On every project we’ve done at the SalesGym, we’re asked what can be done to get sales managers to do more sales coaching and be more effective at it. Fortunately, we’ve been able to observe some fantastic sales coaches in action and there are three things we’ve learned that we’ll share with you in this three-part article series:
- They have a practice system
- Why sales messaging is so important to better sales coaching
- More time rehearsing to impact performance vs. just analyzing the past
There are certainly other factors, but these are ones that have the most impact and separate them from other sales managers in terms of building stronger teams and attracting more top performers. Let’s take a closer look at one of these factors: the practice system.
A Sales Coaching Practice System
Consider for a moment how professional sports coaches, or elite military trainers or even directors of performing art groups prepare their players, soldiers, and performers to perform at the highest level, under pressure. They all have a practice system and carefully planned schedules of drills, training activities and practice challenges to steadily improve skills and confidence. Rarely, however, do we find that sales managers have a practice system they can use on a weekly basis to work with their sellers on their sales skills.
A college football team, for instance, will have a weight room with machines and specific programs, a practice field, and a tape review room to analyze performance and develop strategies for upcoming games. Sales Managers, however, rarely have these kinds of tools to help them execute more effective practice sessions with their salespeople. What they do have is typically CRM systems and data reporting that gives them visibility into sales activity and pipeline analysis with forecasting capabilities. This is great information, to be sure, but it isn’t a practice system.
The elements of an effective sales team practice system include:
- A call rehearsal process that sales managers can use to rehearse with their team members before important sales calls. It’s not enough to just know objectives and goals, a true call rehearsal allows the sales manager to practice key elements of the sales call in advance, to impact performance in a positive way, before the call!
- Simple, concise job aids that distill the company’s competitive advantages, differentiating factors and game-changing insights into a format that sellers can quickly review, learn and use to prepare for upcoming sales calls
- Recordings of how top performers phrase and communicate sales messaging and how they respond to questions, concerns, and objections
- Game-changing insights that can be used to position better questions
- Simulations or role plays the sales managers can use to create a reasonably realistic selling practice exercise. Ideally, these can be recorded for review and debriefing.
- A training schedule that tracks progress with real metrics
Skills to Practice
Just like a dance coach will work on flexibility, strength, timing, and dramatic expression of the music, a sales coach needs to focus on the skills that can be practiced that impact sales results on live sales calls. The skills most sellers need more practice on include:
- How to deliver a quick, concise agenda to start a sales call with a focus that increases the listening and asking time
- How to position better questions with interesting insights that are more likely to uncover needs and problems
- Delivering a summary of what the prospect or customer has communicated in a way that sets up a natural pivot to a tailored solution
- How to take core sales messaging that includes competitive advantages and differentiating factors and tailor them with what we’ve learned from questions and listening
- How to respond to likely objections and questions that come up on most sales interactions
- How to use different options to close or ask for a commitment
These skills that can be practiced to develop more verbal sales fluency just like a basketball player can go through shooting drills to increase their free-throw percentages.
We recently completed a two-year research study where we interviewed over 300 leading sales executives and their insights into top performers are contained in this study.
Drills, Repetition, and Practice
All too often, when sales managers schedule coaching time to work with a team member, what typically happens is a lot of back and forth conversation about what should happen, what needs to change, where opportunities are and what the numbers are. This stuff is great, but it’s not practice. When sports coaches work with their athletes, they go through drills to increase speed, power, flexibility, and memory to execute plays under pressure.
This is exactly what needs to happen when coaching salespeople. For example, here’s a simple step-by-step drill you can practice with repetition:
- In the coaching session, ask the seller to think of a prospect he/she knows well … has met … asked a lot of questions … understand his/her buying motivations and needs
- Ask that seller to respond, as if talking directly to THAT PROSPECT as if on the phone and that prospect asks, “what is it specifically that makes your company and products/services different from your competitors, as I’m having a hard time figuring that out?”
- Listen carefully and then, without giving any feedback, simply give an example of a better, more effective way to respond to that question.
- Then, ask the seller what, from your demonstration, he/she could use to improve in the next round?
- Then repeat steps 2, 3 and 4 several times and allow the magic of repetition to work.
No Practice Means Learning the Hard Way
Without steady practice, then salespeople learn through trial and error on live sales calls and this is the worst way to learn because often, they “learn” to sell by finding a method that is comfortable, but usually not that effective. That’s why so many sellers produce average results.
An elite military unit becomes highly skilled primarily because of their training and the same is true with the best sports teams. If you want to build stronger team members, teach and coach them to sell the way top performers do … and that requires a solid practice system.
Helpful Links on Sales Coaching
Link to the 5 Coaching Approaches Video
How to Build a Stronger Sales Coaching Culture
Request some recent research we did from interviews with over 300 sales executives
Lots more videos and ideas on top performer selling and coaching on the SalesGym YouTube Home Page … Subscribe today!
Part II of this Series – “Coaching With Better Sales Messaging” Coming Soon!
In part two of this series, we’ll look at how important it is to develop your sales messaging so you can impact how sellers communicate on sales calls.
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