What are the best sales coaching techniques for managers? Why should you learn how to be a good sales coach?
Learning sales coaching techniques is an important part of running a team of Challenger Sellers. Sales coaching techniques can ensure you’re getting the most out of your reps, and that you’re being an effective manager.
Coaching Techniques Defined
Sales coaching is an ongoing series of interactions between a frontline sales manager and a rep, designed to diagnose, correct, and reinforce selling skills and behaviors.
Coaching differs from training, which is for sharing knowledge. Coaching is for acting on knowledge. Coaching is ongoing—it’s not a one-time event or training series. It involves specific diagnosis and it’s customized and behavioral. There are certain sales coaching techniques that can help you.
Coaching’s value lies in being tailored to the individual and applied as needed. It’s formal rather than informal, meaning it’s highly structured and regular. It also differs from managing: managers tell and do; coaches ask and guide.
The PAUSE Coaching Model
Here’s a model for coaching developed for CEB’s Manager Development Program. The components fit the acronym PAUSE:
P—Prepare for the coaching conversation: Review the customer account. Determine what stage of the sales process the rep is in and what behaviors are going to be important.
A—Affirm the relationship: If the rep isn’t receptive to feedback, the coaching will be wasted. Separate performance management from coaching to create a safe environment for the rep to listen.
U—Understand what behaviors are important: Managers need to understand what they’re seeing and know what behaviors to look for in observing their reps.
S—Specify behavior change: When you know what behaviors are needed and have an objective standard for judging them, you can provide objective feedback.
E—Embed new behaviors: Create an action plan for the rep to apply the feedback.
Using this framework in coaching helps keep it objective and provides continuity from one coaching conversation to the next.
Coaching Techniques Require Sales Innovation
Sales coaching techniques require sales innovation. Sales innovation is the manager attribute that matters most. Here’s a look at what managers need to do in order to innovate. There are three key sales innovation activities: investigate, create, and share.
1) Investigate: Determine what’s getting in the way of advancing a sale—who’s involved, what kind of financial concerns do they have, what factors are they weighing. The manager works with the rep to understand the customer’s decision-making process and identify where a deal is bogged down and how to get it moving.
- Identify obstacles that get in the way of a new sale
- Gather feedback in terms of what’s working and what isn’t
- Identify how to resolve customer pain
Action steps: the rep gathers information; the manager enforces
2) Create: Innovative managers also create solutions (innovate at the deal level)—for instance, shifting risk from the customer to supplier in exchange for a longer-term contract. Most managers just monitor reps’ progress on deals, however, innovation involves co-creation, or collaborating to find better ways to advance a deal. Managers should focus their innovation efforts on deals where the payoff is greatest.
- Innovate around new ways to position the offer
- Identify the ideal business outcome
- Outline and explore new sales offers and solutions
Action steps: The manager develops solutions; the rep provides input
3) Share: Finally, innovative managers share best practices and pass on new ideas and solutions to the rest of the team.
- Share tactics and best practices with the team
- Develop and sustain cross functional relationships
- Filter news and information downward
Action steps: The manager shares insights; the organization facilitates
Lessons for Sales Leaders
In order to be successful at sales coaching techniques, you need to be able to adapt. These key sales lessons can help you improve your leadership skills and work on your coaching.
Every high performer isn’t a Challenger: Part of the rationale behind the Challenger Selling Model is to replicate what Challengers do naturally across the rest of the sales force. But not all high-performers are Challengers. It’s important to avoid mistakenly using high-performing Relationship Builders and Lone Wolves as teaching examples, since you’ll teach non-Challenger behaviors and tactics. Appendix B provides an assessment tool for identifying the high-performing Challengers you want everyone to emulate.
Don’t emulate the Lone Wolf: While Lone Wolves can be highly successful (25% of them are high performers), a sales force consisting entirely of Lone Wolves would be dysfunctional. Each does their own thing, so you can’t replicate their behavior across the organization and you couldn’t manage a sales force like this. Creating collaborative solutions for customers requires teamwork—however, Lone Wolves behave independently of rules and sales processes.
Start recruiting Challengers: While you can develop Challengers through training and coaching, it also saves time to recruit them when you have openings or new positions.
This requires a different interview process. You need to target different competencies, ask different questions, and apply different evaluation standards. Appendix C provides a Challenger Hiring Guide.
Develop rep skills and organizational capability at the same time: To get the full benefit from the Challenger Selling Model, companies need to improve both individual skills and organizational capabilities. Developing both at the same time speeds up the overall transition, since the capabilities are complementary. For instance, reps need presentation materials developed by marketing professionals, and marketing people need feedback and information from reps to create great materials.
Take steps to make training stick: Research shows that 87% of sales training content is forgotten by reps within a month. Coaching is a key way to boost retention. Other studies show that you can improve retention by what you do before and after training. Successful companies do three things:
1) Boost rep demand for change and generate buzz before training is rolled out
2) Create “safe practice” opportunities based on real accounts
3) Create ongoing behavioral certification programs to reinforce learning over time
Learning sales coaching techniques can help your team succeed. Use sales coaching techniques to improve your manager and leadership skills and to build a strong team of challenger sellers.
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