As a former youth, high school and collegiate-level baseball coach, it was my goal to help my players perfect their skills so that we could improve as a team. As their coach, I was several years older in age, much more experienced in the game and had all of the resources they would need to get better.
In a professional setting, I fear some people may feel the word “coaching” is awkward. We’re hired to do a job because we are experienced professionals with proven track records. The dynamics between a youth baseball coach and his team are much different than sales managers and their reps.
Sometimes it can be difficult to accept constructive feedback, particularly if our manager has a similar experience level. Conversely, it can also be challenging to provide this feedback. Some people simply don’t feel comfortable with what coaching entails. It’s this fear of being coached – or of being the coach – that results in 85% of sales leaders saying it’s not happening enough. But if we don’t do it, we’re missing out on tremendous opportunities to perfect our craft – which bring significant consequences.
I was lucky enough to catch up with David A. Brock, founder, president and CEO of Partners in EXCELLENCE, and the author of the highly regarded new book, the Sales Manager Survival Guide, to talk about the benefits of sales coaching.
Dave explained that sales coaching, when done correctly, is much less awkward than the teenagers on my baseball teams. Not only that, coaching is invaluable to improving the sales effectiveness of your teams. Here are some key points from my conversation with one of the sales industry’s most prominent leaders:
I'm a new sales manager who has never coached. How do I find and create foundational knowledge to boost my sales coaching skillset?
DB: First, as a new manager, recognizing coaching is critical in driving performance is important. Kudos to new managers recognizing this and seeking to develop coaching skills. There are a few foundational things I cover in the book. First, it’s understanding what coaching is and isn’t.
- Coaching is primarily about helping the individual maximize their performance.
- It’s about developing them to step up to bigger responsibility—either in their current job or other roles.
That’s it. The next step is recognizing the only way we get coaching done is to integrate it into our everyday discussions with our people. Too many managers fail because they think of coaching as something separate. When they do this, their coaching either loses impact or simply doesn’t get done. We coach when we do deal reviews, pipeline reviews, when we are standing in line at Starbucks. We find every opportunity to find people doing something right and reinforcing it, or find opportunities where we can help people learn how to improve.
The last step is recognizing we are most effective when we are helping our people think, learn, and discover—with our guidance. Effective coaching is seldom about telling. With those as foundations, the book goes into a lot more about how to think about coaching and how to actually coach. So it’s a great start to building your skills. I recommend new managers also read other resources or take some formal training in coaching—not necessarily sales coaching, but coaching in general. Hopefully you have a good manager who coaches and can help you develop your skills. Other than that, just do it! Ask questions, probe, engage your people in conversations. You’ll make some mistakes, but you’ll learn and get better.
How do we help companies, managers and reps understand the benefits of sales coaching?
DB: There are a variety of studies that look at the benefits of coaching, so for those that need “data,” look at those. But fundamentally, we have to really understand our jobs as managers. At the most fundamental levels, it’s about meeting our goals.
Now the tricky part comes in, how do we do that? The only way we do that is through our people. For example, it’s our sales people that generate revenue, not managers. So how do we maximize the ability of our people to achieve our goals. There are things we provide the team—training, systems, tools, processes—but each person is different. Since our job is maximizing the performance of each person, the only way we do this is through one-on-one coaching. If we don’t do this, if we don’t maximize the performance of each person on our teams, they won’t achieve their goals. Consequently, we won’t achieve our goals or the organization’s goals. If we want to achieve our goals, the primary and most powerful tool we have is coaching.
Training and coaching are important. One does not replace the other; both are needed. How can organizations create an environment where training and coaching go hand in hand?
DB: Billions are spent each year in training sales people, yet most research indicates the majority of that money is wasted. The problem is when we don’t integrate training into everything else that we do, it stands by itself. People go through training, then they go back to doing their jobs. After a few months, very little of the training actually stick and is applied. The way we overcome this is to make sure we put together reinforcement programs, to continually get people to apply the skills they learned in training.
The manager and coaching plays a key role in this. Let’s say a sales team has just completed training on sales call planning. Following the training, the sales manager should constantly be coaching and reinforcing the skills developed in the training. In reviewing sales calls, they should make sure people have incorporated what they learned into what they are doing.
In general, we should never implement a training program unless we have also defined the ongoing reinforcement and coaching—and equipped managers with the abilities to do this. If you are buying training, don’t buy anything that doesn’t include a plan for reinforcement or that doesn’t help managers understand coaching and reinforcing. If you don’t do this, you might as well throw the money you invest away.
For more tips and ideas from David, visit the Partners in EXCELLENCE Blog — Making A Difference.
For details on how Brainshark helps managers coach reps and win more deals, check out this short video.