Effective Sales Coaching – It’s All About Your Timing

The fundamental mistake that sales managers make — and that is perhaps the worst culprit in terms of demotivating their sales force—is managing only results instead of the behaviors and activities that lead to the results.

It’s entirely rational that we sales managers focus on results because that’s how we are measured and, of course, compensated. Unfortunately, it’s not very effective at motivating salespeople. Here’s why…

A sales “result” is what comes about as a consequence of the sales process(es) that preceded it. Sales managers who manage by results – by which I mean a sales manager who waits until a poor result is produced and then confronts the salesperson about the poor production – is like a “Monday morning quarterback.” They are criticizing what happened after it happened, and much too late to do any good.

To be an effective sales manager you must focus on the input side of the production equation, the sales behaviors and activities that contribute to the sales results.

Many sales managers haven’t clearly defined the behaviors and activities that sales reps need to be successful. Here’s a test for you. Suppose you were to email five of your salespeople and ask them to each reply to the following question: “Please describe to me the specific behaviors and activities you need to perform to achieve the sales results our company expects.”

How many different answers would you receive? If you’re like the managers who have actually tried this test, chances are quite a few. In too many sales organizations, there is a lack of clarity about and understanding of the behaviors needed for success. Your salespeople, then, are selling on instinct. Surely you can do better.

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Now imagine that you’re a salesperson. You’ve just had a bad month. Your boss confronts you about that bad month, but he or she doesn’t have a clue what caused the bad month. The manager just pushes the button that sales managers always push when they don’t know what caused poor production-: “You’re not making enough sales calls. Increase your activity level and you’ll sell more.”

If you were a salesperson, how would that make you feel? Probably demoralized. You feel like you worked hard, and don’t really know what to do differently. You would appreciate a more constructive coaching discussion, but you’re not getting it. Your boss just tells you, “get out there and sell more.”

To be a great sales coach you need to define the behaviors and activities your sales force needs to know and do to achieve maximum sales success. Put those in a document titled “Standards for Excellence.” And communicate them clearly and repeatedly to your sales team. Have your salespeople practice new skills and approaches while you observe so you can give them specific tips. Give them the opportunity to ask questions and get feedback early in the sales cycles.

We all know that being the coach is far more effective than being a Monday-morning quarterback. It pays better, too!

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