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The lost art of sales coaching

The lost art of sales coaching

Sales - Rick Davis

I suggested in my June article (Sales coaching is like golf instruction) that the art of sales coaching is a skill that has never been developed or understood by most managers. At the recent LBM Strategies Conference, which you hopefully attended, I embellished those thoughts by identifying how successful coaches shift performance to avoid the ineffective leadership roles that I refer to as: the data junkie; the hero; and the criticizer.

The data junkie focuses only on the results of sales volume and margins while not knowing how to coach the performance that builds desired results. Interactions are pressure-packed exchanges where the manager, sitting in front of a spreadsheet, peppers the salesperson to provide predictions about future sales results and expected closing dates. The answers are the salesperson’s guesses, which are designed solely to appease the demanding overseer. For each sale not made, the manager strives to know “what went wrong” with the presumption that the salesperson screwed up in some way. The end result is a salesperson who gains little performance feedback while pressure for results escalates.

The hero is the manager who takes over sales meetings with customers in front of the salesperson. The manager assumes his or her skills are superior and therefore “demonstrates how it’s done,” while presuming that a salesperson will learn by osmosis without specifically dis- cussing the skills on display during the meeting. It turns out the manager operates with an instinct that has created sales success in the past or, worse yet, is an illustration of poor salesmanship, which in either case fails to successfully transfer skills to the student. The result is a competition between the coach and performer that should have been avoided.

The criticizer is a manager who allows the salesperson to run sales meetings while observing performance, but unfortunately emphasizes mistakes. Rather than scripting a plan, the criticizer randomly points out one flaw after another in a performance and presumes that pointing out the mistakes will cure them. Even if the criticism is accurate, the result is a discouraged salesperson who becomes resistant to interactions with the criticizer.

Good coaching is a planned performance. There is a better way.

Set the expectation for the performer to schedule “the perfect day.” A lot of managers are surprised that I recommend a salesperson is given ample time to prepare for a coach- ing session. They believe it is best to spring a last-minute request on a performer for a joint ride-along as a way to see their “normal” day. I believe it’s better to see their peak performance capability. In other words, if you can’t see the salesperson doing the job as expected once while you’re looking, there is little chance they can do it with regularity when you’re not.

Sales science comes first. The problem with the hero and the criticizer is that dialogues are commonly based on opinions about presentation skills, closing skills, and other subjective performance factors. Quality coaching emphasizes objective performance data where, unlike the data junkie overly focused on results, the dialogue quantifies meaningful performance data that lead to predictable future results. Scientific selling skills are objective, measurable and, most importantly, avoid the conflicting opinions created when the coach and performer debate subjective, artistic selling skills.

Validate foundational skills before coaching the advanced ones. The final aspect of sales coaching is validation. After a quality session, the capable coach provides constructive feedback and then later validates application of the lessons before introducing new skills sets.

It’s part of a simple formula, although it is not easy. If the salesperson is not achieving desired results, it is up to the manager to build the performer and performances that work. It takes time to perfect the process and even more to instill the right skills in performers, but the results are lasting.

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 rickdavis@buildingleaders.com