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Automating Sales Coaching

by David Brock on October 2nd, 2017

The sales automation suppliers are catching onto the idea of leveraging technology for sales coaching.  I’m not a complete dinosaur, I think there is a huge place to leverage technology to complement coaching by managers.

However, I worry about some of the approaches being promoted displacing the person to person interaction and the real value of coaching.

The power of effective coaching is the power of the learning conversation.  The ability to explore, in real-time, the ability to leverage the situation and context to help the sales person think, learn, and grow.

In some sense, it’s the power of open-ended questions versus close ended questions.

A lot of these tools tout, Role play, pitch, demo recording with the accompanying scoring and feedback.  This reduces coaching to a “checking the boxes exercise.”  “Yes, it was well structured, Yes, it was customer focused, Needs improvement on value positioning (with a link to an elearning module on value positioning.”

This coaching approach tends to a directive coaching approach, rather than a non directive approach.  These approaches miss the engagement, the “why did you choose this,”  “what if you tried that,” “how might you have accomplished more?” They miss the collaborative back and forth where both the sales person and the manager learn and grow.

One of the most important aspects of coaching is to help improve performance and the ability to achieve goals.  Most of the tools seem to focus on what has happened and how well was it executed, completely missing the discussion and exploration of what next.  Issues like, “what can we do to improve our odds of winning,” “what can we do to better demonstrate our value,”  “how do we improve the quality and velocity in the pipeline.”  “how do we more effectively reach and engage prospects,” “how do we grow our share of account?”

These are conversations, interchanges, sharing of ideas, exploring possibilities, creating a dynamic action plan.  Each conversation is unique to the situation, the sales person, and a point in time.  No “check the box,” “rate and rank,” even with accompanying comments (which we know time poor managers won’t do) can provide that capability.

A lot of these systems focus on providing feedback–and there is some merit do the occasional one way comment, but again, feedback is most effective in a conversation.

Perhaps, one of the concerns I have about the coaching capabilities many of these tools offer is less about the capabilities of the tools but more how those capabilities will actually be implemented by sales managers.  Rather than complementing and increasing the power of the coaching conversations, I fear they may be used as a substitute for those conversations.

We only have to look at the painful history of CRM–originally focused on helping sales people become more effective and more productive in selling, but when implemented become “big brother/sister watching,” and endless time spent on data entry.  Again, the issue is less the tool itself, but how people ultimately use the tools.

We know managers aren’t doing the coaching they should.  We know they often don’t know how to coach.  We know they are pressed for time in coaching–and usually choose anything but coaching because of their discomfort with coaching.  I worry these tools will just provide excuses to displace that coaching.

To me, the most important tools are those that facilitate and sharply focus the coaching discussions managers have–not displace them.  Tools that can help better understand where we are with deals, the quality of our pipelines, the quality of our conversations with customers, the quality of our prospecting.  Tools that can reduce the amount of time it takes both the sales person or manager to identify critical performance gaps, and facilitate those discussions on how to close those performance gaps.

The other categories of tools have less to do with facilitating the discussions, but simply free up time for managers and sales people to have those discussions.  But that only works if you have managers committed to and measured on the quality of those coaching discussions.

Where do you think sales automation can be applied to improve the coaching conversations managers have with their teams?

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