of sales. It’s a big problem on my team and yours too. A lot of wasted time, to the tune of 150 million hours a month.
As I continued my research I learned it’s possible to do with text that you can do with voice, think Siri and Cortana. They are combining natural language processing (NLP) with voice recognition and memory. A customer asks a question and receives an instant answer, a customer wants a piece of content and the information is produced in a second. This is all possible today. It’s not science fiction anymore. Just like when I was a football coach I could provide coaching for the sales team in any communication channel and the prescription was taking place in seconds. Literally, emails, blogs, LinkedIn posts, presentation decks, customer success stories are all generated in real-time. Thousands of pieces of content created specifically for that individual customer with no searching and not time spent creating content. Finally, it’s going to be possible to coach a sales team just like I used to coach offensive linemen.
About the Author
Bryan Colyer has been consulting athletes, entrepreneurs, and Fortune 500 executives for 25 years. He is the founder of FastaSales, helping sales teams create stories that inspire their customer to buy their products and services.