Sales coach Scott Edinger wrote an article for Harvard Business Review earlier this year that perfectly echoes and amplifies what I’ve seen in my 30-plus years of coaching experience. All too often, I’ll do a training session with a company’s sales team. They’ll be engaged and interested in learning, and I have no doubt that the group has a sincere desire to improve.
The truth is, though, that outsourced, short-term training can only get a person so far. Once you leave the confines of the conference room, the challenges of the real world set in. Before long, much of that great information learned in the workshop disappears forever.
Most sales executives that I speak with agree that training and coaching is important for their sales team’s success. While short-term workshops can be valuable, most salespeople need more intensive coaching and training to reach their full potential. They need coaching on a regular basis, and they need that coaching to be customized to their unique goals, strengths, and challenges.
Short of hiring a full-time sales coach, how do you get your team the kind of consistent coaching that they need?
Coaching should come from managers
Mr. Edinger says (and I 100 percent agree with him) that coaching needs to come from the front-line sales managers. Your managers are the ones who know their salespeople the best. They know their strengths and they know the challenges that the team faces. They’re in a unique position to work directly with salespeople in a way that gets fast, sustainable results.
Even more than that, though, you can leverage your managers to see big results. One manager who is an effective coach can substantially impact the performance of numerous sales reps.
Of course, many sales managers don’t take this kind of proactive attitude. In his article, Mr. Edinger talks about a survey he conducted at a Fortune 500 company. First, he asked sales managers about their coaching abilities. The sales leaders ranked themselves, on average, in the 79th percentile when it comes to coaching skills.
Then Mr. Edinger asked the salespeople about the managers’ abilities as coaches. Not surprisingly, the salespeople ranked the managers much lower – in the 38th percentile. Mr. Edinger said that the managers responded by dismissing the salespeople as being ungrateful.
How to implement coaching at the manager level in your organization
Think about your own interaction with your subordinates. Maybe you lead salespeople directly or maybe you’re a few levels higher, overseeing many of the sales managers. In any case, what do your interactions and meetings with them center around?
Are you focused on administrative things like forecasting, reviewing quotas and budgets, and supervising day-to-day activities? Or are you forward-looking and spending time on improvement in skills, tactics, and habits?
I know the answer for many managers because I see it firsthand. The truth is that even though most managers are in position to provide the strongest level of coaching, they aren’t really equipped to be effective coaches.
That’s why a commitment to coaching has to come from the top down. Coaching has to be an organizational priority for it to be effective. For managers to embrace coaching, you have to give them a framework. Make it simple. Make it something they can implement easily.
Here are a few tips on how to implement coaching in your sales organization:
- Develop a coaching framework. Don’t leave your managers out there to “wing it” when it comes to coaching. Give them a template that they can follow. That way they can focus on the substance of the coaching rather than on how to organize the coaching sessions. I’ve helped many companies develop their own coaching framework and I’d be happy to do the same for you.
- Reward those who embrace coaching. It’s easy to recognize and reward the top salespeople because their success is tied to a trackable metric. Give the same recognition to your best coaches and show the other managers how coaching pays off. Similarly, make it very clear that there will be consequences for those who don’t embrace coaching.
- Hold win/loss reviews. Too often, sales meetings are only about the results. What came in? What didn’t close? What’s in the pipeline? Take your meetings to the next level by doing a deep dive into the group’s successes and failures. Why did some deals close when others didn’t? What can you and the rest of the team learn from those outcomes?
- Get a coach for your coaches. You can’t expect your managers to become great coaches overnight. If coaching has never been a part of their responsibilities, it’s going to take time for them to become effective. You can accelerate the learning curve by getting a coach for your managers. The coach can train them on effective coaching and how to use it to ignite increased results from their team.
If you’re not getting the results you want from your sales team, it might not be that your salespeople need more training. It may be that your managers need to become better coaches.
I’ve helped many companies just like yours implement strong, effective coaching programs into their sales organizations. I’d welcome an opportunity to discuss your group’s needs and challenges with you. Contact me today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation.
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