Coaching sales reps is a fundamental task of sales management. Follow these guidelines to improve your performance as a sales coach.
Great Sales Managers leave clues as to why they have successful sales teams. When coaching sales reps one-on-one, they practice techniques that give us insight as to what really works. I’ve assembled seven of them here that top performing Sales Managers do over and over again.
1. They identify their salesperson’s selling skills
Assess the selling skills in each step of the sales process. How would rate your sales rep’s abilities in the Lead Generation step? How we do they build lists, establish credibility, make cold calls, respond to objections, gain access to decision-makers? What about the other steps of the sales process? Take time to list their skills and and assign a rating to each one. From that you can create a custom development plan. Each of your sales reps has specific developmental needs. They need custom coaching based on their skills.
2. They identify their salesperson’s personal skills
Personal skills relate to a sales rep’s personality style, communication style and core motivators. In addition, they also relate to their decision-making abilities such as: ability to handle rejection, self-confidence, empathy, emotional control, persistence, and many others. For example:
- Do your sales reps have a lot of product knowledge, but lack the confidence to make cold calls?
- How often do they alienate a buyer because they failed to modify their personality style?
- Are they overly empathetic so that they can’t negotiate or hold the line on price and reduce your margins?
An in-depth sales assessment is an excellent way to uncover the personal skills of your salespeople to identify their strengths and areas of development.
3. They create and follow a custom development plan for each sales rep
Regardless of the strength of the sales process, each sales rep will have a different set of selling skills and personal skills to develop. Great sales managers take the time to observe and assess each member of their sales team to create a priority list of developmental areas. They stick to it, take the time to develop each one and rarely attempt to develop more than one skill at a time. Why, because your sales reps need time to move from competency to mastery. It’s your job to focus on the primary skill they need to develop. After they prove that they can execute that one skill with a sufficient level of proficiency, then you should move on to the next skill. Only then will you build a solid set of skills into your sales rep.
4. They ask a lot of questions when coaching sales reps.
When a sales manager does all the talking in a coaching session, they create dependence. The sales rep cannot think for themselves. They need the sales manager to help them on more and more calls. This minimizes the sales rep’s opportunity to develop self-awareness and independence. When coaching sales reps, ask questions to get them thinking about their quality of execution. This helps them self-evaluate their performance… which is what you want. Here are a few examples:
- How qualified is this opportunity? Prove it.
- How many cold calls does it take to secure one appointment?
- What business needs (not product or service) does the buyer want to address?
- In what ways does our solution address those needs?
- How do you differentiate yourself from our competitors?
- What do you say when the buyer says, “Your price is too high”?
As sales manager, it’s your job to help your sales rep develop their critical thinking skills. They need to reflect on their sales performance (instead of you just telling them what they did right or wrong). As a result, their self-awareness grows.They buy-in to developing their skills and they get better.
5. They differentiate between a knowledge gap and a thinking gap.
Sometimes sales reps don’t know what to do in a certain selling situation. They may lack product knowledge or the specific tasks in a step of the sales process. Those are knowledge gaps that require the sales manager to explain what to do. In many cases, however, the sales rep has a thinking gap – they are not fully engaging their brain to examine the possibilities that led to a particular outcome (i.e. they fail to fully qualify buyers so they don’t get contracts signed).
This is where great sales managers ask questions in a coaching session to get the sales rep to think through the problem themselves. This helps them own the solution once you lead them to it with good questioning. For example:
- Why do you think you lost that sale?
- Was it your sale to lose in the first place?
- Why did the buyer respond to you the way they did when they said “no”?
- What do you believe is the reason your closing ratio is so low compared to your number of proposals?
6. They role-play… a lot.
Role play is much like practice on an athletic team. The more times you run the same plays, the higher the confidence, and the better the execution. Therefore, the better the results. Great sales managers demonstrate to their sales reps what good execution of a particular skill looks like and then help them to replicate it.
They break down the steps of the sales process into individual tasks and the skills required to be successful. Then they run the plays over and over again to develop proficiency, and ultimately, mastery. How many times? On any give sales technique, it usually takes 50 role-plays to develop competency. It takes another 50 to gain mastery. Note: this does not happen in one session. This usually needs to be done over several sessions so that the sales rep can move it from short-term to long-term memory.
7. They track their sales reps’ progress
Tracking a sales rep’s progress is exciting for both you and your sales rep. They feel a sense of accomplishment when they improve on a skill and experience the payoff on a sales call. Identify what success looks like for any particular skill and then start with where your sales rep is.
As you’re coaching them through their development, you’ll see them become more astute at identifying their weaknesses and how to improve. When your sales rep masters a particular skill, celebrate their success and then move on to the next skill. Great sales managers are in a perpetual state of developing skills across their sales team.
Follow these 7 coaching guidelines and watch your sales team member become more confident, more proficient and more successful. For a point of reference from the sales manager development side, check out this article from Harvard Business review.