One of the primary reasons sales managers neglect to coach their sales reps is that they don’t know how. Although this is a legitimate reason, it also tends to overlook the fact that most sales managers already have many of the skills and attributes they need to become great sales coaches.
First and foremost, they need to make sure they have an intrinsic desire to see others succeed. This may not always be the case and, as such, could be the reason many sales professionals are not cut out to be great managers. As a sales rep, their performance was likely measured, compensated, and recognized based on their personal success. As a manager, they now have to take satisfaction in the fact that their success is based on the performance of their team. For many star performers who are used to having the limelight on themselves, this can be too difficult a transition and, as such, they would be better suited (personally and for their employer) to remain in sales.
Assuming they are motivated to help others succeed, their sales experience can also be their greatest attribute. Having succeeded in sales prior to taking a management position provides them with the credibility to offer insights and guidance as a coach. This is particularly true when it comes to Opportunity Coaching which involves helping sales people implement strategies for specific sales opportunities. As an example, this can occur during a weekly review of the sales pipeline with an emphasis on challenging opportunities. In this situation, the manager can actively listen to gain a better understanding of the specific challenge (e.g., competitive threat) and discuss strategies based on their personal experience to advance the opportunity.
A bigger challenge for managers is when it comes to Skills Coaching which involves helping their reps develop better selling skills. At a high level, this involves developing a sales coaching mindset, determining what skills to coach on, and following a defined coaching process.
How to Coach
As part of the coaching process they will need to create (or better yet co-create) coaching plans focused on specific selling skills, observe sales calls, and debrief following the call. Here are few key tips for each of these areas:
Create a coaching plan: While there may be many areas for improvement, it is best to identify 2 – 3 areas for improvement such as identifying priorities or managing objections over some reasonable time period (e.g., a calendar quarter). This is beneficial both for the rep and coach because it keeps the plan highly focused and actionable. Although there may be numerous other areas for improvement, these are best deferred until the initial skills have met expectations.
Observing sales calls (or listening in if you manage an inbound team): Managers often confuse joining reps on sales calls with coaching. It is only coaching if the manager observes (focusing primarily on the key skills identified in the plan) and the rep does the selling. While the manager may comment briefly from time to time, the emphasis needs to be on the sales reps development not helping them sell. That is not to say that there are not times when it is beneficial for both the rep and manager to sell (provided they stick to their roles), or for the manager to lead the sales call (training a new rep), but these are not coaching calls. In a coaching call, the manager observes the customer interaction with an emphasis on the specific areas identified for improvement.
Debriefing following a call: The debrief should take place as soon as practical after the call (potentially even on the car ride to the next call). While the manager may be tempted to immediately share what went wrong or the sales rep could have done better, they need to resist this temptation. Instead, they should offer a few encouraging words about something that went well, and then lead the rep in self-discovery as it relates to the areas for improvement. This will allow for more ownership of the improvement by the rep and more productive coaching conversations.
Ultimately, coaching should be a rewarding experience for the both the sales rep and the manager. Keeping this in mind is the start to a great coaching program.
About Norman Behar