Business coaching is typically done in the office. However in sales, some of the most effective coaching happens in the field while meeting with customers. This brings both opportunities and challenges for sales managers to coach effectively and develop sales representatives.
Coaching, as sales coaches, is to help our sales representatives:
Sharpen skills and build confidence
Capitalize on strengths and neutralize weaknesses
Be willing to stretch and take risks
Commit to common sales “standards”
To become an effective sales coach, it is important to know and understand some concepts and tools common to sales coaching.
Field coaching is unique in that it occurs on the job. This coaching takes place before and after sales calls, during preparations for upcoming sales calls, and while building strategy for a sales opportunity. It is typically an informal, daily interaction between coach and sales representative. Field coaching is often the most effective coaching because it is in the moment. If coaching is withheld until the end of the day, valuable coaching and teaching moments are lost.
There are three types of field coaching, as described below:
1. Unobserved coaching calls
Call is jointly planned
Call is executed buy the sales representative, without the presence of the manager
Call is debrief together afterward
Because unobserved coaching calls involve much smaller time investment by the coach, they can be done with greater frequency. The coach can focus on guiding and coaching the call planning effort. This activity helps improve the sales representative’s chances of success on the call and will provide the coach with valuable context for the post-call debrief.
2. Observed coaching calls
Call is jointly planned
Call is executed by the sales representative, for the purpose of assessing and coaching by sales managers
Call is debriefed together afterward.
These are the trickiest, given the dynamics of the customer and sales representative interactions, so require more skill and preparation. Observed coaching calls are the most effective in impacting sales performance.
3. Joint-sales calls
Call is jointly planned
Call is executed by both manager and sales representative
Call is debriefed together afterward
Here it’s important the coach has a good reason for being present for the call. Some possible objectives for a joint sales call may be to provide a unique “value-added” contribution, to help sell the company, not the “deal, ” or to increase customer relation focus.
These three Field Coaching opportunities are more reactive, direct, and “in the moment.” They are usually done between calls in a car, over lunch, waiting to see a customer, or in the hallway at the office. Like a sports coach during a game, it is important to take the opportunity to help the team member make needed changes right away. This allows them to immediately apply the new behaviors and a chance for the sales representatives to see different results right away.
Good sales coaches utilize this more direct approach, taking certain variables into consideration to ensure their approach is tailored to each sales representative for the greatest chance of success with coaching.
Above, three types of field coaching were identified. Unobserved coaching calls, observed coaching calls, and joint sales calls. Effective sales coaching, utilizes this more direct approach, while taking certain variables into consideration to ensure a sales managers approach is tailored to each sales representative for the greatest chance of success with coaching. Here are a few variables to consider:
Observed coaching and joint-sales calls need the most preparation and skill to manage the dynamics that may occur with customers. Sales coaches should consider the following recommendations to ensure effective observed and joint sales calls.
Pre Call Meeting
Prior to any call the manager should meet with the rep to understand the nature of the call, the call objective, and the call plan or strategy. Some questions to ask are, “Are they realistic?” and “Will they move the opportunity forward?”
Stick to Your Role
Some questions a sales coach should ask themselves before the call include, “Is it a safe call to join?” and “Can I be a supportive observer or do I have a unique role in contributing to the call objective?” It is usually best to not try to switch roles during a sales call if possible, so pick your role for each call carefully. Make sure you and the sales representative understand your role prior to the call. Unless there is and established “signal” or plan for engaging an issue with the customer, let the rep handle it. It’s very important to keep strengthening the relationship between the customer and the representative. If the customer directs questions to you, defer them to the rep first, and then support as needed. If a customer calls about an issue, don’t fix it. Instead, discuss the issue with the sales representative and have them get back to customer. Keep the representative “in charge” and help them build their relationship with their customers.
Use a “Post-Call” Debrief Process
Following a call, take some time to debrief with the sales representative. Ask, “How did you think the call went?” Listen closely for their overall reactions and feelings. What they say is usually a good gauge of the sales representative’s perception of their own performance. It is important to get the representative talking about the quality of the call and making their own judgments first, so they can learn to critique their performance on their own, not just when you’re there.
Encourage the representative to reflect back on the call objectives. Ask, “How well did you accomplishing what you set out to do?” Stop the representative from going to “what went wrong” right away and stick to with “what went well?”
Sort out one or two things to focus on in the future. Have the sales representative identify one thing to continue doing and one thing to stop doing or change. Keep this discussion short, concise, and simple. This will help the representative find something they can try again on the next call and hopefully see improvement right away.
Sharing your observation of the representative’s performance and your perspective of the customers reactions can be especially helpful. “Did you notice the customer’s initial reaction to your recommendation.? What do you think you did that triggered that? What were you hoping for?”
Confirm the representative’s commitment to make a plan and try new things for the next call. The coach should also recognize changes observed to reinforce the new skills and practices. Help the sales representative look for other places to apply these new skills in other situations they face.
Peter Long has over 30 years of experience in sales leadership and direct selling. 17 of those years were with one of the world’s leading service corporations, where he held positions as Manager of Marketing and Sales Training and Global Leadership Development. Peter was assigned for 18 months to their European operations to lead a team in realigning the sales organization under a new business model.
Peter has designed and developed large, multi-faceted change initiatives; project managed cross-functional teams globally including the Americas, Middle East, and Euope; and has facilitated many workshops and seminars related to professional selling, leadership and management skills, as well as coaching and teamwork.
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