Coaching salespeople to achieve their sales goals is priority one of the sales manager. I interviewed seasoned sales leaders in a variety of industries across the country to get their take on what it means to effectively coach salespeople. Here are the essential lessons that continually emerged from our discussions.
1. Role-model the right behaviors
Before you can coach, you must make sure that your sales rep knows what they are supposed to do. Give them a template to follow. Anthony Castore, the Senior Vice President of Sales for Agaia, a green products manufacturer, takes it a step further: "My new sales reps must sit in on ten full sales processes (from prospecting to presentation to close) before he or she can sell." He says that this prevents training from getting lost in translation. The sales rep experiences the right way to sell for the company before they drive the sales process themselves.
2. Observe your salespeople selling on a regular basis
When I speak to sales leaders, far too often they simply don't know what their salespeople are doing out in the field. Observation is a coaching priority; especially when a sales rep fails to meet quota. Take the time to objectively evaluate your sales reps in the field and on the phone and then document your observations. This forms the basis of your coaching. Without this intel on your reps, you cannot effectively develop their skills.
Thomas Chang,Vice President of Sales for CimaNanoTech, has a twist on a common sales philosophy. "People say, 'Always listen to your customers, but I say, listen to your salespeople.'" He takes the time to listen to their sales calls and their observations about their sales calls. He learns a lot about what and how his sales reps think. This forms the basis of his approach to coaching.
3. Define your coaching objectives
Spell out what the two of you agree on as success. Outcomes are the priority here since you'll fill in the activities required to achieve it in the next step. If you want your sales rep to increase sales, then what specifically do they need to achieve in order to increase sales? Double their pipeline? Increase their size of transaction by 20%? Improve margins by 7%?
So, the question now becomes, what do you do if your sales rep is resistant to your coaching objectives? Joe Cleary, who is the Sales Director for Applied Software, understands that not all salespeople are willing to be coached in all circumstances. "When all else fails with a sales rep who is resistant to coaching, you just have to pull rank."
He makes it clear that sales goal achievement is the primary focus of the sales team. Anything that takes away from that--especially attitude issues or unwillingness to be coached must be addressed quickly.
4. Create a custom development plan
Every sales rep is different so you'll have to customize your plan to suit them. Fran Ahern, VP Sales of Hosting, a managed cloud services company, says that different people respond to different things. "The sales leader must get inside the head of their salespeople, read them, study them and really find out what motivates them."
Since all sales reps are not the same, customizing a development plan is essential to maximizing the time, energy and effort you put into coaching your sales rep. Take plenty of time to develop each plan for each sales rep. Evergreen coaching plans don't work. Personalize them.
5. Coach to your plan
Training, reinforcement, role-playing, testing, challenging, questioning, technology, etc. Each of these can be an important element of sales coaching. The objective is specific skill improvement that leads to improved sales results.
Herb Siegel, a senior advisor and experienced sales leader to a number of companies over his career, believes that some of the best coaching is during live sales calls. For inside sales reps, he advocates for phone system technology such as the whisper feature. This allows a Sales Manager to listen in on a live call of a trained sales rep to evaluate their performance.
They can coach the sales rep during the call, without the prospect hearing them. In other cases, where the sales rep needs an intervention on the call, he prefers the barge feature. During the live sales call, the Sales Manager can take over the call and work the deal together with the sales rep.
Mark Reynolds, Regional Sales Manager at Service Express says to focus on their strengths. The most difficult aspect of coaching (especially with resistant sales reps) is getting them to see the personal benefit if they change their technique. "I like to show them how to do it and let them experience success looks like." Repetition is the key to success here, so be prepared to take the coaching as far as necessary to ensure your sales rep move from competency to mastery.
6. Evaluate results
As you implement your coaching plan, you'll begin to see behavioral changes emerge. As you evaluate your sales reps' progress, be prepared to continually monitor and assist as necessary to help them through the coaching process. Did your sales rep double their pipeline? Increase their size of transaction by 20%? Did they improve margins by 7%?
Evaluating sales performance means sometime stepping in to help. Other times, it means allowing the sales rep to crash and burn. A lost sale can be the best teacher and produce long-term results. The goal is to be sure you and your sales rep are aligned with the goal and how to get there.
Rex Brown, Vice President Sales at Zenger Folkman shares his simple, yet effective coaching philosophy:"Ask questions--don't tell. Help them come to their own conclusions. If they do, they will own them." That way the sales rep is personally invested in working on skill development and achieving higher level results.
7. Adjust as necessary
As your observations and interactions with your sales reps provide you with more information, make adjustments in order to ensure you get the outcomes you want. It may take more training or more reinforcement. Again, it may require a difficult conversation for those sales reps who are resistant to coaching.
Evan Carlson, Vice President North American Sales for EasyVista, a mobile-first service management company states, "If reps are not willing to be coached, then it won't work. When they are coachable, they can improve and succeed with the tools and advice we give them. We approach coaching from 4 to 5 different angles to ensure they're as confident as we are that it will help them win."
He goes on to say that there are different triggers for each salesperson such as praise, recognition, relationships, money and competition. The most powerful form of motivation is "challenge" because, he says, you can challenge a salesperson negatively or positively. And depending on the individual, either one can yield greater results.
For example, a motivating negative challenge would sound like this: "You can't do that, it will cost you the deal." For a more positive motivating challenge, it might sound like this: "I believe you can do that, but approach it a different way."
8. Serve the interests of your sales team
Great sales leaders know that their reps are the one's to get the glory--not themselves. Rick Ashcroft, the Senior Vice President of Grey Jean Technologies, a New York based consumer marketing automation company works from a principled form of leadership with his sales team: "I believe in servant leadership. It's everyone's responsibility to serve up and down in an organization, as well as to the left and to the right. No one person should be in a position to unilaterally determine someone else's fate." Sales leaders with the most successful sales teams live to serve and grow their reps into better performers.
Take a note from these experienced sales leaders to implement some of the strategies listed here and you'll discover how quickly your sales team can see measurable improvements in their sales results.