3 Steps to Effectively Move Beyond ‘Sales Coaching’

Author: 
Rick Cheatham

Most leaders believe that strong salespeople are born sellers. They’re natural extroverts, they can easily create relationships with complete strangers, and they can quickly adapt to potential customers’ needs and personalities. But even if the strongest sellers are born sellers, leaders who help salespeople remain confident, learn from their customer experiences, and rise to challenges only enhance their sales teams’ overall performance.

Understanding this, many leaders rely on sales coaching. But sales coaching is a catchall term that, if not effectively managed, won’t actually help even good salespeople get better at selling. That’s why organizations that want to improve their sales teams while still cultivating a dynamic company environment need to move beyond sales coaching to embrace a more diversified and hands-on training platform.

Where Sales Coaching Falls Short

Sales coaching is too often focused on the issues salespeople face and not enough on the ways they can improve. Moreover, it commonly follows a static pattern, in which a manager will observe a sales rep in action before the two have a brief consultation, often with little to no continued engagement.

Such minimal feedback doesn’t give reps a chance to leverage new practices before having to address another challenge. Thus, salespeople can get stuck in a rote or anxiety-producing cycle of reaction that’s detrimental for both teams and individuals because it precludes growth.

This cycle becomes particularly apparent when considering the three personalities that sales managers often default to when coaching:

  • The buddy: My team works hard, and it’s my job to remove obstacles in order to support them and keep them happy.
  • The analyst: Data tells us everything we need to know about the market, the team, and any skill gaps, so the more reports, the better. If it isn’t in the CRM, then it doesn’t exist.
  • The mirror: I was an amazing salesperson, so if everyone is more like me, then we’ll be successful. That’s why whenever things start to go south on a sales call, I take over and save the day.

None of these coaching methods truly engages a process for individual and team development. While each has its place, the best sales coaches balance the power of data with empathy for ebbs and flows in the marketplace and the ability to role model when necessary. They also recognize the differences between scalable skills and personal attributes, meaning they understand that sales reps who can sideline personal attributes and focus on behaviors and skills can actually inspire buying.

How to Better Prepare a Sales Team

With 25 percent of managers not coaching their sales teams at all but most sales reps claiming they want more coaching, leaders need to move beyond this broad concept to focus on their reps’ particular needs, such as expectations or performance management. They can then introduce structured and controlled risks — i.e., “small risks” — that address these needs by dissecting new challenges or sales goals into manageable strategies. That way, sales reps can learn by trying.

For example, leaders can have sales reps prepare a list of customer questions for the team that address and explore a customer’s preferences. This low-stakes task eliminates the pressure of an actual interview and allows that rep (and his team) to gain insight into the customer and start developing a sense of the “right questions to ask.”

Because this method is experience-based instead of program-based, sales reps get a better understanding of “This is how we sell.” And leaders can more efficiently manage individual development by tooling the knowledge-based behaviors and focusing more on those processes that require complex assimilation.

Ultimately, leaders who follow these three steps can move beyond sales coaching and better prepare their teams for today’s dynamic marketplace:

Bring development out of the shadows. Shift your sales team’s development from a secretive, evaluative process into a transparent model that aims at continuous improvement rather than “fixing” what’s broken. Leaders who create a culture of preparation and practice in which it’s safe for team members to be honest about their challenges and weaknesses will get results faster. A salesperson’s ability to experience real interactions and test strategies is also crucial to this development. If reps are less scared of and better understand their mistakes and processes, then they’ll be more capable of handling unfamiliar situations.

Create a system of balanced feedback loops. Too often, sales coaching relies on a single source of information to assess and potentially transform a salesperson’s multidimensional sales approach. Giving your people balanced feedback loops that comprise multiple variables — such as assessments from coaches and managers, field observations, and raw data — can offer your teams a more holistic vision of what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, and how they can improve upon it.

Focus both on team and personal improvement. Great training shouldn’t be relentlessly focused on an individual’s progress, because it’s used to help a specific rep develop skills in line with their team. Thus, leaders should always connect individual objectives to the larger team objectives and make these sessions a bigger part of what the company is reaching for. Creating this connection can be as simple as ensuring that each salesperson understands his role within his respective team through collaborative exercises — like best-practices conversations — that build team dynamics.

By foregrounding development, using a multidimensional approach to feedback, and emphasizing the link between individual growth and team growth, leaders can give salespeople the confidence and insight needed to control and evolve their performances. Most importantly, however, leaders need to approach all coaching techniques pragmatically and simply — and to give salespeople a clearer path to their next goals.

Rick Cheatham leads the U.S. sales practice for BTS. He works with clients such as Google, Salesforce.com, and IBM to drive their sales efforts into the future. Rick leads a team of more than 20 consultants and conceptualizes many of the BTS solutions deployed in the U.S.