Sales Coaching Techniques to Avoid Top 5 Mistakes
Sales Coaching is the most important way a manager can improve how their sales team sells. The power of sales coaching is that it can be personalized to the individual needs of each member of the sales team. As an example, a new member of the sales team may need help with prospecting and call planning skills, while a more tenured member of the team may require help with strategic account management.
For sales coaching to be most effective it should be collaborative so that the salesperson has input on what areas to focus on and can take ownership of their own skills development. Collaboration also allows the manager to provide their perspective on the salesperson’s strengths and areas for improvement. While this may seem straightforward, sales coaching is subject to numerous pitfalls that can erode effectiveness and even cause resentment by the sales rep.
Here are the five top mistakes sales managers should avoid and the coaching techniques you can use to be proactive.
#1 Telling Instead of Asking
Most managers have come up through the sales ranks and have a good sense of what their sales reps are doing well and what areas they need to improve. Armed with this information, managers can quickly resort to “telling” reps what they need to do as opposed to asking questions to get the sales reps' perspective. Good coaching takes patience. While telling is much faster than listening, “telling” leads to defensiveness by the sales rep and has little lasting impact. Instead, managers should ask questions, actively listen, and let sales reps provide their input on strengths and areas for improvement.
#2 Focus on What Went Wrong
Sales Coaching should be a positive experience for the sales rep and the sales manager. Unfortunately, managers often zero in on what sales reps should be doing better before acknowledging their strengths. By starting with what is “going well” first, managers can create a positive coaching experience that reinforces good skills and behaviors.
As an example, a manager might share the following statement with a sales rep who has developed a call plan for an upcoming sales meeting; “I’m really impressed with the call plan you developed for XYZ corporation. The benefit of this call plan is that it helps keep the meeting focused on the call objective.”
#3 Too Many Coaching Priorities
As part of the coaching process, managers should work with reps to identify skill gaps that form the basis for a personalized coaching plan. While there may be numerous skill gaps, it is counterproductive to focus on all of them. Instead, use a sales coaching technique that allows you to focus on one or two areas that can have the greatest impact on sales.
As an example, a coaching plan for a new sales rep may focus on prospecting and call planning since these skills are fundamental to building a book of business. While it is tempting for managers to provide feedback on other skill areas, this will dilute the coaching focus and will likely be viewed as nitpicking by the sales rep. Sales reps and managers should only look to add additional skills to the coaching plan once sufficient progress has been made on the initial skill areas.
#4 Sugarcoating Feedback
Managers must become comfortable delivering feedback that can be easily understood. This is particularly important when debriefing after a call. As a best practice, managers should look to understand the sales rep’s perspective first by asking questions that help the sales reps identify what went well and areas for improvement. In many cases, this focus on self-discovery will not sufficiently cover the skill gaps the manager noticed while observing the call. At this point, the manager should clearly share what they observed in a respectful way.
As an example, the manager might say “I noticed that you didn’t take the time to address the customer’s objection to the proposed implementation schedule.” This type of feedback is essential since it creates a mutual understanding of the area for improvement.
#5 Taking Over on Sales Calls
Most managers have excellent selling skills and can’t resist taking over a sales call if they think “their way” will improve the odds of closing the sale. Unfortunately, this is short-sighted since managers only accompany reps on a fraction of the total calls that sales reps make. Also, by riding to the rescue, managers do little to instill confidence in their sales reps. Instead, managers should develop a call plan with their sales reps in advance and determine whether it is a “joint sales call” or a “coaching call”.
The primary purpose of the “joint sales call” is to advance or close a sales opportunity. On a joint call, both the manager and the sales reps should discuss in advance what role each will play on the call. Joint calls make sense for strategic or large account opportunities but have minimal impact on the salesperson’s skill development. Unlike joint sales calls, a “coaching call” allows the sales reps to control the sales conversation. While the manager may occasionally need to comment or even rescue, their job is to observe and take note of strengths and areas for improvement so they can debrief with the salesperson following the sales call.
The best sales coaching techniques take practice and patience. Great coaches understand that it is about the “players” and that their objective is to help sales reps develop and improve how they sell. By avoiding the mistakes outlined above, sales managers can earn their sales reps' trust and respect which are essential to developing a team that is receptive to and welcomes their input.
Do you want your sales managers to become great coaches who develop a strong team?
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About Norman Behar
Norman Behar is a Managing Director at the Sales Readiness Group, A Part of SBI. He has over 25 years of senior sales management experience and is recognized as a thought leader in the sales training industry. His blog posts and whitepapers are frequently featured in leading sales enablement publications, including ATD, TrainingIndustry.com, and Selling Power.