Today's post is by Justin Zappulla, managing partner at Janek Performance Group.
As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, many sales teams quickly adapted new skills to sell in the virtual environment. At the same time, however, many were ill prepared for the challenges of coaching remotely, such as the time required to coach a dispersed team. In an office, coaching opportunities present themselves organically. Managers sit at a rep’s computer or teams gather in conference rooms and even cater lunch. However, it’s different in a virtual world. Coaching practices geared toward in-person interaction did not readily translate, and for virtual coaching to be effective, managers had to find ways to sufficiently engage their reps. Here are a few ways sales managers can meet the challenges of remote coaching.
Actively engage reps
To coach successfully in a virtual environment, managers must change the dynamic. An overly prescriptive coaching engagement, where the manager speaks most of the time, will be even less effective virtually. Managers should encourage reps to speak up, invest in the coaching, and buy in to the desired outcomes. A basic tenet of sales has always been to believe in your product. Virtual coaching practices that encourage participation increase commitment, making reps stronger representatives for their customers and clients. This also aids retention as reps develop a stake in the organization’s long-term goals.
Create an open environment
Key to creating engagement in virtual coaching is adapting how managers and reps communicate. In virtual, it’s essential to utilize open-ended questions. Similar to how successful sales reps use open-ended questions to uncover a client’s needs, managers must communicate honestly, build trust, and foster a willingness to engage in the coaching initiatives that increase performance and drive sales. Combined with open-ended questions, closed questions can provide confirmation and indicate buy-in. By themselves, however, they can make reps defensive. Remember, many reps already feel anxious from the isolation of working remotely, so employing a combination of open-ended and closed questions makes for a comfortable and enjoyable coaching experience.
Focus on quality communication
In virtual coaching, written and verbal communication require greater attention. As sales managers rely more on email, they must avoid miscommunication that stems from carelessness. While reps can readily note a manager’s joke in person, it’s easy to misconstrue a comment in an email. Without the benefit of body language, isolated reps might find themselves stressing over a misinterpreted comment that the manager meant humorously. Also, managers should read emails aloud to ensure their tone isn’t short, curt, or out of alignment with their intended meaning.
On video, managers should reassure remote reps they are valued and appreciated. On the phone, without facial expressions, meaning can blur, especially when criticizing or critiquing a rep’s performance. As in face-to-face coaching, virtual coaching should always seek to build a rep up. In virtual, this requires a little extra awareness to preserve feelings and ensure a productive coaching experience.
Today, technology is essential to coaching. Sales managers must be able to communicate and collaborate with remote reps through video and other conferencing applications. They must share data from their CRM, review recorded calls, and listen to live calls in real time. In addition, as technology is only as useful as its functionality, both managers and reps must troubleshoot the issues common to virtual interaction and prepare a network within their organization to ensure remote reps have access and support if something fails. Also, both managers and reps should be proficient with the tools of virtual collaboration, such as screen sharing and whiteboarding, to get the most from virtual coaching.
In the aftermath of the pandemic, it’s easy to see how sales coaching took a backseat as organizations struggled to maintain sales in the remote environment. Gradually, as organizations adapted and the need for coaching grew, it became clear the old way was no longer effective. Instead, as their teams adjusted to sell virtually, sales managers modified their coaching practices to suit the changing needs of their remote sales force. Going forward, as the virtual model continues to grow, successful managers will consistently update their coaching to ensure the productivity and success of their sales teams.
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