There is sales coaching and there is sales coaching. Let’s talk about the latter. The most important skill to master for sales leadership and effective sales managment is this one. As a sales coach for sales managers, sales VPs, and CEOs, I see what works and what doesn't work when working with salespeople. I have watched sales managers push through to a find a new, more effective way of coaching their people to greater success, even when coaching a seasoned veteran who is already successful.
The best analogy I can use for this skill set is exercise. Practice, as you may already know, does not make perfect; it makes permanent. So to achieve more effective sales coaching, we have to know what better is, and then take it one incremental step further with every session.
To do this well, one must spend at least three times per week for 30 minutes coaching salespeople. Help them push through a problem to gain better understanding. A formal, structured, planned coaching session every day is even better. The session must go deep enough to tax the brain a little. And the result is growth.
Are you ready to hear two surprising truths about coaching? Okay.
Surprising Truth #1: The best managers spend 50% of their time coaching.
The company grows through improvements from the their team. That could mean adding territories, adding sales people, and/or making the existing people better. It is the sales manager’s job to grow the company through sales. Read my earlier article on how sales management is the most important job in the company.
Companies suffer without creating a sense of urgency among their team. Therefore, regardless of other growth strategies, managers must be working on improving the existing team. Executives must help clear a path for managers to spend their time coaching, motivating, and holding people accountable. Coaching is the number one priority, however.
Surprising Truth #2: Ongoing daily interactions with salespeople about their opportunities is not coaching.
Many managers believe that because they are frequently interacting with their team about all of the different opportunities and deals that they are working on, that they are coaching. But this is like saying that because I walk around all day and walk up the stairs occasionally, I’m exercising. Rather, this ad hoc interaction maintains current abilities, and does not lead to improvement.
So let’s get back to our analogy.
- Three times per week minimum: Exercising twice per week maintains current levels of fitness; exercising three times per week or more creates growth. Properly coaching three times per week leads to improvements and mastery.
- High Intensity: Exercising with intensity leads to growth; exercising at low levels maintains current fitness. The equivalent to "intensity" in coaching is to dive in more deeply, digging in to find the root issues, and finding the sometimes hidden diversions from sales process resulting in more “aha” moments, even for veterans and top sales people. I’ve witnessed this over and over. Our best people benefit from coaching.
- Variations: Mixing it up leads to better all around fitness and less injuries. Working the whole body is critical to long-term health. In sales coaching, work on the pre-call strategy one day, a post-call debrief the next day, sales process another day, and identifying and working on hidden weaknesses yet another day. The consummate sales person is a whole person who is able to listen, respond, show curiosity, and bring all of his or her character to the conversation.
Can your people coach effectively? Can they help all of your people to be even just one increment better every day? Do they tolerate non-performers too long? Will they take a discussion deep enough to find a lesson? Do they have the trust of their people? Are they seen as a master? Do they create a sales environment conducive to growth, energy, and enthusiasm? Are they in the right role? (Read Chris Mott's article on this subject here.) Are they building a culture of constant improvement?
What’s working well in your sales organization? What could make it better? Click here if you'd like to find out if your managers can achieve the level of skill required to meet your corporate objectives. And here is a link to a case study of a real sales force evaluation. A sales force evaluation will give you the action steps required to achieve your vision of success. If you are selling into a sales channel, you might be interested in reading Part 1 of my ongoing series on channel sales management.
Photo Copyright: mindof / 123RF Stock Photo