Sales Leaders today are typically so busy responding to internal company requests, overall management of their team, and even selling or talking to clients that coaching their people falls into the “if I had more time” category. Yet, coaching salespeople is the best way to ensure your team is executing well in the field.
Most teams have the typical bell curve for sales performance – 10% to 20% high achievers (those top contributors that can produce over 60% of the team’s results), the bottom 10% to 20% (that are well below acceptable levels of sales results), and the core middle 60% to 70% (that could be performing better). This middle group is often below quota, but with focused development and coaching, their results could be dramatically changed.
So, where do most managers spend their coaching time? Yup, you guessed it, with the bottom group. Most managers want to be fair and invest just a bit more into them before cutting them loose or transferring them elsewhere in the company. Yet, it is rarely a wise investment. Often there are attitudes, motivational issues, or even job fit issues that coaching just won’t change. Don’t sabotage your sales coaching techniques by over-investing your coaching time there. Instead, give them a short window of specific changes needed in both behaviors and results and hold to it.
The next most popular group to focus on is the swing middle – the group that has mediocre sales results to date. This is a good place to focus and they need regularly scheduled deal coaching each month. Even with a team of twelve, you can coach three people a week and cover each of them once a month if you plan ahead on specific days of the week.
The group that is often overlooked, at a detriment, is the high performers. They are making their targets. So why focus your sales coaching techniques there, you ask? One, because they could be doing even better, and two, this group values good coaching. It is exhausting to feel you have to know it all and do it on your own. I am often pleasantly surprised to see how open these experienced and even senior Sales Leaders are to structured, consistent sales coaching. They are appreciative of it, whether it is a one-on-one deal discussion or a large team. Yet, Sales Leaders often shy away from coaching the most senior salespeople, fearing the coaching will be rejected, consider it micro-management, or not view it as valuable. Having worked with the most senior sellers coaching mega deals for many years, my experience is that good coaching is valued.
Now that you know where to spend your time, let me help you with these key sales coaching techniques:
- Adopt a regular cadence of coaching. Organize one day a week to coach a few salespeople each week, especially focused on those in the middle of the bell curve. Focus on what will make the difference to achieving their sales goal or most important skill development. For your team’s most major opportunities, whether owned by a top performer or not, schedule regular coaching sessions to boost the likelihood of winning. For those with a six to nine month sales cycle, for example, I personally recommend a coaching session every three weeks. This prevents the salesperson (or team) from feeling they are discussing it too much, keeps you well informed for forecasting decisions, and enables progress to happen on action items between reviews. It enables the Sales Leader to coach the deal at a strategic level and enables the salesperson or pursuit team to step back from the details of the deal to ensure their strategy is on course to win.
- Use sales tools consistently. Using sales tools that provide insight enables a healthy, collaborative discussion to take place focused on the intelligence and insights from the tools. From a practical perspective, this enables the conversation to be more about what options do “we” have, rather than talking about want “you” need to do. This creates an almost equal status between coach and coachee and is conducive to a positive, supportive environment.
- Study the art of coaching. Most salespeople like coaching to be predictable and collaborative. The key is to have a set agenda familiar to the team so there are no surprises. The Sales Leader needs to set expectations for how to prepare for the session. Determine what the desired objectives are and review the materials in advance. It is especially important to review the required sales tools and note any questions to be asked. Build your own sales coaching techniques and skills by observing and coaching with professional sales coaches, if you have access to them. The key is to invest in yourself, as good coaching is a learned skill… just like good selling.
- Announce your coaching plan to your team. Every leader needs to demonstrate to their team how they are continuing to develop themselves to model the behaviors they want their employees to have – continually striving to be better. Making a commitment, or even a re-commitment, to coaching is a great way to do that. Announce your coaching cadence to the team, as well as why, so they can be part of your success in becoming a first-class sales coach. Bring them along on your journey. Commit to your regular coaching sessions every week and do not let anything get in the way of them, just like you wouldn’t move a client event. Otherwise, it looks as though you aren’t truly committed and you do not place value on the coaching sessions.
If you follow the above guidelines, you will grow as a coach and your most successful salespeople will feel more cared for and supported, while those with the right effort are rewarded with your time and thought leadership to help them become even more successful with regularly scheduled coaching sessions. Remember, even the most successful salespeople want to win more, and they want your help to do it!
Start a regular deal coaching schedule for one month – one afternoon every week. Announce it to your team and then stick to it. Ask for feedback at the end of the month… you may be surprised at the positive reaction!