I will admit, I am frustrated to see such an important activity – sales coaching – become an overused and generalized term. In fact, many sales leaders will say, “Of course I do sales coaching. I meet with my salespeople for an hour each week.” As though just talking to their salespeople is sales coaching. Plus, too many training workshops on how to coach are about “when the salesperson says this, you should say that.” A sales leader will not grow into a high performing sales coach with such basic coaching insights!
I have the good fortune and honor to work with some of the best deal teams and large deal sales coaches in the Information Services market sector.
I am in Germany this week – yes, I actually got to travel abroad from the U.S. which made me feel like some sort of normalcy is back. I spent two days in a workshop with great leaders and coaches across Europe to discuss coaching approaches that leverage science. Someone asked, “Is good sales coaching more about advancing the talent of my salespeople or advancing the sales opportunity?” Read on for that answer…
To help identify what is “good sales coaching,” let me share a simple definition and approach:
“Good sales coaching is when, through the insights and inspiration of the coach, the seller has the confidence to take the risk to do something different tomorrow that they would have not normally done.”
Let’s break this down a little…
Insights of the coach – the coach has the responsibility to use everything at their disposal to bring thought leadership and insights to help the seller execute better. This can be valued perspective on the sales situation of what may be going on behind the scenes or the likely perspective of the client’s decision-makers. As sales leaders and coaches, we have been exposed to many more sales opportunities and sharing our learnings with our team can be valuable. Our insight can be drawn from knowledge about the accounts’ history with us, as it is not uncommon to have transitioned salespeople from one account to another over time, while the sales leader may remain a constant. Insight may be what you see in the x-rays of the Revenue Storm sales tools. Without bringing valued perspective or insights, the coach is merely a reviewer or judge of the planned actions.
Inspiration of the coach and confidence of the seller – These two are linked. The coach’s inspiration can build the seller’s confidence. People are more likely to do something new or change behavior when they are motivated and inspired – it takes an emotional reaction. When someone you respect believes you can accomplish something, i.e., they have confidence in you, you are more likely to have confidence in yourself, too. Think back to the last time you did something out of your comfort zone. How were you inspired or motivated to do it?
As for motivation, most people are motivated by something positive, such as… receiving accolades, accomplishing a new goal, or receiving a reward (perhaps variable compensation). Others may be motivated by avoiding negative ramifications, like losing a sales opportunity or account… or even losing respect in a sales call. Figure out what will motivate each of your salespeople the most in the specific situation. Yet, whether it is fear-based or positive-based, do so while building their confidence to execute the agreed next steps. This is not about the old theory of a “carrot or a stick,” which does not work and is often inappropriate today. In the end, you have to leave them believing they can accomplish the mission and will be successful.
Take the risk to do something different – This is the big one. In life, it is human nature to do the same that we have found successful in the past. It is likely comfortable. Yet, the sales environment of today is continuing to change rapidly, and we must change just as quickly! One reason is if our sales activities are not unusual or different, the competition will likely be expected and can defend against it. Plus, it is likely very average performance. You want your team to be exceptional.
Today’s big or challenging sales opportunities are won by the salesperson who takes wise, calculated risk in their sales execution. Yet, our global sales coaching team is seeing even more risk aversion in salespeople today. Here are some examples of sales behavior where salespeople need encouragement to do something different that may be outside their comfort zone:
- Respond to an RFP with not only what the client had specified but providing how they should be considering something broader or different to have more impact.
- Contact users of the current solution in an RFP situation to hear their views of what would be better for their user story, even if the RFP said contact should be limited.
- Provide a proactive, thought leadership viewpoint of what a prospect or client “could be doing” rather than merely responding to inquiries.
- Create a Bold Account Vision on how you can bring a client more value than they have been getting with the current contract or their incumbent.
- Create an action plan to go beyond one person’s stated rules of client engagement, like when they say, “Don’t talk to anyone else except me; I am your only client contact point.”
In my experience, the revenues and win rate for sales opportunities where the salesperson has taken calculated risk, having carefully thought through the relationship dynamics and politics, will invariably be higher.
The other element of taking risk is how it develops your salesperson. We all learn lessons when we take calculated risk. What if we took more or less risk next time? What if we did it sooner or later… would a better result occur? That’s the way the learning works!
I am an experienced motorcycle rider, but I still go to training school once a year to improve my skills. My riding coach teaches and inspires me to corner faster, lean harder, refocus my eyes, or change my mindset. I am always surprised at how much better I ride after having that personal coaching. My motorcycle coach will often put me way outside my comfort zone, and as a result, I become a better rider with their guidance.
Once your salesperson does something new and succeeds, it becomes part of their typical activities. When a different situation arises, you can help them achieve another milestone. They progress, develop, and become more well-rounded salespeople… and eventually sales leaders and mentors.
Let’s go back to the foundational question: Does good sales coaching advance the sale or the talent of your salesperson? The answer is it should advance both! Great sales coaching improves their probability of winning and builds more sales experience and skills into the individual, too.
When you conduct your next sales coaching session, challenge yourself – have I inspired my salesperson to do something different? Have I communicated my confidence in them to successfully accomplish the agreed next steps? Are they displaying confidence to execute? And then follow up, see if they did, and inspire them again!