3 Antidotes for 3 Common Sales Coaching Failures


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Sales coaching is not a one-size-fits-all affair. When sales managers gain clarity regarding the specific types of activities that matter most for the sellers they manage, they can align their coaching to address these critical areas, but that is not the end of the story. Sales managers may also run into several other roadblocks on the road to successful sales coaching. Keep reading to gain insight into three common points of sales coaching failure and the antidotes that help sales managers bust through these roadblocks.

Failure Point #1: The Fire Hose

We’ve all been in the fire hose meeting where so much is covered that nothing is really accomplished. Sales managers have many more tasks to do in any given day than they can reasonably accomplish so their default efficiency mode is to try to cover as much as possible in a single coaching session with a seller. In fact, I have seen coaching agendas that have as many as 15 items to discuss during a 30-minute one-on-one session with only six minutes devoting to actual coaching!

If you are falling into the fire hose trap, realize that less is often more when it comes to coaching. Effective sales managers coach a few topics to great depth. For example, you might choose to discuss one or two upcoming sales calls with a seller, but keep in mind that it might take more than 30 minutes to discuss one important sales call to the depth necessary. Forgo the fire hose in favor of discussing just a few critical topics in a meaningful way.

Failure Point #2: The Download  

It is often far easier and more efficient for a sales manager to tell a rep how to handle a situation than to collaborate with the seller on a possible approach. More accurately said—sales managers often provide answers. Lots of them! All the time! Sales managers have typically been very successful sales reps and bring a wealth of experience to the job, and the constant time crunch they face make it oh-so-easy to download a bunch of information onto a seller instead of helping the seller develop decision-making skills. Not surprisingly, the more topics a sales manager and a sales rep discuss in a single meeting, the greater the download. In fact, there is a direct correlation between the number of topics covered and the amount of direction provided by the manager.

In some cases, providing direction and giving answers is appropriate; however, many sales coaching sessions need to make space for more collaboration and meaningful coaching dialogue. The easiest solution is to reduce the number of topics you plan to discuss with a rep. Notice how failure point #2 is a by-product of failure point #1? If the time pressure element is reduced, it is highly likely that the focus will shift to collaboration instead of direction. Remember that collaboration takes time. Fight the desire to cover too many things in too little time. Discussing only one thing – like an upcoming sales call – may feel incredibly unproductive at the time, but it happens to be highly effective.

Failure Point #3: The Ambush

For many sales organizations, ad-hoc, on-the-fly sales coaching interactions are the norm, and planned, scheduled one-on-one sessions are a rarity. When I make the distinction between ad-hoc coaching versus scheduled coaching, I’m merely contrasting dedicated time versus catch-as-catch can time. I have been in the business of sales coaching for roughly 25 years. In that time I have trained and polled thousands of sales managers. The most common ratio shared by sales managers is that they do 75% of their coaching ad-hoc and roughly 25% in more formal scheduled interactions. This may seem intuitively appealing; however, the realities of this approach are very damaging to a sales manager’s coaching effectiveness.

In an ad-hoc interaction at least one person was interrupted: they were doing something else. The person who was ambushed is most typically the sales manager. Consider the interpersonal dynamics of someone who is ambushed. They are already thinking about something else. Now you’ve asked them to stop and think about a new issue. This dynamic is not conducive to good interpersonal dialogue. It creates an interaction of divided attention, low motivation for the manager, and a much higher likelihood that a sales manager will provide answers instead of helping a seller develop decision-making skills. Not much collaboration or actual coaching is likely to happen in this situation. The mindset that a seller and a manager bring to any given conversation will have significant impact on the quality of that conversation. Expectations matter. If both parties expect a collaborative discussion and are prepared to contribute, better outcomes ensure. Better sales coaching takes place.

In summary, the best sales coaching conversations happen when:

  • A manager and seller have scheduled, dedicated time for coaching.
  • There is an agenda with a focus on a few important topics that can be discussed to a meaningful level of depth.
  • Both parties come prepared for the conversation.

I have seen tremendous improvement in the quality of sales coaching when managers engage in these few but meaningful practices. On a final note—I was working with sales managers in a large company a little while ago. A survey had been deployed to the sales reps to guage the quantity and quality of coaching they received. Over half of the sellers reported almost no coaching. Nine months later, after the company deployed the practices above, 92% of those same sellers reported they were receiving adequate coaching and rated that quality of that coaching as very high. Interestingly, the managers were not spending more time coaching. They were spending exactly the same amount of time. They just repurposed some of the time they were spending to follow these principles. Wow! Small changes really can have a big impact on the quality of sales coaching.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Michelle Vazzana
Michelle Vazzana is a partner at Vantage Point Performance and co-author of Cracking the Sales Management Code. Vazzana has more than 28 years of successful sales and management experience in the major account environment. For more information, visit www.vantagepointperformance.com.


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