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Sales Coaching Excellence, Revisited

Sales coaching excellence is difficult to achieve, but it is one of the fundamental elements that one finds in highly effective sales organizations.

A couple of years back, I wrote a series of articles with my friend and former boss, John Golden about the need for sales leaders to focus on their craft as coaches. For the month of August, SalesPOP is taking a hard look at the sales training and coaching market, identifying the trends and issues affecting buyers of sales training and coaching programs.

A great deal has been written about sales coaching over the last two years since our original article was published. The good news is that the market has caught up to the idea that effective sales coaching is perhaps THE key differentiator that separates great sales organizations from average ones. Since training on its own does not change and improve sales behavior in a sustainable way, organizations are looking at how they coach and develop their sales people over time to affect change.

Also, technology has caught up to the trend. Coaching and conversation intelligence platforms are now available and affordable enough to address the problem of managers not being physically present to coach in the moment. Picture a team reviewing game tape together, and you’ll get a sense of what the niche players in the coaching and conversation intelligence software market have cooked up over the last few years. In 2017, we live in a brave new world of data, sales data in this case, and the latest wave of tools is meant to harness that data into insights for sales managers and salespeople alike.

As I read back my original post from 2015, I realized that while some of the obstacles to coaching have been addressed by technology, some of the most critical aspects of coaching remain just as challenging today as they were before. Achieving sales coaching excellence is not necessarily any easier today than it was two years ago. In fact, in some ways, it might even be harder. Allow to me build upon some of the thoughts I offered two years ago….

Coaching isn’t easy, and not everyone can or should be a coach. Coaching, whether you are the recipient or the provider, requires patience, self-awareness, humility, and a desire for improvement that exceeds one’s desire to maintain the status quo. Consider some of those traits and whether they are frequently found in professional salespeople. Patience? Humility? Those are rare traits in human beings, let alone in professional salespeople. Afraid of change? You can forget about being a great sales coach.

What else can get in the way of being a great sales coach?

In addition to my role as a professional sales leadership coach, I also coach youth football in my spare time. There are a few parallels between coaching eleven and twelve year old boys and coaching professional salespeople. Certainly both forms of coaching require a great deal of patience. Both forms of coaching require good planning, a focus on execution, and the ability to identify and capitalize on teachable moments. I am torn as to which form of coaching is more challenging until I consider the one obvious way in which youth coaching is more challenging than sales coaching. PARENTS!(If you’ve ever coached youth sports at any level, you know exactly what I am talking about.)

Sales coaching presents some of its own specific challenges and opportunities, as well. Following are a few of them:

  • Avoiding the temptation to sell for the sales person – One of the greatest temptations for professional sales coaches is to step in and take over, to demonstrate what great looks like while the salesperson observes. This is a big no-no. If you have arranged with a salesperson to participate in a sales call as a coach, then sit back, be quiet, and observe. Otherwise, you are not coaching… you’re selling.
  • Focusing on Planning, Execution, and Review – One of the more challenging aspects of being a sales coach is to maintain a consistent rhythm with those you are coaching. That rhythm comprises three basic elements… Planning, Execution, and Review. It stands to reason that if you help your team to plan effectively, pay attention to how they execute those plans, and measure their success according to the outcomes they achieve, then you will have a solid basis from which to help them improve their own performance. That consistent rhythm is relatively simple to describe which implies that it is simple to execute. Not so. Factor in the normal distractions, customer related issues, and other responsibilities facing a sales manager on a day-to-day basis, and one will begin to understand why it can be so difficult to maintain such a simple rhythm.
  • Reinforcing Skills and Role-Playing – Have you ever played a round of golf without first visiting the driving range or the practice green? Have you ever participated in a recital without warming up or walking through your music or your steps? How did that work out for you? In a similar way, professional selling without regular practice, reinforcement, and live walk-throughs or role-playing leaves a seller unprepared to perform at his or her best.

Skill reinforcement and role-playing are often sidelined by events…overtaken by the day-to-day tasks and reactivity that is often a part of selling. This is one of the areas where having a coaching platform that records practice sessions can be such an enormous help to a sales manager. Just a few years ago, not being physically present to observe and give feedback on practice sessions or live interactions with salespeople meant that a coach would have to take salespeoples’ word regarding the effectiveness of their execution. Practice would happen so infrequently that it would feel uncomfortable every time instead of feeling more comfortable and more valuable to salespeople over time. Now, with coaching and conversation intelligence platforms so highly available, those problems have been overcome.

  • Coaching versus Selling – In Chapter 2 of my new book, The Cadence of Excellence (Eaton Press, September 2017), I write about what it takes to influence a team’s behavior. Without giving away the entire chapter, those responsible for leading salespeople need to recognize that they cannot lead by exerting their power but they must lead with influence. Leading salespeople to a place where they are committed to excellence and crave coaching requires that a sales manager take their team communication game to a new level. Spoiler alert: In this chapter, I reveal that effective coaching and effective selling look an awful lot alike. In fact, I go so far as to say that coaching is selling.

What tools are you using to prepare when you have to sell a salesperson on doing something differently? If this is the first time someone has asked you that question, then welcome to the modern era of sales leadership and coaching. You are now expected to use tools and data to prepare for coaching sessions with your people. Are you prepared for that?

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United Sales Resources provides practical and actionable coaching and advice to sales managers, so they can drive better sales results. To learn more about our sales management coaching and advisory services, please visit www.usr-llc.com.

What have you found successful in sales coaching? Leave us a comment!

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