Coaching – such an easy word, yet one that raises much emotion in the world of sales and sales managers. Now why is that? A coach, in the normal sense of the word, is someone that wants you to win. A coach is that person or person(s) in some cases, that can help you to become the best. In anything that requires a coach, there are usually multiple dimensions to being the best. There is the skill, the strategy, the mental game, the tactical game, the execution, the process and the practice to being the best. This, of course, all makes sense when we discuss sports coaching. Oddly, it seems not to apply when you are talking about sales and sales training.
I am not sure why, but I can tell you it is common for sales managers and sales VPs to be resistant to sales coaching by either an internal or external resource. Is the resistance truly resistance or do they believe it is already handled by the first line sales managers? It is difficult to assess without further research, as on the surface what you hear is…. “We would like to implement sales methodology” or “We are engaged with a sales transformation project” or “We need sales training”. Sometimes we might have a request for sales training AND reinforcement! But when we engage with Sales Manager and Sales VPs on the requirement for coaching in order to achieve the desired behavior taught in the training deployment, we are often met with what might be called: “the deer in headlights” expression.
“Coaching? What do you mean? Our sales managers do coaching”. “Our sales people are very experienced, they just need the training”. “We just need a training session and our sales team will incorporate it into their actions” “No one from the outside can coach a deal, only we can do that”………
I continue to be confused by this logic. If you need training or sales methodology – yet your people are experienced and your sales managers do the coaching – then why do you need the training or the methodology? One reason might be, “We need scale or sales organization in a faster, easier manner.” That is a great answer but you are still changing the way you currently do something.
If you apply this answer to a sports analogy you see the dilemma. Suppose you are a professional athlete being paid millions of dollars because you are the best. You want to change something in your game to make it better, easier. Are you saying that you would do that without the guidance of a coach? If an athlete tweaks their game by changing their grip or stance or swing or kick, they do it with the assistance of a coach. I think you may be getting my point by now.
Maybe the resistance to the coaching topic is due to the fact that many believe there is only one aspect to coaching when in fact there are many aspects. Maybe the best way to discuss coaching is to break it apart instead of just grouping it into one subject. Let take a look.
In sales you have many moving parts to winning, there is the:
1. Methodology used to perform your analysis or assessment of your position with the customer and determine strategy
2. Methodology used to determine the customers willingness to advance
3. Process used to align with your customers buying cycle
4. Activities needed to execute on your strategy
5. Forecasting process to manage the revenue stream
6. Skills needed to execute on your selling strategy
7. Messaging needed to execute on your strategy
8. Knowledge of your products, industry, solutions, company
9. Communication necessary to win between the sales team and customer
10. Attitude or mental game necessary to execute on your strategy
Even when you are the best, you can see the need for a coach. So, when is it best to use an internal coach vs. an external coach? Before you can answer that question, you need to take an objective look at your sales organization. How much coaching IS really going on currently, which is NOT, by the way, forecast calls? How much methodology experience exists in your sales organization today? How consistently and diligently do your sales reps and managers follow sales process today? Said differently, is sales process and methodology part of the DNA of your sales organization or only applied by a few? Are your top performers allowed to disregard the rules?(usually covered up by “we need to be flexible?”). Contrary to popular belief, a well designed sales methodology and sales process is flexible, by default, if you focus on the buyer outcomes vs. your sales activities. Finally, what evidence do you have to demonstrate that your culture supports and encourages coaching?
After you’ve truthfully assessed your sales environment, which includes acknowledging reality, (just because you don’t coach is not an admission of a weakness, it may be an admission of the fact that there are only 24 hours in a day and managers are a limited resource) then you are in a position to define your coaching strategy.
Keep in mind the dimensions of coaching the sale and the subject matter expertise required to be an effective coach. Coaching, quite frankly, is NOT always about telling the team exactly what to do; rather the value in coaching is the perspective the coach brings by asking the right questions to get the sales team to come to their own conclusions. Perspective in that, the coach is not distracted by the details. Furthermore, the coach brings the un-emotional sounding board to the table, they bring the customer perspective, and they bring the experience to ask questions, enabling the team to make the right decisions. The coach can force the reasoning, the discussion, the balance to uncover “What bad thing can happens if you do or don’t take an action”.
Can this be done from the outside resource? YES! Should it be viewed as a weakness? NO! The best, truly the best, performers are looking for a coach that can help them to win faster and easier. If your organization is too proud to win, that is an entirely different subject.
When you look at the top athletes in the world, you see that they have a coach, actually coaches handling the specialty areas of the game. Why should sales be excluded? I don’t get it.