For any coaching initiative to be effective and long-lasting within your organization, there are important obstacles that managers and internal sales coaches need to overcome. Here are five specific strategies to help ensure coaching success.
“I’ve tried coaching my team. It didn’t work.” Really? Was it the coaching that didn’t work, the coachee, the sales manager’s coaching that didn’t work or was it more about how the coaching was delivered that didn’t work? As a sales manager, there are many things to consider when rolling out a coaching program for your team that will lead to a successful initiative, or, if ignored, will lead to coaching failure.
Here are five specific strategies to help ensure coaching success. Use it as a checklist as you begin designing your coaching initiative.
Your Team IS Coachable!
1. Coach Your Salespeople as Individuals
A sales manager might easily say, “I’ve been doing this for 10 years. I already know the ‘right’ way to sell which has always worked for me. So if I were you, I would do it this way.” This is dangerous thinking – and a condition managers have which I refer to as, coaching in your own image. Each of your salespeople will have methods and solutions custom fit for themselves and those are the most powerful for each of them. Moreover, each person is motivated by different things (family, money, time off, recognition, security, travel, material possessions, etc.) and also likes to be managed and communicated to in a different way. Some like it ‘straight between the eyes’ while other may want a tough message ‘sugar coated’ a bit. Regardless of how you like to be managed or communicated to, become more sensitive to how your people like to be engaged. After all, there are a lot of different ways to get from New York to California, just like there are different ways to achieve an end result. Watch any professional athlete play and you’ll see that they each have a personal style that serves them best. While our history and experience can serve is, it can also become the greatest limitation to creating any new possibilities today. If you insist on forcing them into your own image, you are really “robot-building” and not tapping into people’s individuality.
Avoid coaching in your own image and tap into each person’s individuality to understand who they really are, their accurate developmental opportunities, what they want and what inspires them to achieve more. Otherwise, you may find yourself victim of additional toxic thinking that comes in the form revenue draining assumptions, “Hmm, looks like they’ve been selling in our industry for the past 20 years AND have a book of business to bring over. Sounds like a great candidate!” Or, “They’ve been working here for the last ten years, so of course in every conversation, they follow our sales process and questions to ask when qualifying a prospect.” And my personal favorite, “At the end of the day, all people want is to get a paycheck and make as much money as they can. Recognition and acknowledgment? What? Why would I acknowledge people just for doing their job?” (No I couldn’t make this stuff up if i tried. These are words I’ve heard managers speak.) Think about how many times this type of thinking gets us in trouble!
Regardless of the situation, when it comes to assessing prospective hires or your current sales team, direct your energy and focus on who they are as an individual (key word ‘individual’) contributor and seek to understand their unique opinion and point of view. Only then can you effectively assess their behavior and coach specifically to that behavior in order to get to root cause, rather than simply focusing on the activity and results that you measure in a spreadsheet.
2. Position Coaching as an Opportunity for Continued Improvement and Growth
It is important to position coaching as an opportunity for everyone to get better at their work – and not just a punishment for under-performing. If you are experiencing resistance to coaching, ask yourself what expectations have been set for coaching. If the expectation has been set as “All the underperformers, please stand up! Here’s your chance to redeem yourself!” Ouch. This “Broken Wing Mentality” (a focus on remedial coaching) doesn’t create an atmosphere where everyone would want to be coached. The message managers need to send is, “If you want to better your very best and stay on the top of your game, regardless of where you are as a salesperson, everyone gets coached because you are the priority and we want you to be as successful as possible.” Some unsuccessful coaches might say, “I only coach the underperformers and leave the top performers alone.” What a great strategy if you want to send the message that coaching is ONLY for the underperformers, while isolating and ignoring your top performers. Then this sales manager wonders why he’s losing his good people to his competitors and is the last to find out about it! Everyone wants the attention of their sales manager, often for different reasons, and the sales manager has to align coaching with where he or she can deliver the most value for their team, individually. Don’t let coaching fail because of poor positioning. Re-align expectations with each person on your team around what coaching is, why it’s a priority and most important – what’s in it for them.
3. Learn from Past Coaching Failures
You may be saying, “I’ve already tried to coach my people. It didn’t work.” Well, maybe it’s more about how you coached or tried to enroll them in coaching that didn’t work. Every day, more and more statistics and surveys are showing the R.O.I. that good coaching generates. It’s time to do some self analysis and ask yourself what role you are playing in this. Any one of these five opportunities listed here can also be the cause of lackluster coaching results. The fact is; coaching works. So, don’t let past experiences sink your current coaching efforts.
4. Provide Consistent Coaching and Support
Consistent efforts are worth far more than intermittent, starts and stops, or fits of coaching activity driven by need, urgency, events or problems – followed by long periods of coaching silence. You may have been excited to coach your team at the beginning, but if you let your efforts dwindle, or if coaching is no longer the priority because we, “need to focus on hitting our goals and bringing in more sales to hit our numbers,” (how ironic) what message are you sending them? When you cancel the coaching session you scheduled with them, regardless of how good a reason you had, your employee is thinking, “I guess I’m not important enough, or the coaching isn’t a priority.” If you believe (correctly) that coaching is worth it, do it well, and do it consistently, especially in the face of adversity. And keep something in mind, if you’re experiencing reactionary problems that need to be handled immediately, consider the root cause of this environment you work in is inconsistent and ineffective coaching! Don’t provide erratic coaching and support.
5. Train Your Sales Managers in Coaching
Successful coaching requires sales managers who know how to coach based on a proven coaching framework and methodology. Yes, sales managers need to be trained in how to coach, just like you would be trained on how to sell, cold call, present to a customer, any new skill or hobby or if you wanted to learn how to play a new sport or musical instrument. In my experience, after training and coaching thousands of managers worldwide, a large percentage of those managers who believe they are actually coaching effectively; simply are not. It’s only when the mirror is held up in front of them and the manager is open to self reflecting, parks their ego and owns their own gaps and blind spots, can they then begin their journey to become an exceptional coach and leader. Here’s where great training and coaching come in to play, as well as the importance of a world class trainer, experienced manager and subject matter expert, rather than a trainer reading from a facilitator guide!
When it comes to actually training your managers in a classroom setting, consider a new hire. When you hire a B player, you get B results. Well, when you adopt a B coaching program with a weak coaching methodology and a B-C trainer delivering the training to your managers, the same thing happens. B coaches yield B results. If you go for an external solution, there are other management coach training options. However, consider what’s at steak if it doesn’t work because the company made a decision based on price and timing. When it comes to truly investing in an initiative like this, you can’t afford to fail. And the two factors that were heavily weighed in choosing the vender; rapid execution and cost; are the very two things that companies wind up losing more of – time, sales and money. When you’re pulling your managers out of the office for a day or more, often paying for them to travel to the location where the training is being held, there better be a solid degree of confidence that the time invested outside of the office will produce a solid return on investment.
Just recently, I had a conversation with the stakeholder who was spearheading a coaching initiative. The company chose the vender based on a fast, one day program and price alone. The stakeholder and people from HR and T&D/Readiness were in attendance for the first delivery of this training. After the program was over, this stakeholder went directly to readiness and told them he will not endorse this program. Now this is the type of leader I admire! This stakeholder was not comfortable putting his name and reputation behind what he considered was the wrong solution for the organization. Now, it seems there’s more at stake than money and time when launching an ineffective or inferior coaching initiative. That is, your reputation.
Now, if you’ve already attempted to coach your people and have experienced varying degrees of success, do not give up! These strategies can be used for you to diagnose where breakdowns may be occurring in your coaching and opportunities for improvement that will lead to future success. Use it to calibrate your coaching efforts and overcome some of the obstacles that may be outside of your normal line of vision so that you can feel confident that you’re traveling down the right path to achieve coaching success.
Photo Credit: Simon Greig