Coaching For Sales Success - Management
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SECTION: Management

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Coaching For Sales Success

Written By Tom Reilly

Article Date: 01-01-2005
Copyright (C) 2005 Associated Equipment Distributors. All Rights Reserved.

57 percent of salespeople want more coaching from their managers.

If you're a sales manager, you should know that 56 percent of salespeople say they aren't being coached in the right way by their sales managers. Also, 57 percent of salespeople say they want more coaching from their sales managers and 60 percent say they want better coaching from their sales managers. Only 32 percent of sales managers are considered outstanding coaches by their salespeople.

If you're a sales manager, chances are you need help. After hiring, coaching salespeople is the critical job function for sales managers. Coaching is an excellent feedback mechanism for on-going training and development of salespeople. Research shows coaching can be at least as effective a training medium as classroom learning. 

Yet ironically, it's often relegated to "filler" status for the manager. Managers promise, "I will do it when I get the chance." And of course, the opportunity rarely presents itself. This is an example of the sales manager's willingness to spend money on the sales force - but not time.

Coaching Rules
These coaching rules will help guide your sales management coaching efforts:

  • If salespeople report directly to you, coaching is your number one job. Even if you have account responsibility, coaching your salespeople is still your primary job function. This is how you add value to your sales team.
  • If you believe you're too busy to coach, reread rule number one. Imagine saying to your family, "I am too busy to spend time with you." 
  • If you believe hiring experienced professionals relieves you from coaching, reread rule number one. Even Tiger Woods works with a golf coach. Are your salespeople better at their jobs than Tiger is at golf?
  • You cannot coach from the locker room. You must be in the field with your reps to provide them with accurate and meaningful direct feedback. How many professional sports team coaches sit in the locker room during a game and wait to give feedback until after the game? They understand the importance of being on the field with the team.
Coaching from the field gives you the opportunity to provide feedback when it can still make a difference in the outcome of the game.

  • Don't be a desk jockey. Get out of the office and into the field with your salespeople. 
  • Coaching is for the salesperson's benefit. This is not the time for you to unload pent-up frustration with the sales force. Your objective in coaching is to guide your salespeople, provide corrective feedback, and inspire them to rise to the challenge. It's about them, not you.
Initially, the quickest way to change behavior is to reinforce the effort, not the results. Profit follows performance, and performance follows effort. If salespeople put forth the effort you desire, they will create the results you want. They need your on-the-spot coaching to adjust their performance to work more effectively.

You coach behavior and shape attitudes. You have greater control over your sales force's behavior than you do their attitudes. However, the more you coach their behavior, the greater the likelihood you can influence their attitudes. If you coach them to perform at a certain level, their attitudes will shift to fit their behavior. Cold calling is a good example. When the sales force realizes cold calling is not as difficult as they had imagined, their attitudes will shift to parallel the calling behavior. 

As the sales coach, you provide two kinds of feedback - quantitative and qualitative. Quantitative feedback is data driven: This is how much salespeople achieve - the "quantity" of their efforts:

  • Sales-to-quota 
  • Number of calls made 
  • Closing ratio 
  • Sales profitability 
  • Product mix
  • Customer retention 
  • Paperwork.
Qualitative feedback is effort driven: This is how well salespeople perform - the "quality" of their efforts:

  • Quality of the sales call 
  • Product knowledge
  • Team work
  • Attitude
  • How is salesperson spending time
  • Are they achieving career goals.
Tips for Feedback and Coaching
Providing feedback is coaching your salespeople. Use these ideas for delivering feedback - positive and negative - when coaching your staff.

Inspect what you expect. Since behavior is maintained by its consequences, joint calling and feedback are important. If your salespeople recognize you're not following through on your commitment to inspect what you expect from them, they get sloppy on their calls and paperwork.

Be specific with feedback. It doesn't matter whether you're praising or delivering "corrective criticism," the salesperson must know exactly what he or she is doing right or wrong. Never leave salespeople guessing about their behavior.

Ignore the small stuff. Often, sales managers nit-pick. Focus on major critical issues that affect performance.

Use a variety of reinforcements. Managers often assume commission or bonus on a sale is reward enough. Praise and recognition are effective complements to money.

Listen like a coach, not like a boss.

Focus on behavior. Avoid vague criticisms and references to attitude. If your salesperson's attitude stinks, cite examples (e.g. cynical comments, tardiness, or frowning). It's easier for the salesperson to change his or her attitude when he or she understands which behaviors signal a negative attitude to others.

Explain the feedback. If you're having a problem with something the salesperson does or does not do, tell him why it's an issue. Once he understands your rationale, he will be more open to change.

Lend a helping hand. If possible and prudent, help the person change the behavior. Change is easier when someone offers assistance. This proves your sincerity.

Use a sandwiching technique to deliver criticism. When you must deliver negative feedback, begin with something positive and then deliver the criticism, explaining why it's an issue. Conclude with something else positive. This technique demonstrates your concern and awareness of the positive as well as the negative.

Give three times as much praise as criticism. This is the bare minimum. Five times as much praise as criticism is even better. The objective is to reinforce (a lot) the behavior you desire. If you're like most managers, you're not doing this enough.

Do it often. Ongoing dialog with the salesperson and manager is critical to your success. Nothing you say in your annual performance reviews should be a surprise. If you have been doing your job all along, the salesperson has heard it before. Any surprise means you failed to deal with the behavior in the past. This is unfair to the salesperson.

Make it routine. Joint calls and feedback sessions should not be punishment for failing to do your job. When done properly, salespeople grow to respect and welcome their coach's input. This happens when managers joint call regularly with salespeople and expectations are set.

Show empathy. Everyone gets nervous and a little defensive when the boss starts handing out criticism. Most people feel anxious when they're performing on stage. Be understanding of this reality; it demonstrates your humanity.

Standardize your feedback. When making joint calls have a standard format for delivering your feedback. This helps salespeople know what to expect and on what they will be evaluated. Also, it keeps you focused on mission-critical behavior.




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Article Categories:  Management  »  Sales