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For the Sales Veteran: Stop Training, Start Coaching

If you have—or have ever had—a veteran salesperson on your staff, you know they bristle at training. The mere suggestion of it can set them off. They have very good reasons.

Most of us were once salespeople, and we got pretty good at it, and we too would sound off on why training just wasn’t for us, why we wanted simply to be left alone to perform. So you and I won’t have a hard time making a list of those reasons veterans hate training.

veterans-hate-sales-training

 

See if you can add any to my list of why veterans hate sales training:

  • It’s a waste of time because they already know how to do the job, and they prove it every day.
  • Training is invariably geared for newbies and neophytes, and just doesn’t address the veteran’s issues.
  • Training takes them off the street, and thus it cuts their productivity instead of enhancing it.
  • They could teach the course—often better than whoever is up there in front, trying so hard.
  • When there’s a new product to learn about, all they need is a one-sheet to read up on it and a go-to person to answer questions that arise down the road.
  • They have a doctor’s note to get them out of any touchy-feely experiential stuff. (Okay, I made that one up. Oh, you’ve heard that from one of your veterans? It’s back on the list!)

The sales vets have overstated their case, but they’re not entirely wrong, are they? Training workshops are often aimed at the lowest common denominator, and it does take them off the street, and in many cases they’d be better off with a product expert on-tap than having their head filled with product data and functionality. Beyond a focused onboarding process for an experienced sales rep who joins the organization, formal training processes may not be the best way to help that vet reach his or her potential.

But if they’re talented in sales, then I know they haven’t already reached their potential. I know because that’s what talented people are like: They have no top limit, no point at which they stop growing. So the manager’s challenge is how to keep developing your veterans and big producers without sending them to periodic schooling that makes their skin crawl.

The answer is found in professional sports as well as performance fields such music and drama: Personal coaching. Even managers sometimes have a personal coach.

sales-coaching-is-better-than-sales-training

Coaching is different from training in key ways:

  • It’s one-on-one
  • It’s tailored to the individual’s specific talents (and non-talents)
  • It’s personalized to how that performer best learns and adapts
  • It’s as much about validation and confirmation as it is about correction and change
  • It’s based on a powerful relationship between the coach and the performer

Every veteran sales professional on your staff should have a personal sales performance coach. You.

It’s your job. If you’re not there to select the best talent, help them grow and develop, and retain them long-term by meeting their needs, then what are you there for? To attend meetings? To submit revised projections? To deal with crises? That’s not the management life you want. 

The fun in this job, the real self-actualization of being a line sales manager, is growing your people. The joy is blasting through budgets because you helped each and every sales pro on your team to get better and better and better and… well, with talented people, there’s no limit.

You must be their coach. You have the three key ingredients you need: You know the job, inside and out. You know your people and what they’re capable of, especially if you have a reliable talent assessment. And you want nothing more than for them to win. That’s all you need to be the best coach they ever had.

Just as batting coaches don’t rely on hearsay and voice coaches don’t base their work on critics’ reviews, you need to be in a position to watch them perform.

get-out-in-the-field

You need to be out there in the field to coach your people. Here's why:

  • The first thing you’ll notice is how good she is. You’ll have lots of opportunities for kudos and compliments. She’ll love the validation, especially from you.
  • The more you see how good she is, the deeper will be your understanding of her talents, and you’ll be able to connect your field observations to what your talent assessment shows. Soon you’ll find yourself making suggestions of how she can use her obvious talents to even great effect. And because you’re asking her to use the talents she knows she has, she’ll glom on to your suggestions like Velcro.
  • But she’s not perfect. You’ll also see areas in which she falls short. You could point them as problems (opportunities!), but there’s a better way. For each of those shortcomings, think about how she could use one of her many strengths to work around that non-strength. When you make the suggestion, empathize with the trouble she’s been having and suggest that, instead of fixing weakness X, she finesse it with strength Y. She’ll think you’re the world’s best coach.
  • Talented salespeople like to keep growing, so challenge her. Target a strength, or a set of strengths, and set higher expectations. As long as you keep focusing on growing her strengths and not fixing her weaknesses, she’ll respond positively and surprise herself with how high she can fly.
  • You’ve already picked up the basic strategy, haven’t you? Successful performance coaching is relentlessly focused on the person’s strengths, whether to grow them or to use them as workarounds for those weaknesses that may get in the way.

Forget all those training sessions. Give your veterans they coaching they need and deserve. Not only will coaching be fun, but the ROI on your time invested in coaching will amaze you. Sales revenue will keep ratcheting up and salesperson turnover will keep dropping. Your veterans will stay because they know you care, they know what you mean to their personal growth, and they love the individualized attention.

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