The Sales leaders of today, as well as overall business leaders and business owners want to win net new business, get more business from existing clients, increase sales productivity, and produce more predictable sales forecasts. To execute on this, they need to increase the sales force’s win rate, and improve the participation rates, i.e., get a higher percentage of reps hitting their numbers. This can only be executed with solid sales leadership and coaching.
It is widely recognized that improving sales coaching is the most important ingredient in improving overall sales effectiveness in the sale force. And yet it is also recognized that managers are not coaching enough nor are they coaching effectively. One of the biggest bangs for your development dollar will be in ensuring your sales management team is effectively coaching and performance managing your sales team.
In a study of 2,000 salespeople by the Sales Executive Council, salespeople who received three or more hours of sales coaching per month on average reached 107 percent of their quota, as compared to 88 percent of quota for salespeople who received little or no coaching.
That’s a 19% improvement in results from coaching alone.
In researching for my upcoming book The Street Savvy Sales Leader I interviewed over 100 sales professionals. Of the sales leaders I interviewed 100% said that coaching was important and played a role in improving sales results, but only 60% said that they coached regularly (regularly means at least once every two weeks). That doesn’t exactly bode well for ongoing continuous improvement of your sales teams.
I know of one employee survey in a large sales organization, where the number one major issue that came out of the sales teams was that they wanted more real time face to face coaching, meaningful coaching. Clearly, sales people are starving for an opportunity to be coached to get better at their craft.
When I think of the best managers I ever had as a sales rep it was a manager who really had my back and truly wanted me to be successful. He no doubt wanted to be successful himself as a sales leader, but his way of being successful himself was putting his people first. He was always there to help, to listen, to provide guidance, to provide support in strategic account planning and, support in bouncing ideas. I remember early in my career going into his office with a challenge or a problem, and he always had time for me.
You never felt like you were bothering him. He truly wanted me to perform, and to win. Because of that, as a sales rep I sincerely wanted to be successful as much for him as for myself. I wanted to be the best I could be, because I knew if I was, it would help him and if I wasn’t it would disappoint him and I did not want to disappoint him. I remember vividly working especially hard at the end of a year to bring in as much business as I possibly could because I wanted to make sure he made it to Presidents Club. His whole team felt the same way. The whole sales team worked their butts off to ensure he would make it to the Presidents Club trip that year. And he did.
During my interviews with sales people, some of those that perceived they had received good coaching made comments like the following; they were, “inspired and motivated to put in the extra effort, it increased my drive”, “when your guided and properly supported, you learn from that and benefit from improved results”, “with transparency and trust, you end up sharing more as a result, so you get to answers or solutions quicker”, they inspire you, build your confidence, when they have your back, you’ll do anything for them”. You think better and focus better because they cared about me.”
Powerful words I think, its that kind of followership that gets you Best in Class sales results.
Mike Weinberg put it this way, “The very best sales managers are Multipliers. They subdue their own egos for the sake of their people. They understand that their mission is to win through their salespeople. They don’t micromanage every detail. When necessary, they ask insightful questions that challenge the status quo and a sales person’s approach. Instead of jumping in and taking over at every chance, they look for coaching opportunities. Great sales managers deflect the credit; they don’t steal it. And they often jump in front of the bus to protect their people rather than throwing them under it so they look good themselves.” (1)
Like many levers to improve sales results, coaching requires the support of the organization, it needs to be a constant and regular cadence. That is, it needs to be conducted on an ongoing basis as an organization practise. There is a skill and a competency to coaching that is underestimated. Coaching is not only looking at numbers, and it is not asking why you didn’t make certain metrics or kpi’s. In other words being a “Dashboard Junky”. It’s not dictating a certain style.
Like sales itself, coaching is part art and part science. It’s the great managers who know when and how to apply each.
Coaching is not telling the sales rep what to do or how to do something like making a cold call, or closing a deal. The easiest way to manage a sales rep is to simply tell them how to do something. You are the expert, just share your knowledge.
Simple, right? The problem is the sales rep won’t learn anything, and you must have the same conversation repeatedly. Sure, it might make you feel good, it’s good for the ego to solve something, to have an answer for some issue, or behavioral challenge.
What I’ve learned is that it is far more rewarding to coach properly and more thoughtfully because you really witness how you have genuinely helped someone. You have helped them become better at what they do with lasting effect. It’s a little more difficult, you must put aside your need to solve something quickly and move on, your ego’s need to look and feel like the expert. But in the long run you are not being an effective coach and it’s not scalable if you just dictate or correct. If you coach to lasting effect, the less often they will need you going forward, you won’t have to resolve every problem every time.
The questioning process in effective coaching will take more of your valuable time. True coaching is gaining their trust and sincerely working on helping them be better at what they do. The only way to do that is to ask questions, after a call ask them how they think the call went, how they think they could have improved. How did they open the call, how did the customer react to their opening, how did the customer react to their questions? Why do you think the customer reacted that way? What other way could you have tried that might have been more effective? Did you tell a relevant story? What value or insight did you discuss that resonated with the client?
This way of coaching forces the reps to really dig in and think about what they’ve done in a given situation. They need to really look at how they planned for the call, what decisions they made in terms of strategy to get to the decision maker. Whatever the issue, ask questions first, then help them solve the problem, or improve the behavior together. If they self identify you will get longer lasting results, and the rep will own the change more fully.
I believe that sales management and effective coaching is the key lever in your ability to create a best in class sales team, without it, you will not achieve your revenue growth targets. I liken sales coaching to the sports coaching we see daily, whether it be team sports like hockey or football, or individual sports like golf and tennis, everyone needs a coach, no matter how good you are.
I recommend that any sales manager that wants to be the best he or she can be should make sure that they receive the coaching training they need to be managers. If your company doesn’t offer it, ask if they will support you financially to get the training on your own. If not I would invest in it on your own, it will definitely pay off in your career and in your teams results.
I have spent over 60 hours working on becoming a certified business coach and it has made the world of difference in my conversations with sales people.
I would be happy to refer you to an excellent coaching program if you're interested. Just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Yes the manager has to pay attention to the results, the activity, the KPI’s and other metrics, but I believe more importantly, the manager has to pay more attention to real time effective coaching, helping their people be the best that they can be, day in and day out.
For more information and insights in regards to coaching and other sales organization thoughts refer to my website, www.streetsavvysalesleadership.com, or reserve an order for my upcoming book, The Street Savvy Sales Leader, A Guide To Building Teams That Consistently Win New Business.
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1. Mike Weinberg. New Sales. Simplified: The Straight Truth about Getting Exceptional Results from Your Sales Team. New York: AMACOM, 2014, p. 38.