Sales coaching is one of the most important aspects of a sales manager’s job – but it’s also a big cause of sales rep turnover. In fact, over 60% of salespeople are more likely to leave their job if their manager is a poor coach, according to Zenger Folkman.
But great coaches aren’t born. Sales managers have to work at it. But the real challenge is: how can they become better coaches?
According to Keenan, a sales expert and CEO of A Sales Guy, the most important rule of sales coaching is simple: “don’t be an a**hole.”
As a manager, your job is to get more out of people than they can get out of themselves. And if you’re an a**hole, you can’t help anyone. Coaching is not about beating people up; it’s about identifying areas for improvement and working with reps to help them become the best salespeople they can be.
Here are 4 key takeaways from Keenan’s session at #INBOUND17, Grow Your Sales Revenue Through Sales Coaching in 2018.
Why Sales is an “All Link” Sport
There are weak link sports, and there are strong link sports. For example, you can’t win soccer games by having one Ronaldo and 10 duds. Because with 11 players per team on the field, one Ronaldo is not enough to offset the bad players. This is known as a weak link sport.
On the other hand, basketball is a strong link sport. With only 5 players, all you need is one or two players like Lebron James or Kobe Bryant to create a winning team.
Even though sales is technically a weak link sport, Keenan argues it should be treated as an “all link” sport. He says, you can’t create a winning team with one or two ‘A’ players if the rest of your team is performing poorly; your entire sales team needs to work like a well-oiled selling machine.
This is where sales coaching comes into play – sales managers should be able to identify poor performers and help them improve areas where their skills are lacking.
The Freedom Box
The Freedom Box is an important concept for any sales manager looking to improve their sales coaching skills and the skills of their sales reps. As uncomfortable as it may be for some managers, Keenan says you will help reps do their job better by not telling them how to do their job.
"People want to feel empowered, and empowered people are the most productive people." -Keenan
What Keenan refers to as The Freedom Box requires managers to set individual goals and parameters to ensure they are on target for larger, teamwide goals. Once those parameters are set, effective managers allow their reps to do whatever it takes (within ethical reason) to reach those goals. If your rep isn’t on track to meet those goals, then managers should make the freedom box smaller and smaller until they get it right.
Sales Coaching Framework
To create a successful sales coaching program, expectations should be in place for both the coach (the sales manager) and the individual that receives the coaching (the sales rep).
Keenan provided a framework to keep both managers and reps responsible for their end of the bargain.
- Observe – Generally, a manager’s effectiveness as a coach starts and ends with their ability to watch what their employees are doing. Sales managers need to find observable moments to help their reps improve. Keenan suggests listening in on sales calls, having reps record their screen or asking reps to practice how they would respond to a scenario through coaching challenges.
- Describe – In this next step, sales managers should describe what they saw when they watched the rep, instead of what they didn’t see. And most importantly, Keenan says they should tell the rep the impact of that decision. For example, the sales manager could say, “I noticed you ended the call right after the demo. By doing this, you missed the opportunity to discuss next steps and slowed down the buying process.”
- Prescribe – This step is about looking forward and letting reps know how they can get better. Keenan says the sales manager can say something like, “In the future, before you get off the line with a prospect, make sure to discuss next steps in order to set expectations. That way, you save yourself time tracking them down via email.”
- Absorb – Pay close attention to whether your reps are absorbing the tips and guidance you are providing. How are they reacting to the advice you are giving them? Does it seem like it’s sinking in? Keenan says the bottom line is that you can’t teach a student who doesn’t want to be taught.
- Apply – How well are your reps applying the learnings from your coaching sessions? Timing will differ from rep to rep. Keenan says, the better your rep is at what they do, the longer it will take them to apply these lessons. Think of it like a world-class guitar player trying to break old habits and make new ones.
How to Get Sales Coaching to Stick
There’s one critical differentiator between coaching and training. Training involves brand new information that your rep is unfamiliar with. Coaching is reinforcing knowledge that your rep has already learned.
To make sales coaching successful at your organization, you must create a coaching culture. This means that coaching isn’t a one-time thing. It’s a repeatable process and should happen on a recurring basis. In a well-structured coaching culture, Keenan says your reps should know exactly what to expect – for example, they should know that a one-on-one coaching session will happen every week about tactical selling, and every quarter you will meet on larger goals like developing leadership skills.
Regularly scheduled coaching not only helps you build a coaching culture, it also makes quarterly or annual performance reviews easier on the manager because the rep already knows what they are doing well and what they need to improve upon. If your rep continues to fail to apply the coaching, it may be time to consider other roles within or outside of your organization that would make more sense for them.
Looking to step up your sales coaching game? Check out this exclusive eBook, Playbook: Choosing the Right Sales Coaching Solution.