Here’s a central irony of sales coaching:
Most of the time, your reps already know what they need to do to succeed. It’s rare that they are completely oblivious on what path to take or what decisions to make.
But they aren’t actually doing what they know they should be doing.
And that’s because they have an area (or areas) of weakness that keep them from moving forward.
This isn’t a sales challenge, this is a human challenge. Everyone has specific areas where they struggle that become their Achilles heel.
Your job as a coach is to put a laser focus on that area over and over to help them move forward and grow.
Don’t Over-Complicate Sales Coaching
This is important to remember because sales coaching is an under-used tool in most sales organizations. Most sales leaders find their time wrapped up in projections and pipeline reviews instead of helping their people improve their skills.
Which is unfortunate because so many sales people are hungry for coaching and support. Sales coaching is often the difference between sales reps floundering and flourishing. But leaders are often afraid that it will be too time-consuming and require too much attention.
At a deeper level, most sales leaders are afraid that they won’t be good coaches. Most haven’t been trained on how to coach. And they might not have a personality or the intuitive skills that makes coaching a natural fit.
In those situations, they simply let coaching drift to the bottom of their to-do list…and then just never do it.
But it doesn’t have to be that way, because at it’s core, sales coaching is much simpler than most leaders fear. With just a few adjustments to their outlook, one-on-one time with their sales team can be one of the most productive parts of their week.
There are 3 keys to remember when approaching sales coaching:
1. Great Coaching Should Focus on Known Fundamentals
When you are coaching a sales rep, it’s easy to think that you have to be inspired and inspiring in every conversation. But great coaching really isn’t about novelty and surprises.
But when you break down successful coaching relationships, there are two parts:
- Helping the coachee to understand and correctly identify the obstacles and challenges that are holding them back.
- Working with them to move past those obstacles to accomplish their end goals.
The problem for most coaches: they focus a lot of time on the first step and not on the second. But often, your coachee doesn’t need novelty, they need someone to keep them focused on that Achilles heel.
“Practice makes permanent. As a coach, our job is to help them build muscle memory around the good habits that will lead to success. That accountability to the fundamentals keeps them moving towards the next milestone, whenever it comes.”
-Thomas Parbs, 2x AA-ISP Top 25 Sales Leader
In fact, most of the technology platforms that are coming out around the sales coaching process reinforces this mismatch. They focus on collecting and clarifying data that helps identify those obstacles and challenges.
While it’s important, the kicker here is that the first step is usually pretty straightforward. The coachee is often even aware of their weaknesses on an intuitive level.
It’s also simple because once you identify the salesperson’s main obstacles, they aren’t going to change a lot.
2. Great Coaching Can and Should Be Repetitive
Coaching a salesperson isn’t like a whack-a-mole game where there are ten or fifteen heads popping out. It’s usually just a few that keep coming back over and over.
In the first few coaching conversations, you’ll refine what the actual challenges are and what they are working towards. This is where data helps, as well as a lot of questions to probe their conscious (and unstated) challenges.
Once that happens, though, you have to continue to focus on those core areas that are holding them back. They could have some confidence issues that keep them from asking the right closing questions. They could be disorganized and struggle to take accurate notes. Or maybe they aren’t good at following a process and they miss key steps in their follow-up cadence.
“Sometimes it can be as simple as having the rep tell you, “No, I did not do that” day in and day out. Repetition keeps our goal in front of us and this awareness can eventually overcome our weaknesses. Remaining diligent in focusing on the problem (instead of ignoring its existence) drives long-term change.”
-Dale Dupree, Leader of the Sales Rebellion
This is why coaching is a process, not an event. Your goal is to continue to walk with the coachee down the path as they continue to work on improving those critical areas.
And when the salesperson’s focus wanders off, your role is to keep their attention fixed on the areas that they are working on (and not the latest shiny object).
3. Great Coaching Takes Time
But wait! Won’t someone change their behavior after you’ve identified their problem and come up with a solution?
If you have managed or coached anyone before, you know that’s now how it works. That’s why people can work with their therapist on a single issue for years. And they’ll continue to struggle with it.
Behavior change doesn’t happen overnight.
“In coaching, you are working to rewrite long-standing behavioral scripts and patterns. So coaching can’t be a quick-fix, nor is it just another leadership trend that will pass. It’s an undertaking that requires patience, time and long-term commitment from everyone involved.”
-Anita Nielsen, Author of Beat the Bots
Of course, you don’t want a salesperson to struggle at the same level for years. But you’re looking for gradual, long-term improvement, not a short-term band-aid.
By keeping your coachee focused on the mission-critical areas where they have a gap, you’ll find that the improvement you are looking for does happen. And while they still might be working on the same areas, they are working on those at a higher level. For example, they’re struggling to close 5-deals instead of 4-figure deals.
Creating RockStar Reps
So if you are going to successfully coach your team, you need to be willing to stick to those core challenges that they are facing.
If you ignore those Achilles’ heels, they’ll persist and drag down your salespeople. They won’t reach as high as they might and they won’t get to those heights as quickly as they could.
But even if you can’t make them disappear completely and immediately, it’s worth the effort. By consistently focusing attention on those areas, you’ll enable your people to succeed like they never have before.