Sales coaching feedback – do it now and keep it simple

Sales coaching

A couple of weeks ago we posted a blog entitled, Is coaching really necessary? We received more than the usual number of responses.  There seemed to be little doubt about the answer – if you want a superior sales team, then sales coaching is an absolute must-do.

Give the level of response and the answer to the question, we thought spending a little more time examining the question about how we can get sales coaching right would be an appropriate follow up.

There is a wealth of literature on the how-to’s of sales coaching.  Some aspects have been explored in-depth; others not so much.  Providing feedback is an area that is critical and one we think deserves a little more attention.  Let’s take a deeper dive by examining one particular proposition.

Proposition – when it comes to providing sales coaching feedback: simple and immediate trump comprehensive and later.

Let’s take a look at a scenario that dramatizes that comparison.

Scenario. A sales manager and one of her sales reps just left a sales call that beforehand had been designated a good coaching opportunity.  The sales manager says, “ I took a lot of good notes and have a number of suggestions.  But as I look at my watch I’m running late and have a busy day ahead, so why don’t we just postpone the debriefing until this coming Friday before our sales meeting.”

Legitimately one can ask whether this scenario ever really happens or is so rare that it doesn’t matter.  Although we do not have any research data on the answer, we would suggest from experience that if we were to assemble 100 reps in a room and ask the question about “does it happen,” more than a few would raise their hands.

There are in fact some even worse versions of the scenario.  Like – the coaching day never gets scheduled in the first place or the debriefing scheduled for Friday never happens or, a particular favorite among reps, they get the coaching suggestions in an e-mail.

Given the scenario does happen, let’s revisit our proposition and examine why now wins over later and simple beats comprehensive.

  • Opportunity lost. Observations without feedback means no sales coaching occurs and unfortunately that which is postponed until Friday often never happens.  Postponing feedback, particularly if it occurs frequently, also conveys a subtle message about the overall importance of coaching.
  • Memory fade. As the time between the call and the debriefing increases, the recall of the behavioral specifics tend quickly to fade and a shared vision is lost.  In the worse case the coaching session turns into a “my memory versus your memory” discussion.
  • Feedback overload. If you are receiving the feedback the simple versus comprehensive point is a big deal.  Imagine, if you were on the receiving end of the following feedback from your manager:

“John, I took a lot of notes on the call – have a couple of suggestions.  I think the next time you are in a situation like that you need to talk less and ask more questions and you’ve got to cut down on the number of features and increase the number of benefits.  And, just one last thing – I think it would help if you open the sales call with an opening statement that created rapport.”

So when it comes to providing sales call feedback the moral of the story is – do it now and keep it simple.  In order to make that happen the following four-step process can be helpful.

  • Step 1 – Before the sales call determine one priority behavior, for example asking questions, on which to focus the post-call coaching.  During the call the manager can focus their observation on that one behavior.
  • Step 2 – At the beginning of the sales coaching feedback following the call the ales manager should ask the sales rep what they thought about how effective they were in regard to the priority behavior.
  • Step 4 – Last it is important to determine some action steps the sales rep can take to continue their improvement on the priority behavior.

Sales coaching is a fundamental requirement in order to maintain a superior sales team.  When it comes to providing coaching feedback, it is important to minimize the time between observation and feedback.  It is also helpful if you keep the feedback at a behavioral level and focus on one behavior at a time.

If you found this post helpful, you might want to join the conversation and subscribe to the Sales Training Connection.

©2013 Sales Horizons, 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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