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How to coach salespeople to improved performance


Man drawing a graph

Managing | Sales

By Sue Barrett

The sales profession is very skillful, with many technical and interpersonal abilities that need to be continuously honed and developed. Despite this, most salespeople are given no formal training or coaching rather they are often left to work out for themselves how to be effective at sales.

Even if they are able to attend sales training, most salespeople do not realise their full potential because nothing is done post the training session to get people adapting their behaviours, skills and performance to the new standards.

Why sales coaching matters:

  • Without systematic, on-the-job coaching post a sales training program 87 percent of skills that were covered in the sales training program are lost within 30 days
  • With systematic, on-the-job coaching post a sales training program the return on the sales training program is four fold.

Lesson: Sales training without coaching is a cost liability rather than an investment.

Is sales coaching just linked to sales training?

In a word, no. Whether or not coaching follows a formal training program, it is recommended that at least 40-60 percent of a sales manager’s job should be dedicated to coaching their salespeople.

Yet, sales coaching still remains an area that is poorly executed and often ignored.

What is coaching?

Coaching is a process which allows for an individual to strive for excellence in any endeavour through personal insight and purposeful action. At a broad level, the process involves three key elements:

  • Feedback: without feedback a person is unaware of the opportunity for ‘change’
  • Reflection: relates to what a person thinks about the feedback received; as well as the range of actions they can take on as a result of receiving the feedback
  • Purposeful action: those activities the person may undertake and either adopt the provided feedback or alternatively explain why they will not address the feedback provided

Coaching usually focuses on two key areas of development to achieve excellence: skills and performance. Excellence in performance is knowing the right processes to apply in the right situation, coupled with the personal insight to know how to apply them wisely.

So, how do we get the best out of our sales coaches in order to be our best?

  1. Train your sales managers to be effective sales coaches.
  2. Supply them with proven tools and frameworks to coach successfully.
  3. Provide ongoing coaching to your sales managers to be better sales coaches (usually external coaching support works well here as it provides an agenda free focus on coaching only).
  4. Make sales coaching a necessary part of the sales manager’s job performance criteria.
  5. Encourage a coaching culture in your business across all levels .

What do you need in your sales coaching tool box? 

  • A coaching framework that guides you through the various coaching steps – this ensures that people are aware coaching is taking place.
  • The ability to analyse or assess the development needs of an individual or team.
  • Coaching communication tools and approaches that help you understand, communicate, and connect with the person you are coaching.
  • Knowledge about the different types of coaching approaches you can use with people:
    • skills.
    • performance.
    • remedial.
    • strategic.
    • transformational.
  • Ideally a sales competency based model and sales process framework that reflects the sales skills, behaviours, and attitudes you need to coach your salespeople to.
  • Skillful and active communication skills.
  • A positive, trust based, environment.
  • Clear purpose and intent about what you are trying to achieve.
  • Consistency.

Coaching can happen in many ways

Here are some examples:

  • Joint sales visits: attending a client sales meeting with a salesperson.
    • Set up the pre, during and post stages of your coaching session.
    • Decide on what role you will take as a coach: observer, joint call participation, or role model. You need to decide on which role you will play before you enter the meeting so as not to confuse the salesperson or the client/prospect.
  • One-on-one skills review and action plan
    • Ideally you would use a competency based model and framework to coach.
  • Role playing sales activities such as prospecting, client calls, pitch presentations and so on.
  • Team coaching sessions .

Three important points to remember:

  1. There are a variety of coaching tools out there, however avoid the one-size-fits-all approach i.e. trying to stretch one tool to fit all situations.  You need a blend of tools in your coaching tool box to be able to adapt to a variety of situations such as personal styles, needs, etc.
  2. You are not a ‘life coach’ or counsellor either.  This is a very dubious and potentially dangerous area to get into and should be left to qualified, skilled professionals who work specifically in this space.
  3. Make sure you make time to coach and let the person you are coaching know that it is a coaching session and nothing else.

Many of the case studies at the recent OSF2009 conference indicated that a blend of competent internal sales coaching by sales managers supported by external experts in sales coaching was very advantageous to their sales teams’ performance and productivity.

While many sales managers do not have the framework or tools in place to coach with purpose, skillful coaching can be incredibly rewarding and provide huge benefits for the team and organisation.  It not only makes your sales people perform better, you can also become a better manager as a result.

A culture of coaching is really a continuous improvement strategy.

Remember – everybody lives by selling something.

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