Most managers who have been around for a while understand that if salespeople are going to grow their skills they are going to need some coaching. If you think about it, every endeavor that involves performance against a standard, winning or losing, or rising to significance, begins with a talented performer coached by someone who provides accurate feedback and helpful coaching—from athletics, to music, to business. If you watch how real coaching actually happens, you see the coach is always in a position to observe the performer first hand. Athletic coaches coach their people on the field, not in the office. The same goes with any other discipline—except for sales.
Too many sales managers attempt to coach their salespeople in sales meetings (which are useful for group training, but not be confused with individual coaching), or in the office as the salesperson recounts what happened on a face-to-face call. These are not effective settings for coaching. Just like any other successful coach, the sales manager must be able to observe how the salesperson handled the call, and the only place to make that observation is in the field, because that is where the salesperson does his or her work.
Now, I have heard it all when sales managers explain why they just can’t get out often enough to coach their people—there are meetings, corporate reports, decisions to be made every moment, and urgencies that demand attention now. I know these things are real, but what is also real is that salespeople need feedback on skills (not just performance against budgets) and the only way to give that feedback is to be there when and where they sell. By the way, I also hear from sales managers who boast, “Yes, I am on calls with my people at least seven or eight times a week!” When you look at those calls, however, they were meetings where the salesperson asked the manager to attend—usually because there was a big order on the line and they needed help in getting the client to say yes. That is legitimate activity, but it’s not coaching. It’s team selling. Coaching is what happens when your primary purpose for being on the call is to observe and them provide helpful feedback about what went well and what could be done differently next time. The manager has to schedule those times in advance.
Most people remember Paul Bear Bryant, the legendary coach that won so many national championships at Alabama (although Nick is closing in). A reporter once asked him why he had so many cameras on the practice field. Bear said, “If I were coaching a fighter and he was throwing his left jab an inch too low or an inch too high, he would get battered. But, he has no way of knowing. He can’t observe himself so I would have to do it for him. It’s the same with my team except there are eleven of them on the field at once.”
You can’t change human nature. You have to be there. An inconvenient truth—even in coaching salespeople.