By: Susan Mahoney
When companies train sales managers to be more effective coaches, more of their reps meet their sales quota and revenue increases, according to the Association of Talent Development. This correlation alone should be enough motivation for companies to train sales managers to be coaches.
However, in my experience, most sales managers have never been appropriately trained in sales management, have never been trained in coaching or even been on the receiving end of good coaching.
It’s pretty challenging to try to coach if you’ve never been coached—especially if you’ve never been coached well.
Sales management training often focuses on skills such as funnel management, territory or portfolio planning, opportunity and call planning, etc. This attention is often directly correlated to leadership’s focus on lagging indicators such as revenues, market share, and growth rates. A sales manager does not control these results—at least not directly.
A sales manager can only achieve the goals set by leadership through the performance and activities of their sales teams. To help salespeople realize their full potential, a sales manager needs the skills and understanding to know which levers to pull and how to pull them.
This is why foundational skills such as coaching, feedback, listening, and team building can be the difference that helps sales managers improve sales performance.
Most organizations respond to sales challenges by attempting to fix the sellers, fix the tools and resources, fix the compensation or fix the higher processes. However, a better question to consider is if the organization has trained a high-performing group of front-line sales managers to coach to the right indicators to drive revenue. Or, are the sales managers defaulting to common roles of super rep and/or keeper of the forecast?
What Is Sales Coaching, Really?
What we traditionally think of as coaching probably isn’t coaching, at best it may be advising or mentoring. Sales coaching is a leadership skill that develops each salesperson’s full potential. Sales managers use their expertise and communication skills to facilitate conversations that allow their team members to discover areas for improvement and advancement.
In Keith Rosen’s book, Coaching Salespeople Into Sales Champions, he highlights the core characteristics of exceptional sales coaches:
- You can’t take someone where you haven’t been yourself. While it’s not critical that a coach have a background in sales and management, it certainly helps with credibility.
- A top coach is a model of what is possible to achieve. The greatest leaders know that to impact others, they need to change themselves first.
- Sometimes reps really need the answer. So, give them the answer, then use the opportunity to coach the rep on how they might use and internalize the advice.
- Coach from your heart and not your head. Masterful coaching moves beyond the necessary templates and models toward intuition and instincts.
- Develop your personal style of coaching. Your authenticity is critical as you move from sales manager to sales coach.
Making The Change From Sales Manager To Sales Coach
Effective sales coaching requires collaboration between the sales manager and the salesperson, enabling them to co-create and implement a plan to improve skills.
Sales managers can create a collaborative sales coaching environment by approaching the session with a Learner Mindset instead of a Judger Mindset—a simple but profound difference in approach explored by Marliee Adams in her book, Change Your Questions Change Your Life. Consider the following mindsets and associated questions:
- Judger Questions: Why didn’t that opportunity close? Whose fault is it?
- Learner Questions: What happened? What are the facts? What assumptions am I making? What does this salesperson need to learn?
One of the goals of coaching a salesperson is encouraging him or her to explore how co-creation can open up new possibilities to provide a better solution or eliminate a recurring problem. By approaching a coaching interaction as a judger rather than a learner, sales managers can create an environment that encourages curiosity, collaboration, and vulnerability.
Sales coaching is not about asking questions such as, “What’s your forecast this month?” or telling a salesperson, “You need to build more pipeline.”
Instead, effective sales coaches consider the salesperson’s personal goals, style, strengths, and weaknesses before engaging in a dialogue. Then, a structured conversation can focus on discovering how a salesperson’s behaviors and activities can be improved to create the desired results.
So, for sales managers looking to change the perception, mindset, or actions of their salespeople, their mindsets must change first.