Saying there’s no time for coaching or that someone has already reached their potential are just two of the prominent misconceptions around sales coaching. But some simple and very effective sales coaching techniques- when applied consistently and with sincerity and skill- can greatly raise the game of individuals and your entire sales team.
By Terri O’Halloran
We all have preconceived notions about what’s possible for us to achieve, and the reality is, it’s human nature to set lower standards than what we’re actually capable of. Whether in sports, in sales or in life, a great coach helps people reach their full potential. Particularly when it comes to sales, coaches help reps move past their mental boundaries and perform at higher levels than they even realized were possible for them.
But because sales coaching isn’t consistently or effectively practiced by most sales managers- and often not even defined well organizationally- their people tend to fall into ruts and habits. They gravitate to levels of productivity they think their manager will accept, and soon enough, those levels become fixed beliefs and habits. The manager’s expectations of what the person can accomplish then become fixed as well, creating a reinforcing loop of mediocrity. We call it the Law of Limited Performance.
Across most organizations, people are achieving almost exactly what managers or leaders expect them to achieve, and all too often, it’s well below what they could be accomplishing. This is why it’s critical for managers to hone their sales coaching techniques and expand their beliefs and expectations of their team members.
Sales Coaching Myths Debunked
You probably already know that sales coaching is important. This isn’t news. The question is, why aren’t managers investing more time in actually doing it? The question is then- how committed to the activity of coaching is that person? Because when we have a negative or even indifferent view of coaching in our heads the output can be we don’t really believe our people are going to be successful. Or maybe we don’t even really believe we’re good at this. So, what’s at the core of that?
Here are a few myths and facts about sales coaching, as well as some strategies and sales coaching techniques to help your managers get started and embrace coaching and developing others as the central part of their job.
Myth: Sales coaching is for low performers.
Fact: Coaching benefits all performers.
Strategies: Coach everyone. Recognize and reward strong performers, and challenge them to achieve more. Turn mistakes into learning. Encourage everyone to set and reach higher goals.
Myth: Sales coaching isn’t part of our culture.
Fact: It may not be part of your culture, but it’s your job as a leader to develop others.
Strategies: Model the way. Set an example that helps others bring their best selves to work. Don’t let someone else’s lack of commitment influence yours. Start a sales coaching trend now.
Myth: Sales coaching is confrontational.
Fact: Sales coaching is conversational.
Strategies: Effective sales coaching is a collaborative, constructive process. Focus on behaviors, not the person. Communicate your intentions. Ask for input and listen. Really listen. Respond to challenges with empathy and a solution-focused mindset. And describe the positive outcome of the desired behaviors.
Myth: This salesperson has already reached their potential.
Fact: With the right beliefs and support, a person is always capable of growing.
Strategies: Break the Law of Limited Performance. Listen for perceived limitations and view of abilities to pinpoint their current belief boundaries. Set goals beyond those barriers, and communicate a sincere desire to help them succeed. Use outcomes to build belief — both yours and theirs.
Myth: There’s simply no time in sales for coaching.
Fact: It’s all too easy to allow the “tyranny of the urgent” to distract from the truly important of the day. Coaching ultimately frees up much more of managers’ time by providing sales teams with the motivation and confidence to handle new and varied situations. Smart managers invest time up front to yield massive dividends on the back end.
Strategies: Sometimes, “I don’t have the time” is actually a cover for the real issues: a lack of confidence, self-belief and skills to be effective in the role. Or it can be a lack of understanding of what coaching even entails (hint: it’s not reviewing CRM reports and pipelines). In our research, 55% of managers reported that they’d never had any sales coaching training. 63% of companies had no agreed-upon definition of coaching. Only 25% could clearly articulate what sales coaching looks like for their managers. As important as it is for managers to coach, it’s equally important to provide the sales managers with guidance, clarity and coaching of their own.
Sales Coaching and the Manager’s Mindset
Expanding beliefs isn’t just about the mindset of the person being coached. The manager’s beliefs play an equally important role in the effectiveness of any sales coaching conversation. People can quickly pick up on whether you believe in them or not. As a result, the manager’s attitude directly impacts the success of the coaching.
3 factors can heavily influence productivity:
- The degree that the manager sincerely believes that salesperson can achieve higher performance.
- The degree that the salesperson believes the manager believes that.
- The degree of trust, mutual respect and rapport between them.
To inspire others, sales managers have to be aware of their own attitudes and beliefs. This includes asking themselves questions such as:
- How much potential do I see in this person?
- What unconscious positive or negative clues about my beliefs am I communicating?
- Do I have a genuine desire to help my team move to the next level of performance?
- How willing am I to suspend my own judgment and assumptions?
- What is the level of my ability to listen to my feelings and check how my behavior affects others?
Clearly, sales coaching is often as much or more about the manager’s own development as it is about developing others.
7 Sales Coaching Techniques to Raise Your Game
Sales coaching raises the entire organization’s game, but your managers have to be taught a proven, reliable, repeatable process for how to do it effectively and consistently to get results. Especially if your managers are saying they don’t have the time to coach, make sure it’s not really a lack of self-belief, skills and confidence that’s holding them back.
Here are some practical sales coaching techniques to help your managers start creating a high-trust, high-expectations sales culture:
- Start small. Even just a few hours a week (if done consistently) can make a difference. In fact, in our research we found that 52% of sales managers spent between zero and four hours per week coaching. Carve out six hours this week.
- Provide honest feedback: People crave more open communication, yet 37% of leaders struggle giving feedback that may cause a negative reaction.
- But don’t do all the talking. The goal of coaching isn’t for the leader to tell their team member what to do. It’s for them to understand their people’s goals and aspirations- where they’re going- and step back and help them formulate the plan to get there. Sales managers need to recognize when to be non-directive (listening, questioning, clarifying to promote creative thinking and idea generation) and when to be more directive (giving advice and training). As a general rule, listen 80% and talk only 20%.
- Show sincere interest: Frequently express genuine belief in the value of each salesperson. It may be helpful to visualize the person performing at the next level of performance you believe is possible for them to achieve.
- Help people become their best: Point out each person’s hidden potential. Focus on their strengths and how those strengths can assist them in moving to the next level.
- Improve engagement: Create an atmosphere of trust. Find out what drives each person. Strong coaches have three times as many people who are willing to go the extra mile. They’ll stay with the company longer. On the flip side, 60% of people who report to poor coaches think about quitting.
- Coach top performers, too: The best players want to play for the best coaches. Help them grow instead of assuming they’re on auto-pilot and don’t need the support — a misconception that can lead to burnout, plateauing and turnover. With today’s competitive talent market, you can’t afford to ignore, and potentially lose, your best people.
Everyone needs a great coach by their side. Think of it in terms of where the term “coach” was used a hundred years ago. A coach then was a horse-drawn carriage that took people from where they were to where they wanted to be. And so we want to look at coaching as a process for getting our people from where they are to where they want to be.
When people feel understood and appreciated and that their organization is invested in their development, they will be intensely loyal. They’ll have more confidence and start performing at a higher level. Some of the decisions they’re running to their sales leaders for they will start solving for themselves.
And for your sales managers, the legacy they leave will be fingerprints on not just their team’s sales performance output but on people’s lives.
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