Published by : Louis G. Larochelle
Coaching representatives should be of paramount importance to sales managers. As we’ve often stated in our articles, 50% of sales managers’ time should be allotted to this task.
To maximize every session spent with each salesperson, the sales manager must effectively plan, in advance, which topics to address as well as how to measure the coaching’s effectiveness.
What is sales coaching? In this guide you'll learn:
- Why coach salespeople
- Why sales managers don't coach
- When you should coach your salespeople
- How often you should coach your sales reps
- Knowing your salesperson
- Setting coaching goals
- Co-creating a coaching plan
- Coaching sales managers
Why coach salespeople
Becoming great at selling - or anything else for that matter - is about making adjustments. To make a change a rep needs feedback - something they see, hear or feel that informs their ability to adjust. Sales coaching is a potent form of feedback. Data shows that sales managers who spend at least 50% of their time coaching AND are effective at coaching have salespeople who are 49% more effective.
Which areas are most impacted by coaching? Qualifying and Closing.
The data above shows that sales managers who devote at least 50% of their time to coaching have salespeople who score 13% better in Qualifying and 24% better in closing than the salespeople whose sales managers rarely coach.
Only 10% of all sales managers are both consistent and efficient with their coaching. For salespeople who wish to improve and become great, most of them will need to accomplish some or all of that work on their own, either by recording calls, signing up for training or getting a sales coach.
Why sales managers don't coach
Sales managers should spend 50% of their time coaching to opportunities, and coaching on strategy, tactics, and pipeline. They should be coaching up their salespeople, and they need to be great at it.
Is any of this happening?
According to the CSO Insights 2018 Sales Study, just 10% of the companies said that coaching was a strength. That figure is in line with Objective Management Group's data from its evaluations of more than 25,000 sales forces. Only 10% of all Sales Managers have the Sales Coaching competency as a strength, but most of that group are in the top 20% of all sales managers.
In fact, OMG's data consistently shows that sales managers aren't spending enough time coaching their salespeople and when they do, the coaching is weak.
There are several reasons for this:
- Many sales managers maintain personal sales and their commissions outweigh their sales management compensation, so they don't have the time nor make the time for coaching.
- They believe that coaching is what happens when they do a ride along or listen in on a phone call.
- They think that telling a salesperson what to do, helping with pricing or specs, or asking how a call went is coaching.
- They aren't able to execute the single most important and useful element of sales coaching - the role play.
- Managers aren't trained to coach. Since they don't know how to coach they either effectively - don't do it, or do it poorly.
- Senior leadership doesn't buy into the importance of coaching, so the organization doesn't have a coaching culture.
- The managers themselves don't see the value, so they don't do it.
When should you coach your salespeople?
There are several coaching opportunities available to sales managers: during weekly funnel reviews, when preparing for a prospect meeting, during post-call coaching session, when leading sales pipeline reviews, or even during a team meeting. Managers can also use sales co-development sessions to develop their sales force.
Regardless of the type of coaching, these guidelines orient all types of coaching:
- The sales manager must determine the objectives of the coaching session;
- During coaching, observations must be noted and communicated to the salesperson;
- After coaching, the salesperson must share with the manager the information retained.
How often should you coach your sales reps?
Coaching can be done on an ad hoc or regular basis. In the first case, the director will accompany the salesperson along the stages of the sales process, and this, with different prospects.
However, coaching to instill a specific skill will require repeated coaching. A coaching plan will have to be drawn up so that several sessions are devoted to the same topic.
Know your salesperson
To plan each session, the sales manager must first know the salesperson’s skill level for each step of the sales process. To this end, it’s strongly recommended to use a sales evaluation tool, such as the one offered by Objective Management Group (OMG).
The results of the evaluation provides a clear picture of the salesperson’s ability to:
- Take a consultative approach to sales
- Sell value
- Present an offer
The sales manager will quickly identify the item(s) on which coaching efforts should be focused on with the salesperson.
Some CRMs, such as Membrain, allow the integration of the sales skills assessment results. The director can then identify the coaching elements to work on, in parallel with an ongoing sales process.
This offers the advantage of not having to constantly refer to the evaluation, the information being accessible directly in the CRM.
Setting your coaching goals
To facilitate preparation, the sales manager can use the results of an OMG evaluation as a reference source, as well as the steps of the sales process. Sales DNA is also to be considered when coaching representatives.
More specifically, here are several examples of topics to address:
- Prospecting plan (agenda, list of prospects, etc.)
- Positioning statement
- Time management
- Fear of making cold calls
- Ability to ask difficult questions
- Quantifying the value of a client’s problem
- Ability to generate a sense of urgency
- Contacting the decision maker
- Identification of the decision-making process
- Identification of the solution selection criteria
- Presentation of an offer
- Ability to close
- Use of the CRM (daily use, preparation for a funnel review)
- Gathering information on prospects
- Working with people from other cultures
In any case, here are two rules to follow:
- It’s very important to work on one element at a time. For example, the salesperson must know how to identify a problem with the client and make an appointment on the phone to obtain a 1st base meeting.
- One can’t coach a salesperson on a new item unless they’ve mastered the first. For example, the salesperson must identify a problem and make an appointment on the phone before being coached on how to ask questions.
How to determine which topic to prioritize
The coaching must be in sync with the salesperson’s competency level. There’s no point in coaching on how to make an offer if the salesperson can’t get to 1st base.
The manager must determine at what height to place the bar, in other words, where the salesperson is at in terms of sales competencies. The coach’s role is to ensure that this bar is constantly rising.
Use of role-playing
Although very beneficial for coaching, some managers don’t dare role-play because of certain fears. They often simply don’t know how to do it.
You must understand that role-playing is a three-step process.
- First, you must define an initial situation with the salesperson, the topic that will be addressed. For example, a client could face a lack of in-house resources.
- From the identified situation, three role-play situations will be created:
- First, the representative will play themselves, the salesperson, and the coach, the client. As part of a 1st base meeting, the salesperson must try to discover the client’s needs, problems and causes, as well as their impacts. Therefore, identifying the compelling reasons to buy, and in turn generating a sense of urgency.
- The salesperson will probably make mistakes during this situation, maybe forget a few steps. The sales manager will note the comments to communicate to the salesperson at the end of the exercise. Upon this follow-up, they will discuss each of the points to improve and ask the salesperson what could have been done differently.
- The second is a role reversal. By addressing the salesperson as if they were the client, the sales manager will then effectively go through the logical sequence between the 1st and 2nd base. The salesperson will then point out the differences they noticed between this exercise and the first one.
- For the 3rd role-play, the representative resumes the role of the salesperson and replays the passage from 1st to 2nd base. Considering the knowledge obtained for the 2nd exercise, this attempt should proceed seamlessly.
- At the end of the exercise, the sales manager highlights the issues which improved and asks the salesperson which elements they think should be worked on. Finally, the salesperson is invited to send the sales manager an email in which they’ve summarized what they learned.
This role-play sequence can be used to prepare for a 1st base meeting, in anticipation of a prospecting call, or the presentation of an offer.
When to role-play
It’s recommended to use role-play when a salesperson lacks a certain competency.
Of course, it’s always possible to start with a more standard coaching approach, where the manager invites the representative to share their objectives and preparation for a meeting or a call. The role-play comes in afterwards, if it’s deemed necessary to improve a specific competency.
The advantage of role-play is that it allows the salesperson to experience and practise real-life situations.
Co-create the coaching plan
Ideally, the sales manager who aims for consistent coaching should not only have a coaching plan, but should develop it in collaboration with the salesperson. In certain companies, a plan for every salesperson must be presented to the president.
An interactive process
At the beginning of each month, the manager asks the salesperson to identify which item(s) they would like to examine. It may be two or three skills, though one suffices.
The manager will then ask the representative to lay out their action plan. It can include coaching, role-play, and various self-teaching methods.
A constant measure of results
The results are measured at the end of the month. First, a qualitative follow-up is done on the co-created plan. How did the last few weeks go? What difficulties were encountered?
If the competency involved is measurable, a quantitative assessment can also demonstrate the progress that was achieved.
Monthly revision of the coaching plan
Considering these observations, the action plan for the following month is developed. Specific questions guide which actions to take:
- Does the salesperson believe to have a good grasp of this competency?
- What was successful?
- What could be improved upon?
- Does the salesperson want to continue with this competency or move on to another?
The process follows its course, like a loop.
Coaching sales managers
The sales manager can also benefit from coaching. Presidents and Sales VPs sometimes develop a plan in conjunction with their managers to improve their skills.
In fact, why not apply coaching to all directors, even those not involved in sales? Everyone can, and should, benefit from it!
Note: This post was originally published on October 5, 2018, and has been reviewed and revamped for accuracy and comprehensiveness.