Sales coaching – the use and abuse of modeling

Sales Mentoring

Recently we have posted several blogs on sales coaching. The response has been great and folks have provided great insights.  Since there is a significant interest in sales coaching, we thought it would be worthwhile selecting one of the feedback ideas and take a deeper dive into the topic.  Edwin Agcaoili’s comment is a good topic in point – “sometimes showing a rep how to do something can be an effective coaching strategy.”

Over the years we have observed a number of sales managers who did a great job at modeling. So picking up on Edwin’s idea, we thought describing what the best are doing on a good day would be worth profiling.

Before we examine the specifics, there is some general background worth highlighting.  Let’s lump these ideas under the rubric of demystification.

Like mentoring, modeling is not a substitute for coaching.  Both mentoring and modeling are simply two techniques that an effective coach should have in their quiver.  Under the right circumstances both of these techniques can be very effective for developing performance skills.

A second dysfunctional idea is that modeling is easy.  Modeling is not – “Just watch me do this.”  Modeling requires knowledge and skill on the part of the person doing the modeling and good observational and analytic skills on the part of the rep doing the observation.  It is also a very time consuming coaching technique.

Let’s explore some specifics for getting modeling right.

Know the antecedents. Modeling should be used as a step in the overall sales coaching process – there are steps that precede and follow.  It is particularly important that modeling is preceded by the steps necessary to identify the skill sets to be modeled.  The sales manager and the sales rep must agree that the skill set is important to learn and the sales rep has a performance deficit.  If not done with care, it is easy to do a good job doing the wrong thing.

Focus on the complex and subtle. Each coaching technique is particularly effective for mastering particular bodies of knowledge and skill sets.  So it is always a good idea to be thoughtful about which technique you use for what. For example mentoring a new hire by a senior sales rep works well for getting the new sales rep a kick-start – learning how to manage all those byzantine administrative things one has to do.  Modeling can be particularly effective when one is trying to learn complex subtle skill sets like: developing trust, creating rapport, or leveraging expertise.

Going back to an earlier point about “it takes time” – let’s look at trust There are “no tricks for developing trust. It requires a complex skill set that most people would be better off if they were a better at it.  However, trust is something that is developed over time and must also be learned over time.  A sales manager cannot help sales reps learn the skills for developing trust in one modeling session.

Remember the debrief. The typical first steps in the process for applying modeling involves the sales manager and sales rep determining the priority skill set and then selecting and planning a joint call where the sales manager “models” the behaviors and the sales rep observes.  But as reference earlier the underlying framework for modeling is not “watch and learn.”  It is instead: “watch and analyze and learn.”

The analysis piece comes after the call – the debrief. Time needs to be spent with the sales manager and sales rep reviewing what went on in the call.  If for example “leveraging expertise” was the priority skill set, what did the sales manager do and how did he do it?  What were the reactions from the customer?  Was there a critical snippet in the call?  In general, it is difficult to observe excellence in action. So sales managers must help the sales reps break down what the sales manager did into learnable chunks.

Respect the required expertise. From the sales managers perspective getting good at modeling takes time and effort – particularly if one does apply it to complex skill sets. For example, the sales manager must not only be accomplished at the skill set; they must know what they do and why it works.  Plus, they must be able to help the sales  rep observe and understand complex interactions.  That as they say – is not so easy.

So one might ask is modeling a worthwhile technique.  Our short answer is – yes.  When we have watch sales managers apply it effectively; it is a beauty to behold.  A sales manager can help their sales team move from dark arts of selling to learning the skills that make a difference when selling in major accounts.

Some additional recent posts about sales coaching you might find helpful are:

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About Richard Ruff

For more than 30 years Dr. Richard Ruff and Dr. Janet Spirer - the founders of Sales Horizons - have worked with the Fortune 1000 - such as UPS, Canon USA, Smith & Nephew, Boston Scientific, Owens & Minor, Textron - to design and develop sales training programs. During his career Dick has authored numerous articles related to sales effectiveness and co-authored "Managing Major Sales", a book about sales management, "Parlez-Vous Business" which helps sales people integrate the language of business into the sales process, and "Getting Partnering Right" – a research based work on the best practices for forming strategic selling alliances. Dr. Ruff received his Ph.D. in Organizational Psychology from the University of Tennessee and a B.S. from Rennsselaer Polytechnic Institute.
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