At SalesGym, we interview dozens of leading sales executives every year to find out new thinking and trends on top performers, coaching and building better sales teams. In a recent interview with John DeLorimier, EVP with Concentra, he shared some interesting perspectives on sales managers, coaching and how to impact the performance of sales teams.
People have been working on sales coaching forever and absolutely no one's cracked the code. Everybody knows that it's a problem but the solution never sticks. -John DeLorimier, EVP with Concentra Click To Tweet
“People have been working on sales coaching forever and absolutely no one’s cracked the code. Everybody knows that it’s a problem but the solution never sticks,” John shared with us at the start of the interview which succinctly sums up what we’ve heard repeatedly from hundreds of sales executives in interviews over the last two years.
Clearly, there are many sales managers out there that are fantastic coaches that create top performing sales teams on purpose, but what’s hard to find is the kind of systemic, organizational approach to sales coaching that creates consistently talented sales coaches across the organization.
A clear understanding of what coaching is can be a real barrier
All the cliches that apply to management in general like… lead by example … walk the talk … you can’t manage what you can’t measure … better hiring = less management headaches … set high expectations … and dozens of others apply to sales management, but effective sales coaching is more than that. Selling requires a unique skill set of near fearless, assertive communication skills, ability to prioritize, and an ability to understand what’s best for the prospect and connect all the dots to present a solution that feels extremely relevant. Extreme self-discipline doesn’t hurt either.
Great sales coaching is more like coaching a sports team than coaching a group of accountants, IT engineers or web developers. Successful selling requires the development of communication and human relations skills in a way that very few other roles demand. It requires more practice and repetition, similar to how athletes develop, to get great at these hard to develop capabilities.
John points out how important it is for sales managers to have strong selling skills…
Many sales managers don't have the best sales skills themselves and so they put up with the status quo. Then, they don't know how to coach to it and so they can't move the needle. -John DeLorimier, EVP with Concentra Click To Tweet
“Many sales managers don’t have the best sales skills themselves and so they put up with the status quo. Then, they don’t know how to coach to it and so they can’t move the needle.” Sales coaching is about teaching and practicing as much as it’s about goals and accountability and you simply can’t teach what you don’t know.
5 critical roles a sales manager needs to master
Every organization places different demands on their front-line sales managers, but when it comes to the element of interacting with and building strong salespeople on their teams, there are 5 core roles the best sales managers master:
- Holding salespeople constructively accountable to their goals, metrics, quotas and expectations
- Connecting with salespeople on a personal level so trust and meaningful rapport is built and sustained
- Teaching the fundamental selling skills and practicing with enough repetition so rapid improvement occurs
- Providing the kind of experienced assistance often needed when salespeople are new to the organization and need help making a deal happen
- Serving as an added resource on actual sales calls as needed
When we start a project, we often ask the sales managers to force rank themselves in terms of their skill level in these 5 areas. With over 75% of the many sales managers we’ve met, the third area is where they rank themselves as weakest. Coincidentally, skills development coaching is the most important area when it comes to the kind of coaching that works best with elite sports teams, and unless you’re hiring high priced superstars, this is the kind of coaching needed to help average performers become top performers, which is the key to moving the middle.
John has observed…
“When all is said and done, the sales manager has never spent enough time on how to coach and therefore the coaching always falls flat.”
Often, we’ve found that organizations have a hard time teaching front-line sales managers how to coach because there aren’t a lot of people further up the organization that are good at coaching that model the behaviour. Transformation into a dynamic coaching culture generally requires three key focus areas:
- Train and manage executives to coach the coaches
- Train and manage sales managers to coach their sales teams
- Create a constantly refreshing practice system sales teams can use every week
John points out a unique aspect about selling that ties in here…
Sales is a profession that you can practice. If you're an accountant, it's really hard to practice, but we have something that we can actually practice and coach and get better at. -John DeLorimier, EVP with Concentra Click To Tweet
“Sales is a profession that you can practice. If you’re an accountant, it’s really hard to practice, but we have something that we can actually practice and coach and get better at.” John has gone much further than most sales executives we’ve met because he’s found a way to correlate practice to results… “When our salespeople practice I can actually put a number to their improvement and have seen an increase in the effectiveness of our salespeople in the field, in front of their customers. Sales isn’t an art. This is a science with a little bit of art built into it.”
Why sales coaching doesn’t happen…
Every sales executive I’ve ever met has told me that frontline sales coaching is extremely important and they know their sales teams would produce better results if their sales managers would coach more effectively. Millions and millions of dollars have been poured into highly regarded sales coaching programs and executives still observe that front line sales coaching is inconsistent at best. To understand why this problem is so stubborn and difficult to solve, it’s important to understand the barriers that prevent the kind of rigorous coaching that has a lasting impact:
The 5 Barriers To Organizational Mastery of Sales Coaching
- Most sales managers were not coached well when they were salespeople so they didn’t experience the model of good coaching
- Most sales managers see coaching as more of a strategy, analysis and advice type activity. Building skills through practice and repetition is not part of their understanding
- Most sales organizations do not have a practice system. They have extensive pipeline measurement and reporting systems so sales managers assume that is coaching
- Coaching, the way elite sports coaches do it, is a unique skill that requires more than just selling skills. Companies consistently underestimate the necessary training needed to be skillful at it
- Sales executives themselves don’t typically have much time or focus on coaching their sales managers so the “lead by example factor” is low grade
So…where to start?
It’s certainly not impossible to get sales managers to coach more effectively and consistently and we’ve seen that transformation happen many times. These five elements are critical to making it happen:
- A teachable, learnable selling methodology (as simple as practical)
- Clearly defined competitive advantages and differentiating factors that can be learned and practiced
- A practice schedule that is measured and reported and an executive up the line that puts a priority on it
- Someone, often an experienced outside consultant, that can effectively demonstrate and model practice coaching exercises and simulations
- Ultimately, all of this evolving into a rigorous practice system
John has noticed one of the most important areas that sales organizations need to focus on that’s related to how they organize their competitive advantages and differentiating factors…
“Organizations don’t create their collateral in a way that helps them connect problems to solutions. In other words, they don’t train enough on here’s what you’re going to hear, here are the four or five dots that you need to connect when you hear these words, this is the solution set when you hear these words and you need to connect these dots. Organizations don’t do a good enough job of training to that and providing salespeople with collateral of what the solution sets are so they can make sense in a hurry.”
It’s amazing how quickly salespeople improve on sales calls when they simply learn how to communicate concise, distinct competitive advantages that connect directly to customer needs. Differentiating factors are the foundational building blocks of persuasive sales communication and this is a perfect place to start the practice on.Two key things make someone successful; productivity and effectiveness. -John DeLorimier, EVP with Concentra Click To Tweet
“Two key things make someone successful; productivity and effectiveness. Productivity is actually how much activity they have in front of a customer whether that’s on the phone or in person and effectiveness is how good they are when they get in front of a customer.”
In an upcoming article, we’ll share John’s unique insights on top performing salespeople.
The SalesGym is a research, consulting, and training company that works with and learns from sales teams all over the world and has refined a coaching and training process that trains sales teams the way elite athletes are trained. More insights and articles from us can be found on our RESOURCES PAGE.