Sales Managers – The 6 Steps to Become a Great Sales Coach

Although a salesperson’s professional development is limited when it centres only on classroom learning many organisations still persist with it. At the risk of upsetting those in the learning and development field it has to be said that classroom learning has minimal impact in the medium to long term and by every measure the return on investment for the company is poor. At best the retention for the salesperson is 30% if active learning such as role play is part of the skills development and considerably lower at 5% if it is passive when the facilitator talks most of the time. When infield sales coaching becomes integral to the sales person’s development this figure can escalate to a staggering 90%. With up to 70% of top sales performers leaving because of dissatisfaction with their manager relationship sales coaching provides an opportunity to forge close working ties.

So why doesn’t every sales manager incorporate sales coaching for their salespeople?

Based on our research the reasons are:

1) They don’t know how
Many of you reading this may relate to this category. You were a very successful salesperson and so promoted to sales management with inadequate or no training for the role. You were not aware of infield sales coaching because it wasn’t part of the company’s culture

2) They don’t have a sales background
The sales manager came from another department within the company such as administration or operations. This is seen as a good career move and endorsed by senior management and is for a limited time of 2-3 years before the person moves onto another role. Because such an individual lacks sales experience they feel uncomfortable and incompetent in front of clients and prospects so avoid being in that position. A credibility issue with their sales team also becomes a problem

3) They don’t have the time
The sales manager becomes tied up with administration and other internal matters. They try to manage their sales team from their desk. To illustrate how serious a problem this is: one large national company with a network of business throughout Australia had each business unit manager also in a sales management role. Not 1 hour was invested in the field with one sales person over the previous12 month period.

Sales coaching needs to become part of a company’s sales culture just like coaching in sport is a part of the sporting culture. In fact to be effective sales managers need to spend at least 25% of their time with their salespeople in the field coaching.

Sales coaching is the key to achieving lasting sales improvement and is suitable for new people to sales through to sales veterans to reinforce knowledge and skills already known but not used effectively.

Sales coaching consist of 3 components:

1. Knowledge and skills
A common sales criticism of classroom learning is that it’s theoretical and won’t work in the ‘real world.’ However, when sales coaching becomes part of their development program the classroom theory is converted into practical know how. In fact when a specific skill is applied by the sales manager and then later duplicated by the salesperson, behaviour change and motivation are immediate

2. Objective sales competency levels.
When salespeople are measured against the 6 competency levels their true competency level can be identified. For the sales person to progress to a higher level the sales manager needs to use every teaching method available from seeing, hearing and demonstration to clarifying what to do and why.

3. An evaluation methodology to measure the outcomes.
A competency based training and development format is one of the best ways to measure skills performance.

The Curb Side Conference
This is the term used to describe how the previous sales call is reviewed for the purpose of developing or refining the sales person’s selling skills. The 6 step sales coaching process is used to achieve this outcome:

1) Briefly recap the sales objectives.
The objective/s for the sales call should have been set before the call. Recapping at the beginning of the curb side conference helps the salesperson to focus on the discussion at hand.

2) Provide a critique of the selling skills that were competently applied.
Use your sales process as the guiding template and leave out those selling skills that were incompetently or not applied. This is because you want to acknowledge and compliment the skills that demonstrated sales competence. For example “Mary let’s go over the last sales call and if it’s okay with you I’d like to give you feedback on the skills you applied competently.” The salesperson may want to interrupt and highlight the skills they didn’t apply or applied inadequately. When this happens you need to stop them and let them know they will have their turn soon. For example “I appreciate your concerns and we will deal with them shortly.” Emotionally you need to come from a place of caring and support which will then be reflected in your vocal tone. Sounding judgmental or frustrated could destroy your relationship with your salesperson.

3) Ask the salesperson to self critique their sales call.
Suggest to your salesperson to also use the sales process which will assist them to critique their own sales performance in a logical manner and then it’s your role to actively listen. They may focus too much on what they didn’t do or did incompetently so watch for this tendency. You may need to ask them to give you a balanced view. Actively listen for any skills they omitted or believe they applied well when in reality they didn’t do so. On conclusion of their self critique compliment them and move to the next step. For example “Mary you obviously have a great understanding of the sales process and I agree with your self assessment. Let me ask you, if you had the opportunity to…”

4) Ask the salesperson if they had the opportunity to do the sales call again what they would do differently?
This gives the salesperson the opportunity to uncover anything additional they may have previously missed and drawing on what they had learnt in step 2 will reaffirm those competencies.

5) Use the sales process and provide a summary critique of the salesperson’s selling skills.

When you go through the summary ensure it is weighted 3:1 in favour of the positive behaviours and skills that were competently applied. This will also build their sense of self worth as well as the learning experience.

6) Finish on a positive note and set the next sales call objective.
This has to be done from the heart and for example could be expressing how impressed you were with how the salesperson qualified the prospect. When planning the next sales call objectives one needs to be a skill development objective from step 3 or 4. Caution: whilst there may be many skills needing attention focus on one which you consider to be the most important. Overloading the salesperson with too much is counterproductive and isn’t the way we learn.

A last word or two…

• Curb side conference those sales calls where the learning will be the greatest
• Schedule regular monthly sales coaching even if it is as little as half a day and avoid cancelling. It will pay dividends. Staying in the office doesn’t create revenue but developing a salesperson’s selling ability does
• Ask your salespeople for feedback on your coaching. What could you do better?
• Sales coaching provides you with the opportunity to show sales leadership

If sales coaching is new to you or you are dissatisfied with current sales coaching practices contact Sales Consultants.

Kurt Newman is the co-founder of Sales Consultants Pty Ltd a firm that works with companies to increase sales and reduce the cost of selling.

Kurt’s expertise is in sales strategy, sales management development; group structured sales training and infield sales coaching. As a sales person he has successfully sold products and services in 4 major market/product segments: new product sales, consultative sales, relationship sales and retail. During his selling career he created sales records for three companies in two industries and won many other sales awards for outstanding performance.

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