Today’s post is by Dave Mattson, a bestselling author, sales and management thought leader, keynote speaker, and leader for sales training seminars around the world. As CEO and president of Sandler Training, Mr. Mattson oversees the corporate direction and strategy for the company’s global operations, including sales, marketing, consulting, alliances, and support. His key areas of focus are sales leadership, strategy, and client satisfaction.
As a manager, you always want to make sure your salespeople are fulfilling their potential. Every single touchpoint you have with them should be driven by a very simple question: How can you best support them in increasing both their effectiveness (their ability to do the right things) and their efficiency (their ability to do those things well)?
Questions All Sales Managers Must Ask Themselves
You also have to ask yourself some important questions about your own efficiency and effectiveness. For instance:
- How do you protect your own precious time?
- How do you avoid falling into a time trap, day after day?
- How do you keep yourself out of the stressful scenario in which you keep solving everyone else’s problems – often the same problems over and over again – while your team underperforms?
These are big questions. Their best answers, I believe, lie in your commitment to your own development within the one area that is, potentially, the single highest-impact element of your job as a manager: sales coaching.
The Importance of Sales Coaching
Many sales leaders underestimate the importance of sales coaching. This happens – at least in part – because they haven’t been exposed to the kinds of dramatic performance changes effective sales coaching can bring about. What’s more, they may begin with an incomplete understanding of what effective sales coaching really is.
Contrary to popular belief and practice, effective sales coaching is not “showing them how to do it.” It’s not listening in on a salesperson’s telephone call and then, once the call is over, sharing what you would have done and how you would have done it. It’s not wandering into the breakroom and sharing your own in-depth critique on the latest “one that got away” with a salesperson – in front of his or her peers. And it’s not summoning the team together into a room and sharing your favorite stories from the days when you were selling.
The True Definition of Sales Coaching
Sales coaching is a formal process that uses confidential one-on-one meetings to help salespeople achieve new levels of success by discovering the hidden issues that inhibit their performance.
That’s an important definition – one I’m going to suggest you try the next time you interact with any member of your sales team. Consider its implications and prepare to move outside your own comfort zone, just as (I assume) you want the members of your sales team to move beyond theirs.
Why Sales Coaching Is Not Telling Salespeople What to Do
Here’s the most challenging implication once again, the “big idea” that sometimes disorients sales managers we talk to: Sales coaching has absolutely nothing to do with directing the actions of the salesperson.
Instead, sales coaching is singularly focused on helping the individual you’re coaching to grow as a person – and, incidentally, perform more effectively within the role of salesperson. That kind of growth within the salesperson’s professional role is likeliest to happen when the coach facilitates the salesperson’s personal conclusions about better ways to act while in the selling environment.
In other words, coaching is all about supporting salespeople as they come to their own conclusions about certain behavioral changes they themselves decide to take on. It’s not, ever, about telling them what to do.
This kind of coaching represents about 35 percent of the successful leadership role and has the single greatest impact on the future success of the salesperson. It means changing the way you operate and takes time, attention, and effort. It means breaking the “performance code” for each individual salesperson on your team and supporting that salesperson over time. It sounds, at first, like it takes too much time.
But our experience, across multiple industries, is that effective sales coaching is always a net productivity gain for sales managers – because it frees managers from the (common) pattern of “putting out fires” for most or all members of the team.
The Nine Traits of Successful Sales Managers
This year, Sandler formalized the revolutionary sales coaching process laid out by the founder of our company, David H. Sandler. We did that in order to make mastery of the Sandler Coaching System easier for sales managers in any field, working with any size team. Here are the nine traits of managers who successfully implement the Sandler Coaching System.
- High self awareness: The coach has a high degree of self awareness and uses this to maintain an objective perspective during the coaching process. This means learning to think about the best ways to create opportunities for self discovery on the salesperson’s part – as opposed to getting pulled into “fix-it” mode.
- Balanced focus: The coach explores the salesperson’s mix of personal limiting negative beliefs and the professional issues affecting the salesperson’s performance – and understands that these combined factors can have a profound impact on sales performance. For instance: If a salesperson grew up being told repeatedly by a parent that very wealthy people are exploitative and greedy, that belief is likely to have an impact on the salesperson’s performance. The impact may become noticeable only as the salesperson approaches new, higher income levels. In the area of professional issues, a change in the compensation plan making it easier for that same salesperson to earn higher income levels might interact in complex ways with the limiting negative belief about being wealthy…and actually lower sales productivity!
- Ability to solve problems: The coach analyzes each salesperson individually and determines the true genesis of a problem, separating it from unrelated areas that might cause sidetracking. One common example would be the situation where a salesperson complains about the quality of his or her leads, but the real issue is call reluctance.
- Sincere interest and desire to help: The coach is sincerely interested in helping the salesperson develop as a person and does not view the coaching session as a perfunctory part of the manager’s role. Remember: Coaching is a time saver, not a time waster!
- Nurturing and nonjudgmental feedback skills: The coach focuses on giving neutral, nonjudgmental feedback. This focus protects the self worth of the salesperson and makes acceptance of the feedback much more likely. Here’s what that might sound like: “Amanda, thank you for sharing that. I agree – you really did a good job with bonding and rapport in that role play. So, now, let’s focus on the issue of setting a strong up-front contract, as it is not at all uncommon for people to need some time to get their head around, especially if they’re new to the Sandler Selling System.”
- Strategic thinking skills: The coach focuses on the big picture and works through issues strategically. This approach helps the salesperson broaden his or her thinking and explore all the available options. It’s absolutely essential that you connect everything you’re doing togetherin the coaching session to a specific personal goal – one that matters deeply to that salesperson. For instance, if it’s important to a salesperson to have $5,000 in savings so he can buy a nice engagement ring and propose to his girlfriend, that’s the “big picture” goal you’re both aiming to attain.
- Openness to new ideas and approaches: The coach displays openness during the coaching sessions and does not steer salespeople toward the coach’s desired result. This allows salespeople to take ownership of their own ideas and ensures personal acceptance and ownership of all new behaviors. The kind of openness we’re talking about might sound like this during a coaching conversation: “Let’s explore this together and find out if there is different way to attack this issue.”
- Trustworthiness: The coach earns a high degree of trust and recognizes the importance of being professionally vulnerable in order to create the right atmosphere for the coaching session. As a general rule, people don’t trust coaches who show zero vulnerability. Trust is built only over time, and it must be continuously strengthened – or it will decay. For instance, an effective coach wouldn’t use something learned during a coaching session as a weapon to win a later argument with the salesperson or as fuel for a sarcastic remark in front of the salesperson’s peers.
- Questioning and listening skills: The coach asks the difficult questions and then listens with both ears to the responses. The coach is at ease with any discomfort caused by questions asked as part of the coaching process. Only the salesperson’s honest answers to these tough questions can drive growth. The coach recognizes that the salesperson is only growing in understanding when responding – not when the coach is talking. Questions that support this kind of listening include: “Can you tell me more about that?” “Could you have done that differently?” “What happens if you did more of that behavior?”
Improving this one area of sales management – coaching – can have a huge positive impact in both the short term and the long term. When properly executed, sales coaching delivers a positive ripple effect that leads to truly remarkable performance turnarounds for both individuals and teams. I’ve seen it happen hundreds of times.
To learn more about the Sandler Coaching System, visit us at https://www.sandler.com/resources/sandler-books/coaching.