Sales coaching is a topic close to the heart of sales leaders, sales reps, and sales and development departments. Any webcast we conduct or paper we write on the subject yields a great deal of traffic. Consequently, we spend a lot of time thinking about the problems with popular sales coaching models and why they fail to make a real difference in sales performance.
One of the biggest issues with sales coaching is that it takes place intermittently and outside the day-to-day realities of selling. Commonly, coaching is something that’s done on a schedule (like annual career development discussions) or during an intervention for poor performance. For whatever reason, coaching has the feeling of an extracurricular activity, not the main event. Let’s take a look at three important facets of successful programs.
Coaching is much more powerful when it’s done in real time within the activity. The most effective sales coaching takes place within the context of selling: when the seller is actually prioritizing customers, pursuing opportunities, making sales calls, and managing major accounts. When a sales manager can coach a seller through real deals, the seller becomes better at winning real deals. These conversations between a manager and a seller does not have to take place in front of live customers to be relevant. Robust coaching conversations about real deals can happen in the office during planning sessions, as long as the planning session is proximate to the sales call, and there is a debrief with the manager soon after. Most importantly, the conversations need to be intentional, not ad hoc or randomly timed.
‘On-the-Job Coaching’, like on-the-job training, takes place in real time. And unlike intermittent coaching, it’s relatively easy for the seller to see the direct applicability of the theory to the practice, because the activity is right there in front of them. They’re actually practicing it.
This is why our coaching model is focused on coaching in the moment. There is not only a greater likelihood of improving the seller’s skill – there is a greater likelihood of improving the seller’s performance. Practice makes perfect. And when you and your reps are firing with live ammo, you both tend to pay closer attention.
Sales managers generally like to coach and salespeople like to be coached. The troubling fact is that there are other things competing for that coaching slot on the calendar – things that are urgent. Pursuing deals, fighting fires, forecasting, troubleshooting… and they squeeze out the sales coaching.
So, here’s the reality that senior sales leadership has to accept: If you want your sales managers to coach their reps, then you have to make coaching a top priority. Perhaps the top priority for your managers.
To quote the VPs of Sales of a large multi-national we assisted some years ago:
“We deployed this sales coaching program, and we have not deviated from it since. Not one manager has deviated. Not once. The only time a coaching session has not taken place is when someone was sick.
The standard that I communicate is this: ‘I don’t care what else gets done, but nothing will supersede a coaching session. Nothing. If something else doesn’t get done, then we will deal with it. But the coaching will get done.’”
Most sales reps need less sales coaching around their selling skills and more sales coaching around their selling strategies. For example, whom to call and when, why, where and how to do it, are potentially much more important than the skill with which the call is executed. A perfectly executed shot aimed at the wrong target will always be a miss. Successful companies should establish a formal coaching rhythm and great coaching guides to structure coaching conversations.
At the end of the day, if your sales coaching model doesn’t have the support of senior leaders, encourage on-the-job coaching, and align with your selling strategies, it’s probably not accomplishing what you need it to accomplish – improved sales performance. Focus on these three things. Your salespeople will pay attention, develop their skills, and your company’s coaching will really have an impact on sales.