Getting sellers ramped and ready to sell is a vital task for most organizations. Studies show that effective onboarding can improve win rates by 14% and quota attainment by 6.6%.1 Yet, organizations struggle with this process, with as many as 62% reporting that their onboarding program is ineffective.2
While a lot of attention is paid to formal training, reps can’t learn everything they need simply by reading or watching demo videos. Learning through doing or experiential learning is a key process for gaining sales competency and success. Indeed, estimates suggest that 70% of learning occurs through on-the-job coaching.3
An essential requirement for such experiential learning to be effective is the role of the manager in providing unbiased feedback that aids skill development. The key to providing effective feedback lies in removing the bias. Effective feedback ensures that the right skills and techniques are emphasized and adopted while also stimulating sales rep morale and productivity. This is why studies have found that the skills of sales managers provide a 29% top-line advantage independent of the skills of sales reps.4
How feedback affects employee morale and productivity
For feedback to be effective, sales reps must be able to receive feedback as a regular, constructive, and integral part of their performance and growth. This implies that feedback should be provided consistently and should focus holistically on performance and skills. If feedback is only provided when something goes wrong, sales reps are likely to associate feedback only with negative self-impressions.
Further, feedback that is given immediately or soon after a performance is more effective since reps are more easily able to remember details and hence modify their processes. Delayed feedback, on the other hand, is more likely to be ignored. This is why studies have found that 87% of team members actually prefer more frequent, smaller doses of feedback to less frequent, more formal feedback.5
Finally, the specificity of feedback is a major quality factor that affects the value of feedback. Studies show that 80% of highly-rated managers provide specific ideas on what is going wrong in a rep's performance and how to improve it, while 0% of low-rated managers do so.6
The problem of bias
Regular and consistent feedback is vital. But such feedback can backfire if the means of evaluation used by managers are biased by conscious or unconscious prejudice. Some common biases include:
- 1. Focusing too much on the most recent information to the exclusion of an overall picture.
- 2. Focusing too much on first impressions and ignoring later signals.
- 3. Focusing on one significant positive or negative trait to the exclusion of others.
- 4. Tending to stay in the middle of scale when rating any behavior or performance.
- 5. Tending to rate those similar to us in behavior or attitude more highly than others.
- 6. Tending to interpret all new information in a way that confirms previously held beliefs.
- 7. Tending to judge people by their gender, age, or other extraneous characteristics.
The difficulty with bias is that it is hard to recognize and act upon. Research on racism and sexism shows that there is a persistent tendency to underestimate our levels of bias and the extent to which they impact our thinking. And this tendency gets stronger the more prejudiced we are.7 Hence, overcoming bias requires relying on external, objective markers of performance that provide neutral feedback based on the factual components of the evaluation.
Data and the problem of noise
While most people are aware of the role of bias in errors of judgment, a more pernicious problem is the effect of noise or the inconsistencies that occur simply due to the humanness of decision-makers. For instance, studies show that when software engineers were asked to estimate the completion time for a given task on two different occasions, their responses differed by 71% on average. Similarly, the responses of pathologists assessing the severity of biopsy results on two occasions showed a correlation of only 0.61 out of 1.0.8
The difference between noise and bias is that the latter tends more or less systematically in a single direction (the tendency to consistently underestimate women in the case of sexism, for instance). Noise, on the other hand, is more inconsistent, varying according to occasional factors, such as time of day, weather, or the mood of the respondent, so that successive measurements can vary in different directions.
The AI advantage
One of the simplest ways to overcome bias and noise is to rely on algorithms for evaluations and decision-making. Since it is based on formal rules of decision-making drawn from quantitative data, algorithmic computing can overcome the inconsistencies of human minds that can only parse a small quantity of information at any time and cannot apply rules with 100% consistency.
This is where an AI-enabled pitch practice platform becomes so integral to sales onboarding and sales readiness programs. Once your sales reps go through the training materials, it’s time for them to put into practice what they have learned - this is the cornerstone of experiential learning. When the reps submit their practice pitches and demo recordings for evaluation, the platform is able to analyze their performance quantitatively on a number of factors, such as topic coverage, keyword usage, tone, delivery speed, and so on, giving you instant insights into how effective the sales onboarding or sales readiness program has been for each rep. This granular level of pitch intelligence can help you quickly identify which sales reps are ready to pitch to prospects and which reps require more targeted training and coaching.
Such AI-based analysis makes evaluations less biased or inconsistent. Because it draws out conclusions objectively based on quantified data points, such analysis always provides consistent assessments that are free of bias and noise. Moreover, it also provides the evidence for feedback to be provided in a neutral, non-judgmental manner. Finally, such platforms can analyze rep performance at scale, covering hundreds of evidence points that human managers cannot possibly cover, at much faster rates, allowing for more immediate and frequent feedback.
In the post-pandemic business environment, remote selling is taking center stage and sales reps are having to adapt to new processes, responsibilities, and ways of interacting with customers. What’s more, the difficult economic climate created by the pandemic is pushing businesses to seek even more value from their investments. In such a scenario, sales reps require far more effective and intelligent training to perform at their peak and close more deals. An AI-powered tool integrated into a sales onboarding and sales readiness program can instantly evaluate sales reps’ pitches at scale, provide feedback without bias or noise for further refinement, and ensure that reps deliver a perfect pitch every time.
- Bill Eckstrom and Sarah Wirth. 2019. The coaching effect: What great leaders do to increase sales, enhance
performance, and sustain growth. Austin, Texas: Greenleaf Book Group Press.