By Len D’Innocenzo, CEO, CRKInteractive
The coaching process is more than a hypothetical run-through of possible scenarios. Ideally, it takes place all the time: in the field, after calls, and during periods of tough selling. The manager who is a good coach gets into the game and models the performance expected of the sales team.
Suggest the change
Regardless of the experience level of your salespeople, coach all of them all the time. Curbside coaching after a sales call can have great impact. Done properly, such coaching is a great time to help new salespeople develop skills relevant to your market and product, and a good time to review methods with intermediate and senior people.
Begin by asking for the salesperson’s reaction to the call. Did he accomplish his objectives? What does he think went well? Where does he feel he had a problem? What would he have done differently? What was the result of the call?
No matter how the call ended, try to sincerely compliment the salesperson. This can be difficult when the call went poorly, but a compliment opens the door to improvement. Look for the good points first. If the salesperson did a good job of establishing rapport, let him know that. If you thought he opened the call well, tell him. If he moved the sales cycle forward, congratulate him for doing his job.
During the call, be sure to observe your salesperson’s performance so that you can make a recommendation or two that will help. We suggest limiting your recommendations so that you don’t overwhelm the salesperson.
For example, if you thought your salesperson didn’t ask enough questions, you might say “good questions are important, but a few more open-ended questions would have provided a better understanding of the prospect’s needs. I like to write down four or five good questions before a new call so I remember to ask them.”
A few of my standard questions are:
- Why do you think your best customers do business with you?
- What are your greatest challenges for this year?
- What are your growth plans for the coming twelve months?
Explain how a the change in approach will help on calls. The salesperson should see the benefit to changing what he has been doing. You might say “on an initial call, good questions allow the prospect to do most of the talking. When the prospect talks more than you do, you can listen for problem areas, goals and needs. When you do most of the talking you won’t uncover the prospect’s goals and needs, and this prolongs the sales cycle.”
You can also ask for the salesperson’s input. You don’t have to provide all the answers. Let the salesperson come up with some.
Model the method
The most common ways to model a desired improvement include role-playing and observing the manager in action. Role-playing can be very effective either one on one with the salesperson or at a sales meeting with your other salespeople. Some hints for successful role-playing:
- Talk over the desired method first.
- Let the salesperson play the prospect.
- The manager plays the salesperson.
- Role-play the last sales call.
- Demonstrate the improved skill for the salesperson.
- Debrief after the role-play for the salesperson’s feedback.
Sales managers can also demonstrate a sales technique for the salesperson right in front of the customer or prospect. This is called “jumping in” and can occur when the manager feels the salesperson has missed something important or is in trouble.
Although there may be benefits to this approach, managers should avoid jumping in at the first sign of trouble. It deflates the salesperson’s ego and doesn’t allow the manager to see how the salesperson handles trouble.
To demonstrate a specific sales skill or technique on a sales call:
- Talk over the desired method first.
- Plan the objectives of the sales call with the salesperson.
- Model the desired method for the salesperson with the customer or prospect.
Seasoned veterans like this approach because it occurs in real time. But it can be risky if the call doesn’t go well. When it does go well, the manager looks very good. So, choose the right situation and go for it.
After you role-play the desired method, ask the salesperson to try it. After you leave a call where you modeled or jumped in, debrief the salesperson on the method you’ve just demonstrated. Analyze the sales call immediately after leaving.
An ongoing process
Working with salespeople regularly allows you to help them master specific techniques. Always make positive performance evaluations before recommending improvements.
Encourage new salespeople to experiment with you in “safe” role-play environments. Allow your new and experienced salespeople to team up by observing you in action. Don’t assume your senior salespeople have mastered all the important sales skills. Even your best salespeople will appreciate your coaching on key account strategies and strategic planning.
To become a better coach for your sales team, ask yourself the following reflective questions on your way home at the end of the day:
- What did I do today to help my people?
- What did I do today to improve the performance of my people?
- What did I do today to lead my people by example?
If you can list productive answers to each of these questions, you are doing your part as their sales leader, and you will earn their respect.
You do not lead by hitting people over the head—that’s assault, not leadership.
— DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER
Ten coaching tips
- Coach all your people all the time: top performers, those in the middle, and those at the bottom.
- Coach each person at least once a month.
- Coach at the peaks, the valleys, and in the middle.
- Don’t wait until sales are down—your people may resist.
- Avoid jumping in at the first sign of trouble on a sales call, but don’t let your people drown either.
- Find something positive in every sales call you make with your sales people.
- Have them analyze the sales call first—what they liked best and least.
- Ask them what would have made the sales call more productive.
- Recommend and model a preferred sales method.
- Continue coaching and practice, practice, practice! Role-play different situations, one-on-one and in group settings.
Len D’Innocenzo is a co-founder of CRKInteractive, a US-based provider of cutting-edge performance development programs for over 20 years. Northbound Learning has an exclusive Canadian partnership with CRK.