Coaching sales strategy – 4 tips for sales managers

Ask sales managers and salespeople what makes them successful. The answer we hear most often is: The best salespeople sell strategically and the best coaches help them learn how to do it.  Sales managers can’t help salespeople become more talented, but they can help them become more skilled.

However like a lot of good ideas, coaching sales strategy is easy to say but no so easy to do.  Let’s explore some ideas for getting it right.

4 tips for coaching sales strategy

Select the Right Account. A classic trap for sales managers is spreading their coaching efforts too thinly. If you want to improve your strategy coaching begin by selecting the right account on which to focus your efforts. Several selection criteria may be considered, but one stands out as particularly important – high revenue potential.

Rarely does a salesperson have an account base in which all the accounts have equal potential for revenue growth. In conjunction with the salesperson, the sales manager should target for strategic coaching those accounts that have the greatest potential for revenue growth. How many accounts? With the “too-thin trap” in mind, it’s probably best to limit your coaching efforts to two or three key accounts. The best advice for maximizing your strategy coaching time is: do a really good job coaching a few, high-payoff accounts.

Establish the Expectations. There is no such thing as a generic winning strategy when selling in a complex market. Capturing the business is not about selecting a strategy; it’s about formulating a strategy. And formulating strategy is all about having more and better information than the competition.

For an effective and efficient strategy coaching session, sales managers should establish the expectation that the account executive will come to the session with the right information in hand. At a minimum, the salesperson should have information about the business situation in the account, the account’s business objectives, and details about the buying process and players – plus some initial thoughts about the solution.

Focus On Strategy and Skills. When formulating a strategy for a complex account, it’s a mistake to coach strategy independent of skills. Even the best strategy will fail unless what goes on in front of the customer is executed skillfully. This means the last step in any strategy coaching session should be to plan the first call in the execution of that strategy. In some cases, it may be appropriate for the sales manager to go on the call to help the salesperson sell. Or, the call could serve as a coaching opportunity to further develop the skills required to carry out the strategy.

Download free white paper – Getting Sales Strategy Right in Major Accounts

Leverage Time. The greatest barrier to coaching is lack of time. By selecting the right accounts and establishing expectations about preparation, you can improve the efficiency of the coaching effort. Another way to leverage time is to consider alternatives to one-on-one coaching sessions. While coaching sales skills is usually done individually because of the observation and feedback requirements, strategy coaching can often be done in small groups.

Frequently, the types of accounts and the dilemmas faced will be common to many members of the sales team. In such cases, its feasible – even advantageous – to involve two or three members of the team in a strategy session because everyone will benefit from discussions of all the targeted accounts.

There is little doubt that the best salespeople sell strategically. And, the best coaches are really good at helping them learn how to do it.  The greatest problem is simply not doing it and unfortunately that happens way too often. The second problem is failing to recognize that effective strategy coaching is hard to do.

What to learn more about sales strategy? Download our white paper - Getting Sales Strategy Right in Major Accounts.

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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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