Sales coaching is a perennially difficult subject. Everyone agrees that it’s essential, and yet it’s not always implemented or done effectively. This article explores ways to improve sales coaching and provides actionable insights to jumpstart the creation of the coaching process.
Defining Sales Coaching:
The sales manager is a pivotal job if you want to build a competent sales team, and coaching is their most important responsibility. Sales coaching is not counseling or teaching. It’s not training or mentoring. These are all good things, but they’re not sales coaching. And, most importantly, it’s not helping people to sell more stuff. Sales coaching is actually very straightforward. It’s all about helping salespeople be more effective and providing guidance to help them do that. Operationally, it’s about observing people, reviewing what happens, and providing them with feedback. What we’re coaching varies depending on circumstance. It can be intensely tactical, or highly strategic, depending on the opportunities that the coach selects to deliver the coaching.
- Understand what sales coaching isn’t to understand what it is.
Why Coaching Isn’t More Prevalent:
Most organizations agree that sales coaching is vital, and yet many companies don’t do it. The universal complaint of sales managers, regardless of how long they’ve been doing the job, their tenure, or the culture of the organization, is that they don’t have enough time to do essential things well. The number one reason why coaching isn’t more prevalent is that sales managers don’t know how to find the time to do it. Sales managers are at a junction between strategy and execution. They deal with salespeople and have direct interaction with customers, they’re dealing with senior executive leaders in their own business, they have administrative duties, they have to be out in the field, and so many other important responsibilities. The reality is that many sales managers don’t know how to make time for sales coaching. Another reason why coaching isn’t more prevalent across organizations is that coaches lack confidence. They don’t know if they’re doing it well or not. They don’t get a lot of practice at it, mainly because they don’t make a lot of time for coaching. A coach that doesn’t coach very often isn’t going to be very successful, and they know that they’re not delivering a lot of value. They end up shying away from it, which prevents them from getting better at coaching.
- Considering it’s crucial importance, find ways to make time for sales coaching.
- Do more coaching to become more confident in abilities, instead of shying away from it and not refining the craft.
- Get assistance from upper-level management to provide regular training for salespeople so that sales managers can spend time coaching.
A Typical Experience:
What most salespeople experience when they are “coached” from sales managers involves questions about numbers, meetings, upcoming scheduling, and a little bit about strategy going forward. Managers then tell their sales team what to do, instead of providing them guidance. Salespeople might describe their experience with coaching as limited, mixed, and unhelpful.
- When coaching, change the typical experience by providing value and specific problem-solving techniques, or else it’s a waste of time.
Creating the Coaching Culture:
A coaching culture must be developed very carefully. It is the framework that will either promote positive, effective coaching or promote negative or absent coaching. It can be challenging to create a sustainable culture that is going to create long-term, effective coaching.
- First, the organization must find a champion; someone who is committed to coaching and the coaching culture to act as a catalyst for others.
- Create internal structures so that leaders know how often they’re expected to be coached, and how often they’re expected to coach their team. Have a set schedule and stick to it.
- Introduce a model of coaching that involves the salespeople being coached by the sales manager, the sales manager being coached by the director, and the director being coached by the VP. This creates a coaching culture that is more sustainable.
- Build feedback into the system. Feedback is essential, not only for the sales manager to give to their sales team but also for the sales team to give back to the sales manager.
- Find ways to systematically archive best practices so that when new sales managers are hired on, there is an institutional history that provides instructions for how to get started and integrate into the coaching culture.
- Understand the resources that need to be provided to the sales managers to help them do the best job possible.
- Let the salespeople know that they will be coached, and set the expectation that coaching is part of the job.
Before you get started, there are some key, actionable things that need to be done.
- You have to recognize that you need to stop doing sales training unless you are willing and able to follow it up with an integrated coaching component. The money spent on sales training is wasted if you do not reinforce what was taught with sales coaching.
- Prepare the sales team for the changes to come. Let them know what coaching looks like going forward now that it’s properly integrated into the culture. Set their expectations.
Although coaching across the board has not been successfully integrated into organizations, there are a few examples of success. One example is of a sales manager who developed a coaching culture all by herself. She was in an environment where she wasn’t getting a lot of support from the company, yet demonstrated that it is still possible for an individual sales manager to coach at a level of excellence. She leveraged institutional resources that other managers weren’t aware of and brought in support from the marketing team and clinical support team. She put together a way of coaching that recognized the constraints of the organization and leveraged untapped resources.
- Take baby steps. Don’t try to implement a coaching initiative for your entire sales team. Explain what’s going on to your entire sales team, and then pick one or two people to work with instead of trying to coach your entire span of control.
- Find what organizational resources are available to be leveraged. Utilize the people in the company with the competency to provide help.
- Start with getting an hour on the calendar for coaching. Treat it as you would a meeting with a client or a meeting with a big boss to ensure that it happens.
- Pick an early stage, low-risk opportunity to practice coaching and develop confidence in your coaching abilities.
- Get feedback from your sales team. As a leader, it’s helpful to know what to work on so that you can develop your own skills better.
- To coach means to be coached. Find someone else in the organization that can help you improve your skills.