The most exciting moment for a coach in any sport is “crunch time,” the moment when the big game is on the line and you have to rally the troops and make your last innovative moves to achieve a victory. The same is true in business. As you reach the home stretch and prepare to push a big deal to the close, things can get pretty exciting.
These crucial moments are like magnets. They draw our attention, tap our ingenuity, and challenge our wits, and in the end, we hold our breath and hope that we cross the finish line first.
In coaching sales executives, we have discovered a fatal coaching flaw. When we ask sales managers if they are coaching members of their sales force, they respond with a resounding “Yes!” When we ask them if coaching is important in driving sales, growth, revenue, and productivity, again the response is “Absolutely!”
But all too often, the coaching that salespeople receive is during in the eleventh hour of the sales process. Furthermore, the “coaching” received by the sales team is often a lot of instruction and strategic problem-solving rather than learning and growth on the part of the individuals being coached. These so-called coaching sessions tend to be more about game strategy, creative tactics, and bold moves.
This approach—though it may feel effective at the time—can end up costing the business a lot of sales over the long run. It’s common knowledge that the real coaching in sports occurs during practice in the weeks and days leading up to the big event. As in sports, coaching in business should be occurring well in advance of the close of a big deal. These coaching moments occur behind the scenes when skillful coaches craft learning moments and provide candid feedback to the individuals they coach.
Smart business coaches don’t focus on the specific sales opportunity, account, or client. Instead, these coaches really understand what we call the “sales-performance equation.”
It goes like this: [Skills + Knowledge] x [Effort + Activity] = Desired Results & Outcomes™.
You simply can’t improve your R & O (desired results and outcomes) when you coach at the final moment. Sales coaches must invest time coaching on the S + K (skills and knowledge) earlier in the process if they want lasting results. This means you have to improve your candor and facilitate honest discussions with your team members about their strengths and weaknesses in a number of areas: customer knowledge, product knowledge, selling skills, presentation skills, relationship building, business-writing ability, and other relevant competencies. This is where many sales coaches miss the boat.
They fail to help people clearly understand their development needs and jump into the coaching process in the final stage of the deal when it is often too late to make a real, lasting difference. Furthermore, too many managers fail to observe the E +A (effort and activity).
Coaches need to be proactively ensuring that team members have made the calls, built the relationships, done their homework, and addressed the details necessary to ensure a solid connection with current or future customers. Once again, this requires skillful coaching and feedback prior to the final, critical phase of the sale. Although coaches can (and will gladly) contribute ideas to achieve the final desired result, they cannot neglect either skills or activity coaching during the rest of the sales cycle.
You simply can’t grow the business if you don’t grow the people. To do so, sales managers must understand the sales-performance formula, identify any gaps, and engage in honest dialogue with their team members. Sales manager who help people develop their knowledge and character, refresh and improve their selling skills, and think strategically about each opportunity before the deal comes to a close will see a smoother, more successful finish.
Sadly, many of the sales managers we coach believe they have well-developed coaching skills. They believe they are highly capable teachers when, in fact, they interfere too late in the process, control the close too rigidly, and fail to coach the salesperson on anything except how to pull through in a crisis.
Ultimately, tight races are won through hard work, practice, and observation coupled with candid discussion around the performance formula. Make sure that your coaching sessions center on the pre-close requirements that will truly elevate your organization’s success in the marketplace.