In part one and part two of this series on sales coaching, we discussed the first 8 characteristics that make sales managers great sales coaches. We’ll conclude here with an examination of why good coaches/managers continually teach, and how they teach their teams to be flexible and agile using the FUSE method.
Sales managers must coach their sales reps on how to get better at uncovering needs, presenting products and handling objections. But sales reps also need a teacher to simply show them the basics of good selling and “what good looks like.” Often, we see sales managers who jump straight in to coaching more advanced sales techniques to people who just aren’t ready. Or worse, some managers simply say, “just watch what I do” as a way of coaching their newly hired salespeople.
Start with the basics such as teaching the terminology that is used in your company. For example, what is a “lead”? In some companies a lead is anyone with a heartbeat and a checking account. For other companies, a lead is someone who has been pre-qualified by marketing or an outside tele-sales group, then passed on to the sales person for follow-up. Wise coaches will take the time to teach the basic terminology and fundamentals of selling before simply going into battle and expecting the sales person to be coachable in the heat of the moment.
When reps seem to struggle and become frustrated, take the time to ask a few diagnostic questions before launching straight into a conversation on how to improve. Clarify what the rep means when they have an excuse or complain about something holding them back. Look for just a few more pieces of information before jumping right in with a solution. This avoids lengthy conversations about skills and behaviors that might not be the real issue in the first place.
How does any great sales coach build a team that is adaptive to the situations and the adversity that they face? We developed the FUSE acronym for coaching adaptive behaviors in salespeople.
Great coaches make sure that their reps are sound on the fundamentals by analyzing and coaching a rep’s basic selling skills, otherwise adaptability is a lost cause. Take some time to consistently observe basic selling skills and behaviors and provide feedback on the strengths and weaknesses to leverage or improve
Insightful coaches use questions to gauge whether their reps have gathered the right amount and types of information. If data is incomplete, the coach stops and helps the rep develop a plan for gathering more information about the selling situation. Alternatively, if the rep has gathered sufficient information, the coach then uses questions to gauge whether the rep has an accurate interpretation of the situation. For example, the coach might ask “what type of situation is this? Have we seen this before? What happened last time we were in a similar situation?” The key point is that the rep come to a conclusion about the situation and where it is heading in terms of customer actions, competitor maneuvers, etc.
Our research shows that adept sales coaches spend time reviewing different strategies that have worked with past accounts and then teach their salespeople to align these strategies with current sales opportunities. In this conversation, the sales coach asks the rep about the type of strategy they think will work best based in the situation. If the rep is leaning toward a poor strategy, the coach should ask why they think this will work, and explore the potential for pros and cons of selecting a different one.
At this stage, the rep should have a good understanding of what adjustments to “normal” or the “basics” need to be made to execute a particular strategy. For example, maybe its best if the rep doesn’t ask many needs identification questions early in one strategy, but it’s critical that they do so in another. Or perhaps they should use a formal PowerPoint presentation in one strategy and take a more casual, blank-page approach in a second.
So, the next time you find yourself in a strategy session on an opportunity with a sales rep, make sure you light the FUSE… Fundamentals, Understanding, Strategy and Execution.
Coaching isn’t easy, even when you’re really good at it. Just because you encounter obstacles such as those presented in our series doesn’t mean you’ve failed as a coach or leader. If anything, overcoming those obstacles — and helping your team members do the same — is the greatest sign of true leadership. Remember, your success is not just about your own journey but also the journey of others; it’s not about being the most successful coach who ever lived, but rather about helping others be the most successful salespeople they can be. A win for them, a win for you and a win for your company.