The secret of creating a sales coaching culture

Why is coaching so important?

As a sales leader your responsibility is to lead your sales reps and help them develop their sales skills and career. Not all sales reps manage to achieve their targets. You will have a few reps that achieve and exceed targets, many will be mid-performers and some might really struggle.

You need to coach the top performers for retention and the mid-performers to lift them towards the top.

The impact of first line managers on team performance is huge and coaching is the number one activity that drives overall team results. Brainshark compiled very interesting sales stats which also include some related to sales coaching in particular. You can review these here:

https://www.brainshark.com/ideas-blog/2019/may/sales-statistics

From these stats you can conclude that sales coaching helps to improve win rates and revenue but you can also see that sales coaching is lacking.

There can be many reasons for a low adoption of sales coaching. Sales managers and in particular new to the role  managers that have just been promoted from an individual contributor role to managing people may not feel comfortable due to lack of training. Another reason could be that coaching is perceived as corrective action.

Isn’t coaching just a nicer word for performance management?

This is an objection that often isn’t even spoken about! You need to address and change this perception. In sales we love using sports analogies and here is a great opportunity to use an example to change the perception of coaching.

Do you know any great football or rugby players?

Even if you are not a football fan you likely came across names like Ronaldo, Messi, Pele to just name a few.

Did or do the heroes and winners in sport have coaches?

The answer is, of course, yes. In fact they probably spent more time being coached than actually playing any football matches! Yet, in sales we tend not to coach enough, do very little role playing and, even worse, may not prepare well enough for important customer meetings!

Coaching is a privilege. This has been my experience. I have had great sales leaders coach me and this has been a blessing throughout my career. I learnt so much through leader coaching and it helped me to achieve goals and drive results.

It even enabled me to break into new industries that I have not had worked in before. Most of my career has been in technology and software but I always wanted to look beyond at other industries to learn how they do “it” (sales enablement). I worked for Coca Cola (FMCG) as well as American Express (Financial Services). It opened my eyes in many ways and helped me to develop sales enablement strategies using a new, fresh and different perspective and drive innovation.

But even if in your organisation coaching is not perceived as performance management you may find that some sales reps are not open to coaching and when you attempt to coach by asking questions there is an expectation to just being told what to do.

Just tell me what to do!

If your sales reps are not used to coaching they may not expect it and if they are used to just being told what to do then this is what they will be looking for. Start shifting into coaching conversations without labelling it as coaching. Use your natural conversational style to pace and lead. Focus on building trust first. It goes without saying that you need trust in able to effectively coach!

Another approach to shifting perception is to make coaching special through rewards. Offer special coaching sessions, e.g. by an outside sales coach, as a reward for great performance.

Implementing a coaching culture can be a paradigm shift depending on what the most dominant leadership style in your organisation is.

The other barrier to coaching could time management. You may think:

I do not have time for coaching!

As a sales leader you have got a lot of things to do, e.g. forecasting, reports, pipeline reviews, admin work and much more. At first, it may look overwhelming to spend time with your sales reps and coach them but in reality it will save you time in the future. Coaching empowers your reps to come up and implement their solutions with a little guidance through your coaching. Coaching isn’t telling them what to do but to help them to come up with their own ideas and next steps. This is much more useful because they own it rather than you.

Coaching does not need to take up more of your time. Transform the time that you spend in one to ones already. Use your existing one to one meetings for coaching. There is also no need to put a label onto coaching. It’s a conversation between adults! It can happen naturally, even when you are having a coffee or a cup of tea.

If you are an experienced sales leader you very likely have already an established and proven coaching routine. If you do not have an established coaching practice or are new to leading people you wonder how to actually do coaching.

What is the best coaching model?

The best coaching model is the one that you can remember and use! A coaching model is a starting point, a reminder, an approach and provides a structure and guide for a conversation. Once you have used it a few times it becomes second nature and you do not even have to think about the model anymore.

I started my career as a sales rep in retail and after a year I was promoted to assistant sales manager and was leading a small sales team. This was my first people manager role while still selling myself as well. It was a great experience and I very much enjoyed it. However, in retrospect, I wish I had known anything about how to coach people!

Later, I moved into information technology and was delighted when I was able to attend a people manager training at the Irish Management Institute in Dublin. I still remember the four letters of the coaching model that I learned: g, r, o and w.

Coaching helps people grow! This model is so easy to remember and also works so well: the GROW Model for coaching!

This model combined with situational leadership have been the two most useful people management tools that I have come across in my career and that really helped me with the transition from individual contributor to people manager.

If you have new people managers in your sales team that come from an individual contributor role this is a great model they can use. Here is what the letters stand for:

Goal

Reality

Options

Way forward

I will cover this model and how to use it in sales coaching in a future blog post.

Summary:

The secret to establishing a coaching culture is to position coaching as a privilege, build trust and help new and existing people managers with coaching through an easy to remember coaching model that works well and feels like a natural conversion when used.

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