When most of us think of great coaches, the picture that frequently comes to mind is that of tough, no nonsense “field generals” screaming at players, officials, and opponents. Vince Lombardi, John Wooden, or Joe Torre, for instance.
But this is only one aspect of coaching. As fans we usually don’t see famous coaches acting as teachers during practice sessions, and getting their players to buy in to new ideas, techniques, and strategies with a goal of constant improvement.
One of the most essential qualities of effective coaching is that it’s highly collaborative. Collaboration is key to transferring the heavy lifting of changing behaviors from the coach to the person being coached. When someone feels they are an active participant in the coaching process, that person is more willing to make the time commitment necessary to change their behaviors. This is just as true with star athletes as it is with salespeople.
So what can you do to create a more collaborative sales coaching culture? Here are four ideas.
1) Co-define coaching outcomes.
A great way of getting the salesperson’s buy-in on changes is to co-define the coaching outcomes with them.
Start the coaching process by co-assessing the salesperson’s behaviors and jointly identifying their strengths and development needs. Then determine together which behaviors will be addressed during the sales coaching process.
Many sales managers have an aversion to co-defining coaching outcomes. After all, if a salesperson on your team is executing a skill incorrectly, just tell them to fix it. But remember, no one likes to be told what to do and salespeople are no exception. That is why just “telling” often results in resistance and not behavior change.
2) Establish clear roles.
One of the most common forms of sales coaching is when the sales manager observes a salesperson in action on a call and then provides coaching feedback afterwards. In order to ensure success of such coaching calls, and to prevent the sales manager from jumping in and taking over (a common occurrence), it is essential that the sales manager and salesperson establish clear roles prior to the call.
As a sales manager, there are three types of sales calls that you can go on with a salesperson. The most common type is a joint call -- here you are accompanying the salesperson to help them sell, usually to a large, complex opportunity. But because the manager is actively involved in this exercise, this type of call is the least desirable from a coaching standpoint. The most effective type of call for coaching is a one where the salesperson sells and you are the observer. You observe best when you're not involved.
The last type of joint call is a modelling call where you sell and the salesperson observes. This is appropriate for a new salesperson that doesn't yet have experience or confidence. This approach will also work for someone who has a persistent development need that you can best address by demonstrating the “right” way.
By understanding which type of joint sales call you are going on with the salesperson, you can clearly establish respective roles for the call and diminish the potential of anyone's toes getting stepped on.
3) Ask first.
Asking questions before expressing your own opinion is critical to effective coaching.
The purpose of asking questions is to promote self-discovery. Salespeople will take more ownership of changing their behavior if they feel they are discovering problems and solutions on their own. By asking questions, you help them with this process.
You should express your opinion only after you have made a full inquiry into the salesperson’s perspective.
4) Focus on behaviors, not judgments.
When providing coaching feedback, it is critically important to focus on behaviors -- observable, objective, specific acts or actions -- and avoid making judgments.
A judgment is not helpful to the salesperson, unless it is followed with a specific description of behaviors. If a sales manager says, “You did a great job,” there is no specific information about what was great. A better way to say this could be, “You did an excellent job when you clarified the client’s objection by asking, 'Are you concerned about the delivery schedule or implementation?' before you addressed their concern.”
This statement not only tells the salesperson he or she did a good job -- it also describes the behavior upon which the judgment was made. Coaching sales performance is considerably more effective and helpful to the salesperson when it is based on specific, behavioral and observable performance. Not judgments.