When it comes to how sales executives view their organizations, one significant trend stands out: They want their front-line sales managers to increase their emphasis on coaching. We hear the same thing on our consulting projects all over the world. They all agree. Better sales coaching is the key to generating better results from their sales teams. They reported working hard on this area for at least 5 years, and investing heavily in training to support it.
Interestingly, however, many organizations are not addressing the issue. While working on a book, we recently interviewed 150 top sales executives, and asked what was their organization’s number one weakness. A vast majority, 147 of 150, said poor sales coaching was the biggest issue. How is it possible that so much effort, energy, and training has been put into helping Sales Managers become better coaches and it continues to be the weakness Executives stress about the most?
When we talk to front-line sales managers, we found two distinct reasons for this:
- Although their organizations want them to do more sales coaching, their administrative load simply doesn’t allow time to go into sales coaching. Often, sales executives fail to understand or address this critical issue.
- There is a serious misunderstanding of what sales coaching is. A high percentage of sales managers focus on pipeline and performance management. Very few sales managers understand what skills development coaching is, and why it’s so important.
Most sales executives would help their sales managers a lot by focusing on reducing the reactive administrative workload and reporting that eats up their time—time that could be focused on sales coaching. The other issue (misunderstanding of the basics) can be addressed by the following tips:
Gain a Clear Understanding of the Five Coaching “Hats”
There are five distinctly different types of sales coaching, each involving distinct roles or “hats” the coach should wear. A general approach to sales coaching simply isn’t enough. Those five areas include:
- Advisor-Counselor Coaching
- Skills Development Coaching
- Pipeline Management Coaching
- Performance Metrics Coaching
- Tactical Deal Specific Coaching
Of these five roles, skills development coaching is the most neglected, by far. Interestingly, this is the type of coaching that has the most immediate and lasting impact on sales results. This is the coaching hat we must wear when we “teach them how to fish.”
Emphasize Skills Development Coaching
Often, we ask sales managers in companies we work with how they practice with their sales people and in most cases sales managers are confused. This just isn’t something they experienced from the manager they worked for when they were sales people and unfortunately, it isn’t really covered much in the kind of coaching training most companies are using today to train them on sales coaching. Think of it this way, after a football game, it’s essential to review the tape of the game, analyze what went right and wrong, set goals for improvement and then GET TO PRACTICE. It’s the “get to practice” element that’s often missing in how sales managers interact with their sales teams.
Start by Coaching on Core Selling Language
Far too many sales manager assume their people have the basics down, especially what we call core selling language. Before you can hope to learn and master the sales process, you must be able to talk fluently about your product, services, differentiating factors, and value proposition. Without this, you cannot be credible or inspire trust. It’s easy to get a good feel for how competent the sales team is when it comes to fluency with core selling language. All you have to do is describe a customer situation, and ask them to answer these common customer questions:
- What makes you different from your competitors?
- What do your best customers like most about your product or service?
- What is your core value proposition?
- Why should I do business with you and switch from my current supplier?
- Give me a quick sense of what your company does and who your typical customers are?
If your people can answer these questions with “knock it out of the park” effectiveness, then chances are you’re doing a pretty good job of coaching them. If not, the. a strong dose of skills development practice coaching is needed.
Clarify the Sales Process—So It Can Be Documented and Trained On
AFTER the team has improved their fluency with core selling language, then the skills development practice should move to sales process. Most likely your team is using a consultative selling model, or some form of challenger selling, or both. Becoming skillful at this requires practice. The more demonstrations the sales team can see of this process in action, done skillfully, the easier it will be for them to replicate it and produce better results.
Build a Simulation-Based Coaching Platform
When you have sales fluency, plus strong demonstrations of the right sales process, then a simulation-based coaching platform is the next step in building a powerful practice culture. Similar to well-thought-through role playing, simulations give salespeople a realistic selling challenge they can master and practice with until they absolutely nail it. Afterwards, more difficult simulations are introduced that continue to stretch and develop their skills.
Coach the Sales Coaches
Practice coaching takes time, repetition, and real dedication. There is no easy way to become a great practice sales coach, just as there’s no easy way to become a great personal trainer or gymnastics coach. However, like it’s athletic counterpart, becoming a master sales coach is worth the effort.
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