As the new year unfolds one of the challenges for suppliers is to better execute on their business strategy. Today many companies are going through transformational changes in what they buy, how they buy, and what they are willing to pay for it. If buyers change how they buy, suppliers need to change how they sell. They need to revisit and revise their sales strategy.
In most cases a majority of your sales reps will not be able to effectively and efficiently fine-tune their strategies for winning in their major accounts. Many will get there but take too long. A few will fail to complete the journey.
When your customer base goes through a dramatic change in how they buy, it is a pivotal time to take your sales coaching effort to the next level. If not, a sizable percentage of sales force will end up doing what they need to do, but it will be too little, too late. In times of disruptive change a new group of winners and losers emerge – upping your sales coaching efforts is a great way to be among the former.
With this mindset on the table let’s look at four best practices for coaching sales strategy.
Select the Right Account. A classic trap for sales managers is spreading their sales coaching efforts too thinly. If you want to improve your strategy coaching, a good place to begin is to select the right accounts on which to focus your efforts. Several selection criteria may be considered, but one stands out – high revenue potential.
Rarely do salespeople have all accounts with equal potential for revenue growth. Together with the salesperson, the sales manager should target for strategic coaching those accounts with the greatest potential for revenue growth. How many accounts? The best advice for maximizing your strategy coaching time is: do a really good job coaching a few, high-payoff accounts. Given the “too-thin trap”, it’s probably best to limit your coaching efforts to two or three key accounts per sales person.
Establish the Expectation for Preparation. There is no such thing as a generic winning sales strategy when selling in a complex market. Capturing the business is not about selecting a sales strategy; it’s about formulating a sales strategy. And formulating sales strategy requires having better information.
For an effective and efficient sales strategy coaching session, sales managers should establish the expectation that salespeople come to the session with the right information in hand. At a minimum, the salesperson should have information about the business situation in the account, the account’s business objectives, and details about the buying process and players – plus some initial thoughts about your solution.
Focus on Strategy and Skills. When formulating a strategy for a complex account, it’s a mistake to coach strategy independent of skills. Even the best strategy will fail unless what goes on in front of the customer is executed skillfully. This means the last step in any sales strategy coaching session should be planning the first call in executing that strategy. In some cases, it may be appropriate for the sales manager to go on the call to help the salesperson sell. Or, the call could serve as a coaching opportunity to further develop the skills required to carry out the strategy.
Leverage Time. The greatest barrier to coaching is lack of time. By selecting the right accounts and establishing expectations about preparation, you can improve the efficiency of the coaching effort. Another way to leverage time is to consider alternatives to one-on-one sessions. While skill coaching is usually done individually because of the observation and feedback elements, strategy coaching often lends itself to small groups. Often, the types of accounts and the dilemmas faced will be common to many members of the sales team. In this case, it’s feasible – even advantageous – to involve two or three members of the team in a strategy session, because everyone will benefit from discussions of all the targeted accounts.
There is little doubt that the best sales people sell strategically. And, the best coaches are really good at helping them learn how to do it. The key to effective sales strategy coaching is for sales managers to think about both what to coach and how to coach it. In regard to the latter, it is well to remember that folks get better quicker when you help them learn as opposed to telling them what to do.