Everyone recognizes the importance of coaching sales people, but it just doesn’t get done. In a survey of several hundred sales managers, we found sales managers “coached” their sales people 1 time per quarter or less! Based on this, a sales person is lucky if they get 4 coaching sessions per year.
Clearly, this is a problem. Coaching needs to happen every day, but everyone is busy and time-poor. How do busy managers and sales people find the time for coaching and development?
One of the problems with coaching is many people confuse coaching with the performance review. While coaching should have a positive impact on the performance review, effective coaching is not a performance review. Too many managers think of the “coaching session.”
Integrating Coaching Into Everyday Business:
Effective sales managers incorporate coaching into their daily business activities. Coaching is part of the everyday conversations and discussions they have with their people. It occurs as part of normal business conversations–not something special. When they are talking about opportunities or deal strategies, strong managers focus both on understanding the business situation, but also use the opportunity to coach the sales person in strengthening and improving their strategy. In preparing for a call or debriefing the call, the sales manager will also coach the sales person by asking things like, “What are your goals for the call,” “Do you have stretch goals,” “What is the worst thing that might happen in the call, how do you plan to handle it?,” ”What’s the value the customer will get from this call?” After the call, they might ask, “Did you accomplish all your objectives,” “Is there anything more that you might have accomplished,” “Is there anything you would do differently?”
As sales managers, we spend our days talking to sales people about sales calls, deals, pipelines, forecasts, territory and account plans. In each of those discussions, the best managers use these as opportunities both to understand what’s happening, but also to coach and develop their people.
When coaching becomes part of the everyday business discussion managers have with their people, it is no longer an “unnatural act.” It no longer is the meeting we schedule, then postpone, then postpone again. When coaching becomes part of the everyday business, the performance of sales people skyrockets–they are getting advice when they need it and can use it, not months later, after everything has been forgotten.
So How Do We Coach?
The second aspect to effective coaching is “the conversation.” Coaching is a careful blend of asking and telling. Some may be surprised by this, since most of the time when we talk about coaching we focus so much on asking questions.
Effective coaching starts with the questions. The questions shouldn’t be an interrogation, but should be oriented to getting the sales person to think about what they are doing, the strategies they have chosen. The questions should help the sales person consider other alternatives, broaden their point of view, analyze the results they have produced.
But questioning alone is not sufficient. Making suggestions (telling) based on the discussion the manager has had with the sales person is very helpful to the sales person’s development. Effective coaching is a conversation — it is a balance of questioning, active listening, and advising. If any part of this is missing, then the impact of coaching is reduced significantly.
Coaching is one of the highest leverage activities a sales manager can undertake. Effective coaching improves the performance of sales people. Effective coaching is a focused conversation, integrated into the daily activities of sales managers and sales people.