One question I ask in all my seminars is “what is ineffective sales coaching?” Participants have no trouble coming up with lots of examples. They talk about managers who wait too long before addressing a problem, those who do all the talking and no listening, and those who do not attempt to gain buy-in for needed changes. And those answers are just the tip of the iceberg.
I was fortunate early in my career to have a sales manager who was a model of how to do sales coaching right. Above all, he and other great sales managers I’ve observed over the years are very consistent in their approach to coaching because they developed specific habits—behaviors that come as naturally to them as drinking coffee in the morning or wearing certain clothing. Here are three habits I think are most useful for great sales coaches.
1. Daily Sales Coaching
Ineffective sales managers wait until numbers fall off before they offer coaching to a rep.
A great sales coach offers coaching every day. Not now and then or whenever they feel like it or after they notice a problem.
Time for coaching is hardwired into their calendars, so they aren’t as easily distracted by “urgent” tasks that are important to someone else but not to them.
Daily coaching is a great way to prevent small problems from becoming lost deals. When a sales manager is working regularly with reps, they can catch problems early on in the sales process. Wouldn’t you rather offer coaching that helps a rep double the size of a deal rather than essentially hold a post mortem on why a deal was lost?
2. Observing Sales Reps Before Diagnosing and Prescribing
I’ve known many sales managers who only had one reaction when a rep had poor results: “Make more calls!”
That advice doesn’t help if the rep’s problem lies in what they are saying during a call or how they follow up with a prospect afterwards. If a rep is stumbling with the close rather than initial contact, making more calls is just going to lead to more failures.
Great sales coaches offer advice that is tailored to each rep’s specific competencies and needs. To be that specific, they have to study and observe the rep in action so they can accurately diagnose what’s going on and then prescribe a targeted solution.
3. Using a Socratic Approach When Offering Solutions
Socrates was a Greek philosopher who asked questions of students rather than lecture them or simply pass on information. This approach helped students develop their critical thinking skills.
Great sales coaches have this same mentality. They can probably diagnose a rep’s problem very quickly. But they don’t just tell the rep what’s wrong and how to fix it. The rep doesn’t learn much that way.
Instead, a great sales coach will ask questions that guide the rep in a particular direction. Suppose, for example, that a rep is having difficulty moving beyond the initial contact person to reach other decision makers.
The coach observes the rep on a call, then asks questions that require the rep to do a self-evaluation:
• How did you think that went?
• What did you think about the contact’s response to _______?
• What questions do you think this prospect couldn’t answer themselves? How could you use those questions to get referred to other stakeholders?
Building a Habit of Trust
The more you develop the habits of a great sales coach, the more your reps will know what to expect from you, and the more they will trust that you have their best interests at heart. And that will have a positive impact on all your interactions with your team members.
Kevin F. Davis is the author of “The Sales Manager’s Guide to Greatness: 10 Essential Strategies for Leading Your Team to the Top.” The book is now available on Amazon.com here.