Organizations that provide salespeople with coaching see annual revenue growth rates 16.7% greater than firms that do not provide sales coaching, according to research from the Sales Management Association. Since almost half of all sales reps miss their quota every year, a 16.7% boost makes a big difference.
But, we’ve said it before: coaching is the kale of sales organizations. We know it’s healthy, and it’s trendy, but few actually put it on their plate. To reflect on the value and importance of sales coaching, I asked a few of the industry’s most experienced sales coaches for real examples of sales coaching done right.
“Where management had failed, coaching succeeded.”
When I was a VP of Sales, I inherited Tom, a sales rep, from another division. Tom was a formerly successful senior sales rep that slowly slid into irrelevance over the course of a couple bad years. Tom had been at the company a long time and no one in the organization wanted to usher him out of the company. Instead, they shuffled Tom from one sales team to another until he was dropped into my lap.
Tom’s previous bosses tried to “manage” him out of his dry spell instead of coaching him. They thought the issue was solvable by focusing on the mechanics, the process and the metrics of what Tom was doing, instead of engaging with him as an individual, understanding his specific situation and coming to a mutual understanding of the obstacles that were standing in the way of Tom achieving his goals and objectives.
As an organization, we’d invested a lot in Tom. And, until his recent struggles, Tom had paid back that investment through several years of strong sales performance. I didn’t see my task as one of finding a way to usher Tom out the door. My task was to coach him, reactivate his confidence and help him regain his former level of productivity.
Effective coaching is similar in many respects to selling. You have to use questions to uncover the true challenges, take what you learn and synthesize that into a solution and jointly create a vision of what they can achieve if they follow the plan you develop.
I learned that Tom had lost his confidence, especially in the critical early stages of a deal that focused on building rapport, credibility and trust with the prospect. To help Tom to rebuild his confidence I took him off large accounts and focused him on smaller, more transactional deals. This gave him more opportunities to practice his cold outreach, engage with prospects, build rapport and become more focused on delivering value in every interaction. This would help his prospects make faster buying decisions.
We’d spend 15 minutes at the start of each day talking about the outcomes of his calls the previous day. Then we picked one item that Tom would focus on changing and improving for the day. This way Tom was always improving one aspect of his selling.
Over the course of 90 intense days, Tom regained a lot of the mojo that had once helped him be a top performer. When I moved him back into a role working with major accounts, Tom brought an increased sense of urgency that he’d picked up working with smaller deals. He’d learned how to front-load value into each opportunity to quickly build the credibility and trust that enabled him to become a trusted advisor to prospects.
Instead of abandoning Tom, coaching helped Tom reclaim his career and his confidence. His bookings that year more than doubled over his previous best year. Where management had failed, coaching succeeded.
“When people lack clarity, they aim big and they miss big.”
Rarely does sales coaching produce immediate results; it usually takes at least 30 days. However, I have two sales coaching examples to share, one that produced immediate results and another with long-term results.
I worked with a financial services firm looking to improve their sales processes. We began by gaining clarity around the sales process and the firm’s holistic talents. With a clear vision and an awareness of their competitive advantage the firm increased sales referrals by 300% in just 30 days by consistently asking each client she spoke with for just one sales referral.
Another client, a senior VP within the financial/banking industry, needed help more effectively communicating, making decisions and identifying his talents. Over the next two years, we softened his “tone,” body language and content and used pre- and post-assessments such as DISC and Values Indexes to change his behavior and easily achieve and surpass his “Big Hairy Audacious Goal.”
Sales coaching, business coaching or executive coaching all share this purpose – clarity. From clarity, better execution happens because as it was said in the movie The Patriot, “aim small, miss small.” When people lack clarity, they aim big and they miss big.
Related: 11 Keys for Effective Sales Coaching
“You are the one responsible for the learning.”
A while ago I received a call from an executive that wanted to train front-line sales managers to coach sales reps. From a ‘getting sales coaching right’ perspective, they executed all the traditional steps to perfection. They had done everything right.
I asked what were the sales managers doing or not doing that needed to be fixed? From their analysis, the basic problem was what we would label as the “doing and telling” trap.
- Doing — Rather than coaching, too many of the sales managers fell back on what they were used to doing, really good at doing and in some cases, preferred doing (which was selling).
- Telling — The approach used by some could be summarized as “I’m the expert – I’ll diagnose what’s wrong and suggest what you should learn. Your job is to practice what I recommend.”
The company was rightly concerned that such an implementation approach was not the best path forward. We suggested they start using a new coaching approach — “You are the one responsible for the learning. I’m responsible for helping you become more aware of your performance and expand your learning choices.” We also helped them better evaluate when to coach and when to go out and help sell.
Three months after agreeing to the suggestions, the managers were doing a much better job avoiding the “doing trap.” Shifting the coaching process away from “telling” after three months is still a work in progress but many managers had successfully made the shift, positioning sales reps and the company to have more powerful sales interactions and close more deals.
Although Andy, Leanne and Dr. Ruff may take different approaches to sales coaching, they agree that sales coaching is critical to the success of salespeople, sales managers and organizations alike.
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