Sales coaching – an emerging challenge

Sales Coaching Challenge

Sales Coaching Challenge

Today, across industries, there appears to be little doubt that companies are changing what they buy, how they buy and what they are will to pay for it.

Regarding how they buy, a contradiction has emerged that deserves a place on the sales coaching priority list.  Let’s take a look at the contradiction and then explore some best practices managers can use to coach their sales teams to deal with the consequences.

The contradiction is driven in part by the advent of technology. Buyers today have more information available about the products they wish to purchase than ever before.  They know about your product and they can quickly acquire the information about how you stack up against the competition.  This is one of the reasons why today buyers may be 50% through their buying cycle before they even contact selling organizations.

On the other hand, that does not mean that customers expect less from sales reps. They simply expect something different.  They want real expertise for helping them formulate creative cost effective solutions. The expectation is: “I already know about your product, what I want to know now is how we can work with you to create a innovative solution to our problems using your product.”

Can sales reps bring new perspectives to defining the problem?  Do they have experience and insights about innovative solution configurations?  Do they have the authority and political clout to marshal the right resources when they are needed?  That is not a set of expectations that a standard product pitch can adequately address.

If sales reps are going to develop the skills to meet this new set of expectations, most sales reps are going to need some help.  Will they learn on their own?  Some will, but most will either take too long or not make the shift at all. This a sales performance challenge that lends itself to a sales coaching answer.  With that thought in mind let’s review some sales coaching best practices.

  • Establish a sales coaching priority.  Jointly establish with the sales rep that adjusting to the new expectations is important for their success.  Then focus your sales coaching effort on the knowledge and skills to make that happen – make sure you describe what the end-state looks like.
  • Minimize the risks of failure.  Trying something different involves a lot of risks like: perhaps initially reduced commission to negative feedback from customers and peers.  Where possible the sales manager needs to help the sales rep manage and minimize these risks.
  • Reward behavior not just results.  Successful change is best-accomplished one step at a time – over time.  It is important to provide positive feedback all along the way as new behaviors are learned and applied, as opposed to, waiting until the final results are achieved for providing the proverbial pat on the back.
  • Document and broadcast success.  Usually when someone tries something new, the failures tend to be well documented.  Sales manager need to make sure the same is true for successes – this is helpful to the sales rep and to other sales reps that might be taking the same journey in the future.
  • Collect best practices.  As sales coaching efforts unfold, good ideas will emerge relative to what sales reps looking to change need to learn.  Document these best practices!

Looking ahead five years, there are few markets where top sales performance will be achieved simply by selling to the same people, in the same way, with the same message as yesteryear.  So, “this how do we help sales rep skillfully adjust to a new set of buyer expectations” problem is likely to more than just – a nice to do.  The major challenge for sales managers is finding the time to help.

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©2014 Sales Momentum LLC

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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