Most sales managers understand that providing regular coaching and feedback to their team of sales representatives is one of their most important responsibilities.
They believe in the notion that “nothing happens until someone sells something,” because a business can’t grow or deliver desired results without a top-notch sales force.
A short time ago, a Fortune 100 company asked me to conduct an intriguing experiment. Approximately 100 of this company’s sales managers were asked to participate in our Coaching TIPS2 Workshop over the course of several months.
At the end of each Coaching workshop, the managers committed to using these skills during their monthly one-on-one, formal coaching sessions with their team members. These meetings were also used as an opportunity to update forecasts, check progress on the sales budget, and discuss other issues and opportunities.
The Company wanted me to listen, review, and give each manager feedback on how well the Coaching TIPS2 Model they’d learned in the Workshop was being applied, so the sales managers each recorded one of their monthly coaching sessions.
I proceeded to listen to each manager’s recording; I also prepared an individualized report for each manager that identified their coaching strengths and areas where they could improve. Then, I scheduled conference calls with the managers to discuss my feedback and recommendations for improvement.
After analyzing dozens of recordings, it seemed to me that there was still some kind of obstacle preventing them from maximizing their coaching effectiveness. I listened to some of the recordings again and reflected on what I was hearing. I could clearly see what those sales coaches were doing well. I could feel the enthusiasm both the manager and the team member had for the customer.
I could tell the coach was listening to the perspective of the sales representative and gaining the rep’s commitment on the plan of action. But as I continued to study these live recordings, I was able to identify the one common and recurring obstacle: These sales managers were focused solely on being technical sales consultants rather than real development coaches.
These “coaching” sessions were turning into discussions about solving product problems, exploring strategies to gain entry to the decision makers, and trying to come up with new pricing strategies.
It seemed like the conversations were focused on the specifics of winning the deal instead of coaching and really developing the skills of the sales representative.
Don’t get me wrong; these are critical conversations to have. But what seemed to be missing was the sales manager helping the sales representative or account manager see their personal opportunities for improvement.
In other words, the coachees left these meetings with new tactics and angles to try, as well as new offers to give to the customer, but without any clear guidance from the coach on how they could develop their sales capabilities and where to focus their energy. For example, in one case, the sales representative really needed to do more advanced planning before sales calls. In another case, the salesperson needed to handle objections gracefully and be better at following up.
It seemed like the coaches were afraid to personalize the coaching message and articulate how their sales representatives could develop new skills and make positive changes in their behavior. Unfortunately, this is a common trap that many sales managers fall into because discussing these types of topics is much more comfortable than the alternative.
I realize that it’s important for sales professionals to focus on business opportunities and devise creative ways to move deals forward. There is clearly a lot of excitement about these topics, and discussing them brings a rush of adrenaline. Most sales managers have technical experience and ideas that they want to share with their reps, but they also need to find the courage to broach discussions about personal opportunities for improvement.
If they don’t, their sales representatives won’t really understand what they can do differently in the future, and the sales manager will forever be trapped in the role of subject-matter expert or “sales consultant.” Instead of falling into this trap, sales managers have to make their coaching sessions more meaningful by helping sales-team members develop or improve their behaviors, skills, and results. Sales managers who don’t pinpoint the true development opportunity, even when they’re equipped with the best coaching process, do their sales reps a disservice.
Coachees need to be aware of the personal assets and liabilities that they’re bringing to the technical sales process, and it’s the sales coach’s job to help the person transform into a more-effective salesperson by having those honest conversations. The field force is key to an organization’s long-term, strategic growth and competitive advantage.
Organizations need great coaches who can talk about the deal as well as about how members of the sales team can learn and develop higher-level sales skills.