You cannot expect your sales managers to coach their team if they have never been educated on how to coach effectively. Most senior executives promote managers based on a set of perceived capabilities and competencies and hope that they will turn out to be great coaches and leaders. However, that’s a terrible strategy and a poor business model!
- According to CSO Insights, in 2016, 60% of salespeople were more likely to leave their job if their manager was a mediocre coach. Companies with dynamic coaching programs achieve 28% higher win rates.
- Over 47% of sales managers spend less than 30 minutes a week coaching reps on skills and behaviors.
- According to the Sales Management Association, firms that provide an optimal amount of coaching realize 16.7% greater annual revenue than the rest.
- It’s evident that sales coaching proficiency is a requirement for any professional sales manager. For it to work, both parties need to be willing to collaborate and cooperate to create the intended results to grow professionally.
A sales manager can only teach what he knows. Sales management is all about coaching. Wait! Coaching? Yes, coaching is the only activity that the sales manager can leverage to drive exceptional performance. As a sales manager, you have a team quota, and you can achieve your quota by driving your team performance up. The way to do it is by ensuring that every individual in your team fulfills their obligations.
Coaching Yield Results
It takes self-confidence, tactical courage, observational finesse, and psychological diplomacy to coach. These attributes are not necessarily found in abundance in the pool of sales managers
Many managers confuse occasional training, performance review and occasional guidance with coaching. Others deliberately avoid coaching, mostly because they feel inadequately trained on how to do it properly. Coaching is among the most impactful activity that elevates sales reps’ selling skills.
Pilots prepare for combat with intensive training and simulation. Intense close observation and coaching go into the process to ensure the elimination of potential errors because even the smallest miscalculation in the battlefield means destruction and probable death.
Civil pilots are trained to deal with engine failures, engine fires, cabin fire, cabin decompression, jammed controls, and unreliable flight instruments. problems can happen, but when they occur, the pilot’s flying skills and sound judgment will be put to the test. Great pilots are all about security, and they work hard to improve their system knowledge, vigilance, deviation tolerance, overall skills, and capability to ensure the safety of their passengers.
Sales is similar in many ways. Using the wrong word, the wrong approach or wrong behavior can potentially mean losing the opportunity. Business decision-makers are often experienced, buyers. They watch the sales rep’s behavior, sales methods, word usage, mannerism, and tone. An amateur salesperson will inadvertently make errors of assumption which leads to losing the customer interest.
Professional sales reps understand that sales is a dialogue where the customers do most of the talking and the salespeople do most of the listening, knowing that every chosen word can either advance the sale, stall it, or kill.
The sales manager’s coaching session has everything to do with observing the sales reps’ interaction closely with their customers. Then, describing the area where the sales rep has done an exceptional job and the areas that require improvement. Providing honest feedback creates awareness, sensitivity, and focus. The idea behind coaching is to minimize errors, grow new capability, enhance existing skills, test and support new approaches, and get feedback from a trained professional. Coaching is all about learning, discovering, and sharing ideas and principles to improve both the salesperson and the sales manager.
Coaching is not telling someone what to do; it’s a collaboration, where both parties share their thoughts, insights, ask questions, learn, and apply what works based on field testing. Effective coaching requires mental openness, good listening, and adjustment skills. While the coach and the coachee may possess entrenched ideas, beliefs, and philosophies that are hard to influence, coaching works only when both parties are open to change.
The sales manager cannot dictate what needs to be done; instead, they should facilitate and inspire their sales reps to accept gradual changes that will have a long-lasting positive impact on productivity and the sales rep sales career. Coaching is a dialogue that analyzes field behavioral observations with the intent to create progress by eliminating areas of weakness.
Coaching the Unwilling
Even the best coaches in the world cannot bend the will of individuals who are not willing to be coached. How do you coach if someone is not coachable? How can you identify the people who are not ready to be coached?
Types of people you cannot coach:
The unwillingness to change: Generally, these are successful individuals with no interest to change. Over the years, they have built a mental rigidity and stubbornness that makes it hard to foster even the slightest changes. Let me give you an example: Mike, a newly promoted sales manager, has been a sales rep for over thirty years.
He spent his first month as a manager educating his team on some of his best practices, and he expected that everyone would adopt his selling methods, being that they worked well for him. His approach met much resistance as his salespeople preferred to keep their sales individuality. A clash of personalities ensued, performance dropped across the board, and a few salespeople start thinking about resigning.
The VP of sales had to intervene multiple times to stop good producers from leaving the company and keep the team morale at an acceptable level. Despite the VP of sales best efforts to get Mike to change his management style, it became apparent that while he was capable of change, he didn’t care to change. There was only one solution left: either reinstate Mike back to his previous role or terminate his position.
Mike’s thought process was fixated; he thought his methods were sound, proven, and unquestionably right. When you identify someone as uncoachable, don’t waste time, as you will have no impact transforming that unbending individual’s behaviors. Mental rigidity is a decease that prevents competent, intelligent individuals from achieving long-lasting relationships and real growth.
The uncommitted: If an individual salesperson lacks initiative and commitment to apply the fundamentals you collectively discussed and agreed upon, you won’t accomplish much. The most significant frustration for most coaches is when you invest your time, effort, and energy in getting someone to improve, only to realize that the person is either indifferent or is not willing to even try.
Coaching may not work as well when someone is committed but keeps pursuing the wrong strategy. Without total trust, progress won’t occur.
The wrong person in the wrong position: Many professional salespeople take a job hoping it will be a good fit. However, the moment they realized that the job or the company does not meet their expectations, they start sabotaging the process while looking for an exit. Misfits are hiring mistakes that are incredibly costly in terms of finance, time, energy, and bruised confidence and morale.
I recall a sales leader who took a job with a competitive company. Still, he was not thrilled about the situation, because he was making half the income he had commanded with his prior employer. He showed his excitement to secure the position, but once on board, he starts showing how unsatisfied he was. When his lack of commitment to the job became apparent, he became more confrontational, then abruptly left the job.
The Blamer: A manager or a salesperson who continuously points fingers at others as being the source of the problem, when all facts indicate that they are the problem, is a challenge hard to overcome. The key to awareness is the openness of mind and acceptance of responsibility.
Coaching requires cooperation and a dialogue between two willing parties trying to accomplish a better outcome. It’s collaboration toward improvement, not a combative or competitive approach. An individual that refuses to accept constructive criticism is a person that is doomed to a life of mediocrity and stagnation. Professional growth happens when we listen carefully without judgment or bias, then evaluate the merits of these observations and incorporate the learned lessons in our daily behaviors.
Coaching Requires Humility
The best sales leaders take the time to identify their coaching strengths and weaknesses. Then they draft a written plan of actionable behaviors that will get them to achieve gradual progress.
Michael Dell is recognized as one of the best CEOs, yet he is more recognized for being someone who is always striving to become better by sharing his challenges with his employees. His humble approach became the unspoken guideline for the company. Being such a great role model made his company extremely desirable to external talent and investors.
People prefer working and doing business with well-managed companies. Great CEOs are great bosses, teachers, coaches and sources of inspiration to all. CEOs like Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos or Bill Gates managed to transform and elevate their industries to new heights. Humility is not the first trait that comes to mind when you think about these CEOs. We tend to believe that they become great because they are visionary, charismatic, super-intelligent, and courageous.
Humility is often seen as a self-effacing, low-value trait that is not associated with a strong leader. Yet, several research studies have concluded that great leadership is often exponentially enhanced when a leader displays genuine humility.
Humble leaders are great listeners; they are perceived as trustworthy and more inspirational because they take the time to connect with others and value their input. According to a study conducted by the Journal of Management. A survey of 105 computer software and hardware firms revealed that humility in CEOs led to higher leadership performance, increased engagement, collaboration, and flexibility in developing better strategies.
Jim Collins, in his book Good To Great, stated that the best CEOs displayed two common traits, humility and an unshakable desire to advance the cause of the organization.
Coaching Requires Stability
Low morale is prevalent in many sales organizations. When you dig deep to find the reason behind it, it often has to do with the CEO club culture. Good CEOs surround themselves with people who are better than they are. Corrupt CEOs surround themselves with people who are loyal and protective of them, people who kiss up and kick down. Poor culture often cascades down the chain and erodes performances.
A friend of mine told me about this Fortune 500 company that changed CEOs every eighteen months on average. Every new CEO brought along his old crew of trusted, well-compensated executives. They then proceeded to promote the new leaders, while demoting or forcing out legacy leaders. Every new CEO believed that his new hand-picked crew of managers would excel at the job.
The belief system generally leads to creating two separate leadership groups. The new leader group feels that they have the CEO on speed dial. In contrast, the old leadership team felt that their new leaders are not only arrogant and self-centered but clueless about the history and complexity of the business. The honeymoon does not last forever, and history repeats itself.
All leaders, regardless of longevity or rank, want to grow, feel appreciated, and get recognized for their contributions. Some people may be smarter than others in some areas, but everyone has a unique capability that can contribute to creating a better company. Every CEO has the obligation and duty to ensure that people work together as equals with mix capabilities and talent and in total harmony to improve the whole organization.
Coaching is a long-term investment in people and it requires full faith in the organization’s leadership, purpose, and mission. Coaching is often associated with job stability and the belief that the coach’s efforts will pay a high dividend in terms of higher performance and employee retention.
Behavioral Coaching Approach
The following necessary steps work if implemented correctly:
Determine the desired behavior that needs change. Clarify why the change is required and how the coachee will benefit from it. Ideally, you want to reach a collective agreement and commitment from both parties to turn this desired behavior into a reality.
Collect feedback. It’s vital to reach to multiple sources to determine if the practices that need changes are the right targets. You don’t want to spend enormous time and effort before realizing you were pursuing the wrong objectives. Validate that the behaviors you want to affect are the correct ones and that they are aligned with the areas of improvement the coachee desires.
Stay on your lane. Focus only on one or two behaviors at the time to generate real changes. You cannot focus on more than two items at the time, because you will lose the coachee focus.
Engage. Encourage the coachee to collect feedback from their clients and colleagues; the purpose is to achieve improvement. As a coach, you should act as a mental guide towards self-discovery. Progress occurs when the coachee realizes they are making progress following a plan they drafted and committed to its execution. Your role as a coach is primarily to encourage development and act as a mental compass towards your coachee goals.
Follow-up is critical to avoid relapses. Celebrate upon reaching each milestone, but keep the ball rolling forward by keeping the coachee engaged in achieving higher levels of mastery. Progress and continuous follow-up create faithful believers.
Evaluate results. Have the coachee take a mini-survey asking their colleagues and clients a few simple questions about the areas they work on to improve their appeal. If the results are positive, build on that success, and start focusing on new desired behaviors for the next 12 months.
Coaching Changes that Sticks
The right coaching can generate permanent changes, but personal commitment and engagement is a must.
Personal long-term commitment to improvement. Large organizations spend millions of dollars every year on various development programs. While most people benefit from these training sessions and activities in the short-term, many reverts to their way of doing business. The reason behind this behavior comes down to lack of commitment to improve, lack of desire to learn and adopt new techniques, lack of belief in the latest methods, or pure laziness. The best coach in the world cannot influence someone who has no desire to change.
Application of lessons learned and strategies. It’s all in the execution; lasting changes happen when education meets deliberate, repetitive practice and a strong willingness to change. Most training can add tremendous value to one’s knowledge, but knowing what to do doesn’t ignite the desire to do so.
We all know people who go through life, trying millions of diets to lose weight. I had a conversation with a successful heart surgeon who often advised people suffering from a heart issue to go on a specific diet to save their lives. The surgeon was extremely obese, and he knew better than anyone else the negative impact and effect that weight had on his health. He was educated, smart, and successful in many ways. When I asked him why he doesn’t apply his own advice, he answered with a sigh, “I love food.” Knowing what to do doesn’t always translate to the desire to do it. Even when you intellectually know that it’s killing you.”
Follow-up. Coaching effectiveness requires time and practice to stick. You cannot coach for a short period and expect it to work. Good coaches follow up relentlessly, because they care about their people, want to see progress, and want to evaluate the impact and value of their coaching process. Stable follow-up bonds, the coach and coachee, elevates the game, validate what works and what doesn’t, and demonstrate the value and impact of the process.
Hunger to get better. Coaching to create transformative changes takes time; it’s a long-term investment process. Leaders who view coaching as an occasional event will extract little or no value out of it. Personal development is more than an educational program, motivational activities, or training excursion. It’s an ongoing betterment process that should last a lifetime. The coach’s role is to act as a mental mirror that allows one to reflect on incremental improvements that lead to professional mastery.
Growth Through Coaching
Smart companies understand that without constant sales growth, they may not survive. Seeking markets and areas of new growth is paramount. Sales executives spend an enormous amount of time gathering and analyzing data to understand market dynamics and allocate the right resources to manage potential growth.
Growth can be achieved by focusing on multiple levers related to process, innovation, economic opportunities, verticals specialization, or market expansions targeting specific demographics. Growth can also occur by focusing on performance gaps such as the quality of delivery, sales activity, unique market demands, demographic needs, product appeal, improved sales approaches, data analytics, and innovative technologies. However, business growth can be dramatically influenced by people’s training and coaching methods. Great coaching can have a transformative power on turning good producers to great.
Coaching is a collaborative agreement where everyone needs to be on board to achieve the intended outcome. Great coaches use humility, approachability, and inspiration to lead people to achieve higher performances. Coaching minimizes wrong behaviors and improves skills, leading to higher self-confidence and greater performance. People who are not willing to be coached rarely become subject matters in their field.
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