Today's post is by Norman Behar, CEO and managing director at Sales Readiness Group, an industry-leading sales training company that helps industry-leading companies develop and deliver customized sales and sales-management training programs. Follow Norman on Twitter @NormanBehar.
One of the primary reasons sales managers neglect to coach their sales reps is that they don’t know how. The good news is that most sales managers already have many of the skills and attributes they need to become great sales coaches.
First and foremost, sales managers need to make sure they have an intrinsic desire to see others succeed. This may not always be the case. Many managers were formerly individual contributors and aren’t necessarily cut out to be great managers. As a sales rep, their performance was likely measured, compensated, and recognized based on their personal success. As a manager, though, they now have to take satisfaction in the fact that their success is based on the performance of their team. For many star performers who are used to the limelight, this can be too difficult a transition. Consequently, they would be better suited (personally and for their employer) to remain in an individual contributor role.
Assuming sales managers are motivated to help others succeed, sales experience can be their greatest attribute. Having succeeded in sales prior to taking a management position gives them the credibility to offer insights and guidance as a coach. This is particularly true when it comes to opportunity coaching, which involves helping salespeople implement strategies for specific sales opportunities. As an example, this can occur during a weekly review of the sales pipeline with an emphasis on challenging opportunities. In this situation, the manager can actively listen to gain a better understanding of the specific challenge (e.g., competitive threat) and discuss strategies based on his or her personal experience to advance the opportunity.
A bigger challenge for managers is skills coaching, which involves helping their reps develop better selling skills. At a high level, this involves developing a sales coaching mindset, determining what skills to coach on, and following a defined coaching process.
As part of the coaching process, sales managers will need to create (or, better yet, co-create) coaching plans focused on specific selling skills, observe sales calls, and debrief following the call. Here are a few tips for each of these areas.
Create a coaching plan: Even if salespeople need to work on many skills, it is best to identify just two or three skills at a time – then establish a reasonable timeline for seeing improvement. For example, the manager could ask the salesperson to work on managing customer objections over a calendar quarter. This keeps the plan highly focused and actionable, which is beneficial both for the rep and coach. Wait to address other areas until these initial skills have met expectations.
Observe sales calls: (or listen in if you manage an inbound team): Managers often confuse joining reps on sales calls with coaching. It is only coaching if the manager observes (focusing primarily on the key skills identified in the plan) and the rep does the selling. While the manager may comment briefly from time to time, the emphasis needs to be on the sales rep’s development – not helping them sell. That doesn’t mean there aren’t times when it is beneficial for both the rep and manager to sell (provided they stick to their roles) – or for the manager to lead the sales call (for instance, when training a new rep) – but these are not coaching calls. In a coaching call, the manager observes the customer interaction with an emphasis on the specific areas identified for improvement.
Debrief following a call: The debrief should take place as soon as practical after the call (potentially even on the car ride to the next call). While the manager may be tempted to immediately share what went wrong or things the sales rep could have done better, he or she needs to resist this temptation. Instead, the sales manager should offer a few encouraging words about something that went well, and then lead the rep in self-discovery regarding the skills he or she is working to improve. This will allow for more ownership of the improvement by the rep and more productive coaching conversations.
Ultimately, coaching should be a rewarding experience for the both the sales rep and the manager. Keeping this in mind is the start to a great coaching program.
If you’re looking for more insights on essential sales coaching skills, I encourage you to get a complimentary copy of our Sales Coaching Guide for Sales Managers.