The best sales managers are also masters at coaching their people, but the broad use of the term “coaching,” can be very confusing.
Sales coaching is different from managing, mentoring or training someone. Old school management style focused on prescribing solutions. Better said, sales managers would tell their salespeople what to do.
According to Keith Rosen, author of Coaching Salespeople Into Sales Champions, these managers “think they already know what their people’s developmental gaps are, simply by looking at the person’s activity, results and a spreadsheet. But if you’re not asking well crafted, open ended, non-loaded coaching questions or you’re not observing them, then you’re filling in the facts with assumptions or getting your data from a spreadsheet.”
The rationale for coaching salespeople.
For starters, it leads to the achievement of better sales results but according to Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson of CEB, sales leaders need to focus their coaching attention on the middle tier of performers.
In their Harvard Business Review article The Dirty Secret of Effective Sales Coaching, they argue that sales leaders too often spend the majority of their coaching time with either the high flyers or the bottom performers, which typically results in very little improvement, if any at all. They suggest that coaching time spent with the middle 60% can lead to a roughly 19% improvement in sales performance. At the time Dixon and Adamson wrote their article, they said that their research didn’t sit well with sales leaders, and I’d be curious to know if anything has changed.
I suppose it is natural for sales leaders to think that coaching the bottom performers will lead to results that benefit the entire team, but that’s possibly misguided thinking. You’d have to move that needle pretty far for any improvement with the bottom 10-20% of their salespeople to make much impact on the overall revenue goal. Coaching middle performers to higher levels of achievement makes sense.
Coaching is a learned skill.
Thinking back to my corporate sales management days when coaching was becoming popular, managers were told that they now needed to be “player-coaches”. Basically, we were told that we needed to coach our people not just manage them, but honestly, nobody gave us any training.
We were just expected to morph into someone who could successfully coach people or who understood that there was a big difference between coaching and managing. The other challenge is that coaching salespeople (or anyone) to greatness relies on a foundation of trust. If you have a situation where the employee doesn’t have a good relationship with the sales manager or the salesperson doesn’t trust their manager has their back, coaching will fail.
Once I started my own business, I realized that becoming a coach made a lot of sense, and I went on to become certified through the Coaches Training Institute. Highly interactive and hands-on, I had close to 150 hours of real-time coaching by the time I became certified. What I learned throughout my 6-months of training remains a benefit to me to this day.
Unfortunately, companies don’t seem to be making the art of coaching a priority for their sales leaders. Managers are typically left to figure it out on their own and many never do.
It has always fascinated me that in sports, the concept of teams and individuals working with a coach to improve overall performance is widely accepted and invested in. When it comes to coaching salespeople to superstar status, managers are left to flounder around.
When you think about it, if you want your salespeople to consistently hit sales targets and achieve individual goals, sales managers must constantly be coaching their people. It seems to make sense that you might have to invest in training them.
Finally, let’s talk about what makes a good coach good. They…
- Create a safe space for open dialog
- Ask good, open-ended questions
- Don’t prescribe solutions
- Hold people accountable to their commitments
Top sales coaches focus on strengths and not the weaknesses of team members. It is important to understand the person’s motivations, encourage and inspire them to achieve greater results, adopt a unique approach with each individual (instead of a one-size-fits-all approach) and foster an environment that allows the individual to thrive and become successful.
And what has all of this got to do with social selling?
It’s a new day. Today’s sellers need to think in a completely different way when it comes to how they sell. Sales skills need to be ramped up and there is technology to learn to use effectively. Salespeople need managers who can coach them in the nuances of merging digital strategies with time tested, successful sales process. For that – sales leaders likely need a little coaching themselves!