Early in my career I had a manager that told me that “a great sales manager is a great manger of people, not sales”. We have seen this repeatedly in our interactions with sales managers over the years. Sales coaching is a valuable skill that assists sales personnel to maximize their success. Coaching takes over from where formal training leaves off, and is a key tool for reinforcing lessons learned during training, helping sales staff to assimilate training material and developing latent selling skills.
Coaching is a skill any sales manager needs in order to unleash the potential of his/her sales team. Research on sales effectiveness shows that sales people who receive high levels of coaching achieve significantly more sales than those who do not.
What is Coaching?
It is useful to clarify the key attributes of good coaching and spell out what works and what does not. Sales coaching primarily focuses on one-on-one interaction between the salesperson and the manager. The discussion centers on helping the salesperson set personal goals, make effective decisions and utilize their natural strengths in order to improve themselves and their sales results. It differs from sports coaching, which involves a significant degree of direct instruction, and rather uses techniques such as questioning, reflection, and discussion to help salespeople confidently develop their knowledge of how to sell effectively.
Coach at an Early Stage
Coaching is most valuable during the early stages of a sales person’s career but should be practiced throughout. Coaching is also the time to reinforce material learned during formal training, while it’s still fresh. It is useful to help sales staff develop and refine practical selling skills and to establish an effective daily routine that includes sales prospecting, qualifying inbound leads, making initial contact, presenting and closing.
Understand Your Team
A good team leader spends time understanding what makes each member of the team tick. He or she will learn more about their strengths, weaknesses, personalities and natural talents. By recognizing that each person approaches life differently, coaching and employee developmental plans can be tailored to suit individual needs.
This intimate knowledge of how each team member functions enables the leader to effectively monitor their performance and identify changes in performance or behaviour and react proactively to establish reasons for the change and how to help.
Spend Time with Each Representative
Sales managers have to juggle their time between satisfying corporate reporting requirements, sales meetings, and managing their team. Sales managers should spend time with each team member at least once per month. It’s important to clarify that these sessions are intended to be part and parcel of on-the-job coaching and not necessarily a performance review.
Developing Coaching Skills
Many sales managers can benefit from training on how to coach. These skills are quite different from performance management skills and do not always come naturally. The best sales people do not automatically make the best sales managers and coaches. Courses are available that can be structured to suit specific coaching needs and to help managers understand the key aspects of employee coaching, how to do it, and what pitfalls to avoid. This training will allow sales managers to coach their teams effectively to lift individual and departmental sales performance.
Benefits of Coaching
Employee coaching is mandatory to improve sales performance. It helps managers identify areas where their staff needs help and through practical demonstration (including role-play) and discussion, how they can improve their selling skills. By focusing on employees’ strengths instead of their weaknesses, it encourages employee participation and growth. The frequent participation of team leaders and sales managers in sales team coaching allows them to directly improve the effectiveness of their sales team.