I frequently ask sales managers, “How often do you coach your sales reps?” And the response that I most often receive is, “I talk to my reps all the time.” Well of course you do. You talk to your reps all of the time, but is that the same as coaching them?
Sure, you talk to your reps when an issue comes to your attention, and you talk to them when you need to clarify something from an e-mail. You talk to them when they call unexpectedly about some issue, and you talk to them when they call to tell you they won a deal. However, none of these interactions is real coaching. These interactions are simply everyday conversations that are best characterized as an exchange of information. You’re just talking.
Effective sales coaching doesn’t happen during everyday conversations. Sales coaching must be intentional, planned and scheduled. Whether you are the coach or the coached, both parties need to prepare for the content, tone and structure of a sales coaching conversation in order for it to have real value.
Successful sales coaching happens when sales reps enter a sales coaching meeting with the mindset to be coached. They can only do this if they know they are entering into a coaching conversation. If sales reps don’t realize they are entering into a coaching session, they might feel attacked when their sales manager suddenly gives them candid feedback or challenges their assumptions. When they know they are being coached, sales reps expect candid feedback and will see the challenge as a personal development opportunity, not an attack.
In addition, when sales reps know they are entering into a coaching conversation, they have time to prepare for the meeting. For instance, when sales reps know they have a coaching session scheduled, they can be intentional about bringing a list of high-priority opportunities that they want to discuss with their sales manager. When given the chance to prepare, sales reps are also better prepared to delve deeply into a few critical accounts or upcoming sales calls, rather than just scratch the surface of dozens of deals and issues.
However, the responsibility to prepare for a coaching session is not limited to the sales reps. A sales manager’s commitment is even more critical to the coaching process. One of the biggest hurdles to effective coaching is that many sales managers can’t, don’t or won’t set aside time on the calendar for regularly scheduled coaching. Coaching is often perceived as the “to do” item that doesn’t have to get done by Friday afternoon, unlike forecasts, pipeline reviews and the numerous fires that flare up each week. For most sales managers, there is never enough time to do all that needs to get done. So coaching becomes a “nice-to-have” luxury that sales reps rarely get to experience.
If you want to be a better coach, set the stage for success by putting aside some time for coaching. Schedule the coaching sessions and call them coaching sessions. Set clear expectations for what’s going to take place, and then make it happen. As a sales manager, if you create the venue for high-quality coaching, then you can provide high-quality coaching. If you don’t, then you’re destined to do a lot of… well… talking.
Jason Jordan is a partner of Vantage Point Performance, a leading sales management training and development firm, and co-author of “Cracking the Sales Management Code” (McGraw-Hill, 2012).