Effective sales managers are able to adapt their coaching approach to the needs of each salesperson on their team. And to do that effectively it’s important for coaches to understand the stages of development, or what is commonly referred to as a “learning curve.” As a salesperson progresses through this learning process your coaching approach should change accordingly. Here are four examples:
1) Enthusiastic beginner: They have a lot of excitement and energy for the job. But you need to realize they are in the “unconscious incompetent” phase of learning — they don’t know what they don’t know, and are likely to think they know more than they really do. They will talk a good game. Your coaching challenge is to help develop their expertise to a point where it justifies their confidence.
Keys to coaching success: Take advantage of their enthusiasm to ensure they form good daily work habits. Build their skills, and place extra emphasis in the area of new business development.
Do a lot of role-playing with these beginners so you can see how well they practice key skills. Most often you will play the customer role, but switch it around occasionally so the rep becomes better at seeing a situation through the customer’s eyes—an invaluable skill developed by expert salespeople. Also, be sure to monitor the outputs of their work throughout the entire selling process, not just at the end. You don’t want to learn they have missed key points on the day before they submit a proposal to the customer!
Review memos and emails to prospects before they go out so you can make sure the novice salesperson isn’t jumping too quickly to prescribe solutions without fully understanding the customer’s needs.
2) The disillusioned learner: This rep in the not too distant past was an enthusiastic beginner. But now they’ve realized it’s going to take a continued commitment to prospecting and business development to succeed. Positive sales results are still a ways off in the future, so they tend to get frustrated with hard work and lackluster results. Your challenge is to help the rep maintain their enthusiasm while pushing through this mentally challenging period.
Keys to coaching success: These reps are on a rollercoaster… just coming off that first huge high and headed for a motivation dip. By providing both direction and support you can ensure they ride back upwards sooner rather than later. Focus on helping them develop sound work habits that will make them successful and build a strong territory for the long haul. Inspire them by offering encouragement and examples of other salespeople who went through a similar rough patch.
3) The emerging contributor: This is the rep who is just now starting to produce. You need to walk a fine line here. On the one hand, you don’t want to be too effusive with your praise because they may plateau—misinterpreting it as complete acceptance and recognition that are already successful, which isn’t true. On the other hand, you don’t want to destroy their confidence or discourage them. How they handle this phase can determine the level of their success in the future.
Keys to coaching success: High expectations by you is the key to everything with an emerging contributor. Your attitude toward this kind of rep must be, “OK, you are improving. And I am pleased to see your progress. But I know you can be even better. Let’s see how good you can really be.” Gradually increase the height of the bar – your expectations — and congratulate the person on reaching key milestones. But then challenge them to analyze current or past situations and think about what they could have done better — then ask how they’ll apply that lesson to the next situation.
4) The disillusioned veteran: At one point in the past, this rep was motivated and successful. But now they’ve become stuck in a rut. They likely still have respectable sales numbers but their bad attitude or a sense of entitlement based on past success can harm the whole team.
Keys to coaching success: To know how to deal with a disillusioned veteran, you need figure out what has demotivated them. Probe the situation: Is it a personal problem outside work? Something about your company’s policy and procedures they find discouraging? A problem they have with your supervision –how they are being managed? The compensation plan?
If there is something you can change to make the problem go away, do it. And no matter what, get the rep to either focus on something about the situation they CAN control or shift their focus away from the issue. Try to re-engage them in helping to shape the success of your sales team, perhaps by mentoring a younger rep.
By learning to adapt your sales coaching style based on each rep’s stage of professional development, you can get better at providing the kind of help that will be most useful to them when they need it most. That’s what’s being a coach for all seasons means.