The Center for Sales Strategy Blog

Are You Coaching Or Just Telling?

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It happens every day in nearly every sales organization. Regardless of the industry, the size of the sales department or the complexity of the sale. It causes intense frustration for every salesperson and every sales manager. Know what it is?

It’s the uncomfortable meeting that takes place when a salesperson is not hitting their numbers. 

That meeting has to happen in order to get the seller back on the path to success, but it is filled with frustration.

  • The sales manager is frustrated because her seller is keeping her from making the team goal, and consequently, her bonus.
  • The salesperson is frustrated because he is not making as much as he wants to make and he knows that failing to make budget is not acceptable.

Those of us in sales and sales management know this situation and those frustrations all too well. You can probably guess how this conversation will go…

Telling a Salesperson to Do More is Not a Strategy for Success

The sales manager calls the seller into her office. She says something along the lines of, “You’re not making your budget, and to have long-term success around here, you have to hit your budget every month.” Feeling deflated, the seller explains that he understands and will turn it around. The manager, anxious to help him says, “Look… you just need to increase your activity, get more proposals out there, see more people each week, ask for the order more often, and close more deals. Okay?” Relieved that this conversation is behind her, the sales manager then reports up the line that she met with the seller and provided him with a strategy for success.

Is the situation fixed? Of course, not.

While the sales manager is putting her file away and moving on to her next task, the sales rep is walking back to his desk with emotions swirling between frustration, excitement, and bewilderment. He’s mad at himself because of his lack of performance but at the same time, he finds he’s sort of motivated by his manager’s passion and her advice. Simultaneously he realizes that while motivated to make changes, he has no idea how to do that. He already knows that he needed to increase his activity and close more deals. Nothing new there… But how?

That’s the key word here, how.

Explain How, Not Just What

This sales manager told her seller what to do, but she has failed to coach him on how to do it effectively. Unfortunately, this lack of coaching is rampant in our sales organizations and it limits the success that can be achieved by every salesperson and every sales team.

Coaching is important, and the negative effects from a lack of coaching can be seen in four principal ways:

  1. You don’t have superstars on your team like you could because those with potential are not able to reach their potential.
  2. You suffer from high levels of turnover because your sellers are not able to achieve success unless they happen to have the right account list.
  3. You are not able to recruit top tier talent because those superstars want to work on a team that is focused on growing and developing the very best.
  4. You don’t hit your budget and leave money on the table.

So why don’t managers do less “telling” and more “coaching.” There are several reasons we can point to but the most common include:

  1. It is not a priority of their manager.
  2. They have not been trained to effectively coach and develop people – which is not easy!
  3. Coaching does not result in an instant return on that investment. When a manager goes on a call to close business for their salesperson, it drives revenue today but never grows the seller to be a star closer in the future. When a manager goes on a call to coach their seller, they might not make that sale today, but they are positioned to make more sales long term.

Thinking back to our frustrated manager and our deflated seller, what could have gone better for them?

How to Coach for Success

Field Coaching: The manager could invest her time in the field, coaching her seller. She could join him for a full day of sales calls with the sole purpose of coaching rather than solving problems or selling. While it’s hard to carve out a day for this, the investment of time and energy results in enormous growth in the long-term.

Role Play: The manager could spend time with the seller in the office, role playing common situations and common objections that he will likely deal with.

Sales Meetings: The manager could also capitalize on those weekly meetings, allowing all her salespeople to learn from each other, share what is working and, and talk about what is not working.

We have talked about why coaching is important and I have shared a few ways that you can immediately begin coaching your people. Let me leave you with 5 best practices for effective coaching that makes a big impact: 

  1. Give more positive feedback than negative. The ideal ratio over time should be 5 pieces of positive feedback for every 1 piece of constructive criticism.
  2. Be as specific as possible with your feedback. Don’t say, “Great call! You crushed it.” There is nothing to learn from there. Instead say something like, “That was a great call. I specifically liked the way that, after you heard and made note of 3 business challenges the prospect shared with you, you also took a minute to summarize what you heard and then ask if you had missed anything.”
  3. Give feedback when you witness it with your own eyes and ears. If you’re not seeing it, it’s hard to give feedback on it.
  4. Look for ways to identify, highlight, and give feedback on the things the seller has the natural talent to do well. Help your salespeople to understand their unique talents and soar with their strengths.
  5. Avoid giving feedback on things that are stylistic. They may not do it the way you do it, but that might not mean it’s less effective. Instead focus on the things that will make a difference in the outcome.

If you want to drive performance, you have to train people the right way, practice with them so they can get it right, coach them so they can develop their skill, recognize them when they reach mastery, and measure it to ensure they are achieving results.

Download  30 Ways to Turn Talent into Performance