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How Do We Find The Time To Coach Our Sales People?

by David Brock on June 4th, 2010

Everyone recognizes the importance of coaching sales people, but it just doesn’t get done. In a survey of several hundred sales managers, we found sales managers “coached” their sales people 1 time per quarter or less! Based on this, a sales person is lucky if they get 4 coaching sessions per year.

Clearly, this is a problem. Coaching needs to happen every day, but everyone is busy and time-poor. How do busy managers and sales people find the time for coaching and development?

One of the problems with coaching is many people confuse coaching with the performance review.  While coaching should have a positive impact on the performance review, effective coaching is not a performance review. Too many managers think of the “coaching session.”

Integrating Coaching Into Everyday Business:

Effective sales managers incorporate coaching into their daily business activities. Coaching is part of the everyday conversations and discussions they have with their people.  It occurs as part of normal business conversations–not something special. When they are talking about opportunities or deal strategies, strong managers focus both on understanding the business situation, but also use the opportunity to coach the sales person in strengthening and improving their strategy. In preparing for a call or debriefing the call, the sales manager will also coach the sales person by asking things like, “What are your goals for the call,”  “Do you have stretch goals,”  “What is the worst thing that might happen in the call, how do you plan to handle it?,” “What’s the value the customer will get from this call?” After the call, they might ask, “Did you accomplish all your objectives,” “Is there anything more that you might have accomplished,”  “Is there anything you would do differently?”

As sales managers, we spend our days talking to sales people about sales calls, deals, pipelines, forecasts, territory and account plans. In each of those discussions, the best managers use these as opportunities both to understand what’s happening, but also to coach and develop their people.

When coaching becomes part of the everyday business discussion managers have with their people, it is no longer an “unnatural act.” It no longer is the meeting we schedule, then postpone, then postpone again.  When coaching becomes part of the everyday business, the performance of sales people skyrockets–they are getting advice when they need it and can use it, not months later, after everything has been forgotten.

So How Do We Coach?

The second aspect to effective coaching is “the conversation.” Coaching is a careful blend of asking and telling. Some may be surprised by this, since most of the time when we talk about coaching we focus so much on asking questions.

Effective coaching starts with the questions. The questions shouldn’t be an interrogation, but should be oriented to getting the sales person to think about what they are doing, the strategies they have chosen. The questions should help the sales person consider other alternatives, broaden their point of view, analyze the results they have produced. 

But questioning alone is not sufficient. Making suggestions (telling) based on the discussion the manager has had with the sales person is very helpful to the sales person’s development.  Effective coaching is a conversation — it is a balance of questioning, active listening, and advising. If any part of this is missing, then the impact of coaching is reduced significantly.

Coaching is one of the highest leverage activities a sales manager can undertake. Effective coaching improves the performance of sales people. Effective coaching is a focused conversation, integrated into the daily activities of sales managers and sales people.

From → Leadership

  1. I could not agree more with you. The ugly question for me though is: “If it is so beneficial to do coaching and if it can be built in naturally into the daily sales management practice as you outline so clearly, why is it not done more?”
    After long reflection, I came to the conclusion that it must have to do how sales managers are managed. I believe as long as the excecutive level remains so ignorant what selling is and therefore cannot effectively lead their sales managers, therre is little help for improvement.

    • Christian, it’s great to hear from you! I think you’ve hit on a critical issue. It’s not just first line sales managers, the problem goes all the way up the management food chain. At all levels, coaching is not done as it should be. Top executives need to set an example for the managers reporting to them. They also need to set the expectations and manage their managers’ performances based on this expectation that they coach.

      Thanks for joining the conversation. Regards, Dave

  2. David Olson permalink

    Indeed coaching is a high leverage activity. I use a strategy that includes weekly 30 minute individual meetings with each of my direct reports. Closed door, in my office, every week – same day and time. It is a commitment like others and is adjusted only for travel or other out of office. We set weekly goals together – we call it getting the big rocks into the wagon. The goals are recorded in a spreadsheet for each individual and updated as apprpriate each week. By having this guaranteed time the daily interaction and coaching is, for us, much easier and natural.

    I say “do this regardless of what you receive from above”. True leaders lead from their own heart and mind.

    • Thanks for the comment, I think it’s a great approach. The challenge is maintaining the discipline that you have, too often, people start this way, then the “real world” causes meetings to be postponed until eventually they aren’t held. Making it a regular meeting that is “inked into” calendars and is not changed unless there is an “act of God (and then even needing your approval” is a great way to make coaching happen.

      Thanks for your continued comments David, you add a lot to the conversation. Regards, Dave

  3. Dave,

    Good stuff as always!

    The best business coach I ever had applied a “I want to learn as much as I can from you” approach. He reversed the roles, putting me in the coach’s seat. VERY effective. I found myself continually thinking and searching for new angles on how to approach opportunities, develop relationships, etc. so I could “help” him in his quest to improve himself.

    As a manager, I found a major side benefit in team-building. Reps asked each other for ideas and tips so they could help me learn. The underlying theme here is the best way to learn something is to be responsible for teaching it to someone else.


    • Thanks Todd. We can learn from everyone. Your coach’s approach was refreshing and something we should all emulate. Regards, Dave

  4. Managers who make sales calls with their sales people have the time to coach their people. There’s drive time, there’s real-world sales call preparation and execution and there are the results from each call. When I coach salespeople, we start with “Did the sales process move forward?” When managers stop making sales calls with their sales team, they often stop coaching. That’s a mistake.

    Maura Schreier-Fleming
    Author of Monday Morning Sales Tips and Real-World Selling for Out-of-this World Results

    • Maura: Thanks for the comment, absolutely, when sales managers make sales calls, there is time to coach. When sales managers do a funnel review, territory review, account review there is time to coach. When managers incorporate coaching into what they do every day, there is always time to coach. The problem is that managers tend to think of the “Coaching Session” as something different–and they never do it. Thanks for joining the discussion. Regards, Dave

  5. John Carrington permalink

    interesting comments from Maura, and I absolutely agree with the remarks, unfortunately my experience of Sales Managers generally is that often if they ‘accompany’ a sales person on a sales call, particularly if it is to close a deal, they will take control of the call and do the work of closing it – unfortunately over time all that does is reduce the skills/confidence of the salesperson to close the larger deals.
    I absolutely agree, the impetus to coach needs to come from higher up the tree, instead of absolute focus on numbers alone, which all to often becomes the only focus.
    The big question is how to change it!

    • John, you make so many great points. There are several issues:

      1. One of the problems is that too many sales managers don’t know how to coach–they’ve not been trained in coaching, they don’t know how debilitating it is to “take over” on a sales call–both short term and long term impact.
      2. First line sales managers aren’t coached well themselves, and the problem goes all the way up the food chain.
      3. Too many managers don’t know they’re supposed to coach, they aren’t measured or their performance is not evaluated on the quality of their coaching and people development.
      4. For a systemic change, as you point out, it really needs to start at the top, it has to be embedded in the culture of the company (By the way, I’m under the impression your company does it pretty well–would love to get your views).
      5. Having said that, I think there can be real power in an individual manager can make a real difference by “just doing it.” We have evidence that it can be “infectious.”

      As to the solution, stay tuned. In October/November, a small group of us is announcing a series of offerings targeting the individual manager who wants to make a difference in his/her own career, that of their team, and outperform every other manager in the organization. This is too important for wait for the organization to do it.

      Thanks for joining the conversation John, I hope to see you as a frequent visitor/commentor. Your contribution is fantastic!

  6. John Carrington permalink

    Hi David
    great observations, and I agree with all of your comments – my organisation does a certain amount, but I think it (as always) could be improved – the understandable need to make the numbers often takes precedence in any conversations that could be used for coaching, that said, in some areas it is done well, in others not so well – some of it dependent on the mindset of the individual manager. I look forward to seing the offerings later this year and as a newcomer to the group can I say I find many of the threads very stimulating.

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