Sales coaching: enough talk – it’s time to get serious

Sales Management Coaching Session

Sales Coaching

Today having a superior sales team is more important than ever.  Good is no longer good enough.  Several factors are driving this need for excellence – two stand out:

  • You can’t sustain a competitive advantage by product alone.  Because of advanced manufacturing technologies and global competition even if you have a great product, the competition is likely to come out with one that is just about as good (or sometimes better), in half the time compared to yesteryear and it’s likely to be cheaper.
  • Customer expectations have changed – they expect salespeople to know more and know it at a higher level of proficiency than ever before.  Customers expect salespeople to bring fresh insights for helping them redefine their problems and imagination for assisting them create alternative solutions.

The bottom line is a superior sales team is more important than ever and it is more difficult to achieve.  Yet, how does a company effectively, efficiently, and affordably develop and sustain a high performance sales team?  Over the years we have written a lot about one obvious initiative that companies must get right as starters – sales coaching.

So what are companies doing that are getting it right?  Let’s explore two answers to that question.  First, they are adopting a model for coaching that provides the best foundation for optimizing the chances of success and secondly, they are serious about identifying and codifying the best practices for executing that model.  Let’s start by examining two different models for sales coaching – a traditional one and one that is proving to be a more viable alternative. 

  • Traditional Model.  “I’m the expert – I’ll diagnose the deficiencies and suggest what you need to improve.  You are responsible for learning what I suggest.”
  • Alternative Model.  “I’m responsible for helping you become more aware of your performance and expand your learning choices.  You are the one responsible for improving your performance.”

The alternative model is proving to be more effective because it is based on the notion that people are more likely to want to change behavior and to learn new stuff more effectively by guided self-discovery than by dictated assessment and tutorial prescription.  In addition it also clearly places the accountability for learning where it belongs – with the sales rep not the coach.

Now, let’s assume that we are into the alternative model idea.  How do you make it happen?  Given all the competing priorities, how does a dedicated sales manager implement the model in the field?  What are the best practices for getting it right?  Let’s take a look at a starter list:

  • Determine Coaching Time Available.  Figure out the maximum time you have for coaching and stick to it.  Most coaching fails not because it doesn’t work …but because it never happens.
  • Focus.  You can’t coach everyone, on everything, all at once.  So determine priorities as to whom to coach – on what.
  • Develop a Shared Goal.  Determine with the salesperson the skills that will be the focus for the coaching.
  • Set Expectations.  Set with the salesperson their responsibilities for the coaching effort.  What should they do to prepare for each and every coaching call? 
  • Select Safe Opportunities.  Determine which calls will be coaching calls.  On some calls you need to help the rep sell –fair enough.  Select other “safer” calls where you let the rep handle the call and you observe and coach post call.
  • Provide Feedback Right Away.  Don’t postpone the feedback – do it right after the call.
  • Set a Next Step.  Agree who will do what between coaching opportunities but always do something. 

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©2015 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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