Today’s guest post is by Norman Behar, CEO of Sales Readiness Group, an industry-leading sales training company that helps Fortune 500 companies develop and deliver customized sales and sales-management training programs. Follow Norman on Twitter: @NormanBehar.
Sales coaching is vital to the success of sales teams. However, coaching cannot solve all problems. How can you tell when coaching is the best option? We’ve formulated a Development Matrix to help sales managers systematically identify the skills and behaviors that are best addressed specifically by coaching.
To use the matrix, first assess the skills of your salespeople from both a proficiency and motivation standpoint. A skill gap based on proficiency means a salesperson isn’t able to perform a task because he or she doesn’t know how, whereas a gap rooted in motivation reveals a lack of desire. For example, a seasoned sales professional may have excellent prospecting skills (high proficiency) but absolutely no desire to make cold calls (low motivation).
The reason both dimensions (proficiency and motivation) are important is that the combined assessment points the manager to the action he or she should take to address the skill gap. Let’s see how the Development Matrix can quickly help you determine when coaching is the appropriate management action to improve skills.
1) Empowering (High Proficiency/High Motivation)
Assume you have a salesperson on your team who is a great negotiator – rating extremely high in both proficiency and motivation. Here, I’d suggest that the appropriate management action is empowerment, not coaching. In other words, you should increase this salesperson’s control and accountability rather than trying to change his or her behavior. You could do this by letting the salesperson manage a complex negotiation without your direct involvement.
The benefit to you is that, by shifting more responsibility to a highly skilled and motivated salesperson, you create “leverage” by having the salesperson do more of the work (and solving their own problems) – thus freeing up your own time.
Caution: some managers have trouble letting go and truly empowering a salesperson, so be careful not to empower with one hand but then take away with the other by micromanaging the details.
2) Training (Low Proficiency/High Motivation)
New salespeople aren’t proficient in many skills, but are nonetheless highly motivated. In these cases, coaching isn’t effective since these reps don’t yet have a baseline level of proficiency. Here, training is the most effective management action to improve skills.
Training differs from coaching in that it tends to be much more structured and less customized. Sales training is typically done in small groups, not one to one – although ramping up new salespeople may be an exception to this rule. Also, remember that most adult learners forget 80 to 85 percent of what they learn within 30 days of a training event. So, to make training effective, you must follow it up with ongoing reinforcement, including coaching.
3) Directing (Low Proficiency/Low Motivation)
When a specific skill rates low in both proficiency and motivation, you need to direct, not coach. That means giving direction or instructions on how, what, and when to accomplish a task.
As a sales manager, there are many times when it is appropriate to direct; for instance, when someone is new in their position. That being said, having to continually direct a salesperson is a very inefficient use of time, and therefore, this action should be used sparingly.
4) Performance Counseling (High Proficiency/Low Motivation)
Performance counseling is appropriate when the salesperson has previously demonstrated high proficiency in a certain skill, but, for whatever reason, has developed low motivation.
The goal of performance counseling is to investigate and intervene to address motivational or attitudinal issues that negatively impact job performance. It’s a complex management action that requires great care. Always contact your HR department before attempting performance counseling, and be sure to keep the conversation focused on observable behaviors, not judgments.
5) Coaching (Average Skill/Average Motivation)
Coaching is the most common management action to develop selling skills because coaching assumes a baseline level of proficiency and is great for fine tuning behaviors. That is why the “Coaching Diamond” takes up the largest area on the Development Matrix.
The reason coaching is so powerful is that – as proficiency and motivation go from average to high – salespeople move to Empowerment, freeing up your time.
While coaching can’t address every development need, it is highly effective in improving average skills. For any sales manager interested in becoming a better sales coach, the Development Matrix is a powerful tool that will help you quickly determine the appropriate development action for improving the skills of your salespeople, including when to coach.
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.