Coaching the sales cycle on important sales opportunities at the right time in the sales cycle can help your salespeople close more big deals. The success of something is often related to when it happens, and this is especially true when it comes to sales cycle coaching. This article describes the phases of a sales cycle when a sales manager’s coaching can have the greatest positive impact on both the salesperson and your team’s win-rate. Timing is everything!

Start Paying More Attention During the Early Stages of the Sales Process

Too often sales managers arrive on the scene too late to help a sales rep capitalize on a great opportunity. Sales managers usually wait until the final steps of a sales cycle before reviewing the status of a deal, which may lead to a multitude of problems. If a salesperson isn’t developing the customer’s needs, there’s nothing you can say at the last minute that is going to help. So any advice you give a salesperson late in a deal cycle will have a minimal impact; it’s even more likely to be seen by the sales rep as criticism, not coaching.

In my sales management training program I emphasize the benefits of early-cycle sales coaching. Think about this from a customer’s perspective – the size of a purchase is determined early in their decision cycle, not late. So if you coach early sales cycle skills, you can help the rep secure biggerdeals. Plus, if a rep doesmake a mistake, you’ll recognize it sooner, while there is still time to put the deal back on track. With this change, you’ll start to see an increase in better-qualified deals in your team’s pipeline.

Timely Coaching to Qualify a Rep’s Sales Pipeline

Another great time to coach a salesperson occurs at the time a rep places a new sales opportunity in his or her sales forecast. That typically occurs after one or more meetings have occurred between the rep and the prospect, and the rep then forecasts some probability that an opportunity will close within a certain period of time.

To qualify whether or not a new opportunity is a good opportunity, ask your salesperson:

What are that prospect’s buying criteria?”

If the salesperson can’t answer you with convincing specifics, there are two possible reasons:1) the customer hasn’t yet identified their buying criteria, in which case the sales opportunity is nowhere near to being properly qualified, or 2) your salesperson hasn’t yet asked the customer what their buying criteria are. Either of these two reasons can be fatal to winning a deal. In my sales management training I emphasize that the sooner you know the relative health of your salespeople’s skills and pipeline, the better.

End of the Month “Scorecard Coaching”

By implementing my two coaching suggestions above, you will take some of the pressure off the discussions that you have with your salespeople at the end of the month. That’s because you’ll know more about the health of your pipeline and your reps’ skills and commitment to succeed before the pressure of month-end.

But let face it….many sales managers are overwhelmed by all the “stuff” they have to do: unnecessary meetings, emails, fire-drills, reports, etc. In my 2-day sales management training program I devote two hours to the topic of “Take Control of Your Time & Priorities.” Become a better sales manager and learn how to prioritize your time, read my blog Time Management Tips for Sales Managers.

Being pressed by a lack of time, many sales managers fall into a bad habit whereby they coach salespeople primarily at the end of the month. This is what I call “scorecard coaching.”

Here’s why scorecard coaching is such a bad management practice…. Suppose you were a golf professional. If I handed you my scorecard and asked you how I could perform better, you couldn’t help me. That’s because my scorecard only tells you the aftermath of what I did when I was golfing – the scorecard doesn’t tell you why orwhat I did to acquire those scores. My score was the result of the good and bad swings, and decisions I made while golfing; you simply cannot understand the mistakes I made by looking at my scorecard. Therefore, any feedback you gave me would be based on incomplete information, and it can’t be specific enough to be helpful.

If you really wanted to help me improve, you’d have to actually observe my game and come up with strategies to help me learn what I was doing wrong and what skills I need to work on to improve.

Reviewing your rep’s sales results once a month or every quarter works the same way. You can’t help your reps improve if all you do is examine their sales scorecard after the fact. And you can’t understand the health of their pipeline if you don’t have time to ask, “What are that prospect’s buying criteria?”

Great sales managers apply consistent and frequent observations of the sales reps’ work habits, skill set, mindset, and sales pipeline. And then they make time to have productive coaching conversations.

To learn more about the importance of consistent, proactive sales coaching and the positive impact it brings to your team, download a FREE chapter out of my book, The Sales Manager’s Guide to Greatness, Chapter 7 Excerpt: Commit to Consistent Coaching.