Coaching salespeople is a lot like coaching golfers. There is an art and science to the process and, if the universe cooperates, I will have the honor of discussing the lost art of sales coaching at the LBM Strategies Conference this September in Boston.
Sales coaching, as I see it, is not really a lost art, but more like a secret and elusive skill which has never been found by most sales managers. The problem is their perspective of seeing themselves as overseers of sales performance. Their job, as they see it, is to make sure salespeople get their jobs done. Their position is to “look down from above.” Their process is to push for action, observe sales results, and pressure performers when the results fall short. They measure results and, in lieu of quality coaching, sales managers fall into two categories of leadership. The first includes former salespeople who use their managerial title to push salespeople to “do what I always did.” The other category includes operations managers, many without any sales experience, who push for results with the expectation that salespeople “should know how to do the job.”
The real problem is that many salespeople, including many veteran salespeople, don’t utilize the right skills and do need coaching guidance. For example, salespeople need to be reminded that the right performance is to avoid bidding blindly for low percentage work, yet the practice persists because managers don’t step in to fix the performance deficiency.
Most salespeople invest their days in the field making cold calls instead of scheduling planned appointments with prospects and customers. The result is short, ineffective meetings that produce little or no sales momentum. This leadership problem is that the performance flaw goes unnoticed for years because managers are never present to observe.
A good sales coach is like a good golf instructor. The first thing the instructor does is observe the swing. The goal is to see what the performer is doing correctly and the techniques that can be improved. Unfortunately, most sales performance in the construction industry goes unnoticed because the manager never takes time to properly observe the performer in the field. You can’t coach what you don’t observe.
The good instructor earns trust. Imagine a golf instructor who only criticizes the outcomes of a golf shot while never providing any guidance on techniques. It wouldn’t be long before the student, usually paying the instructor voluntarily, decides to find a better instructor. Managers should presume they have to earn trust the same way as a golf instructor. This means discussing why results turned out (or didn’t) as hoped. It means earning the trust of a salesperson who voluntarily sees the benefit of coaching feedback.
A good coach isolates and hones one skill at a time. The golf instructor doesn’t tell the pupil five things to work on because it won’t help. Instead, the good teacher willingly ignores some performance flaws while isolating one key skill at a time. Good sales coaching can be as simple as teaching a prospecting phrase, a question to ask, or a way to deliver a proposal. Coaching means building skill sets one behavior at a time.
The real key to leadership and coaching success is not the judgment of results. It’s the ability to affect results by shaping the performance of voluntary students. Golf coaches do not earn their credentials with students because of the title on their business cards; credibility is earned by the voluntary trust and eventual shift in performance by the performer. It should be no different for sales coaches.
Rick Davis, president of Building Leaders, is a premier sales trainer in the building materials industry. His latest book, Sales Economics: The Science of Selling, is now available at buildingleaders.com. Rick can be reached at email@example.com