We tend to think of sales training as a project rather than a process. As an occurrence rather than part of the day-to-day culture. As a burden rather than an opportunity. And that’s too bad. Because ongoing sales coaching can elevate total sales team performance and responsibility. It can create empowerment, increase engagement, and improve creativity. It can, frankly, be the difference between sales team success and failure of the entire organization. So, let’s look at why a continual coaching mindset is so important to your sales team and corporate culture, and how you – as Sales Manager, VP of Sales, or whatever your sales leadership role – can make that a reality:
Room for Improvement
Simply put, everyone has room for improvement. So, when introducing the idea of continual coaching – that is, of changing your sales culture to one where learning is expected and coaching is the norm – it helps to communicate that this new approach will benefit everyone. What’s more, with everyone receiving constructive feedback and ideas for improvement, the coaching should not be perceived as remedial criticism for underperforming sales reps.
Above all, make sure you make it clear that your role is to support, develop, and empower your team. This sets the tone for a series of positive discussions that focus on how your reps can improve going forward.
And because your sales team is just that, a team, consider drawing parallels to the sports world where even the best athletes receive continual coaching – in real time – to optimize performance, work together to achieve common goals, and win!
The Coach as Role Model
The best way for your team to buy in to a new coaching culture is for you to be the role model. Ask someone to coach you! That measure of humility and desire to learn will help set the tone for your team. And as you make continual coaching and open communication part of your daily mission, you will be helping your sales reps experience a supportive environment for safe growth. Indeed, as a coach, your role is to help your sales reps move out of their comfort zone and into a somewhat uncomfortable area of learning a new skill. Even though change can be stressful, learning is rewarding! So, allow your sales team members to practice new skills and make mistakes in a safe environment, where learning is celebrated and confidence grows.
Recruiting for “Coach-ability”
Once you have created a coaching culture in your organization, consider how that might require some changes in the ways you recruit and onboard new sales talent.
Consider your screening process and how you assess candidates. Now that ongoing coaching is the new norm, make sure you seek candidates who will embrace this approach. Because coaching is not necessarily common in many organizations, it might be difficult for some to assimilate into this approach. But by building teams that are fully invested in learning and improving, day after day, your efforts will be much more effective and bear fruit more quickly. Don’t waste time trying to coach people who aren’t interested in getting better at what they do – there are plenty of others out there who will flourish in such a learning environment.
How to Get the Most from Your Coaching Mindset
Once you’ve made the commitment to nurturing an environment with a coaching mindset, its success depends on how it is implemented, managed, received and supported. To make sure everyone benefits, follow these rules:
Ask, rather than tell.
The next time one of your sales reps asks a question you quickly know the answer to, stop for a moment before you blurt out the answer, Instead, ask the rep an open-ended question that begins with “how” or “what.” For instance, “What ideas have you come up with to solve the issue?” or “How can I support you?” This way you empower employees to come up with meaningful solutions apart from you.
Encourage open sharing of ideas and concerns
Always seek to ask more questions than you answer. As mentioned above, when someone asks you what they should do, ask them what they think will work, and how they came to that conclusion. Ask what alternatives they’ve considered. Show them that you value their input and empower them to make decisions (but be ready to explain or defend them). Over time, you’ll find that people will begin to bring you solutions instead of problems, and the sales managers you lead will encourage their teams to do the same as well.
Build A Coaching Routine
While in-the-moment coaching should be routine, it is also important to schedule time on a regular basis (weekly is best) with each of your direct reports strictly dedicated to their developmental needs. What’s more, always take advantage of time spent travelling with your salespeople, and build in coaching moments before and after client meetings.
It is crucial to offload other activities in your schedule to make time for coaching. Put it on your calendar as you would any other meeting or important event in your day or week.
Establish uniform expectations
Each member of the organization involved with coaching must share the same expectations so everyone knows what is to be given and received.
Senior leaders need to demonstrate the importance of coaching by setting objectives around how frequently managers should coach and the number and types of challenges they should address. Then, they should hold managers accountable for meeting those time commitments, with specific, measurable, actionable, realistic and time-bound (SMART) goals.
Understand individual coaching expectations
Speak with each member of your team to understand how they like to be coached. Find out their desired balance of “telling” and “asking” and adapt your style to meet their needs. Ultimately, it isn’t what you want that is important; it’s what they need!
Provide rewards and consequences
For organizations with different levels of management involved in coaching, it needs to be clear that coaching is not optional for them. It is part of the culture now. They cannot opt out!
Also, be sure to reward those who coach well just as you would any other key responsibility. Recognize, compensate, and promote those who excel at coaching. Otherwise you deny some of your developing talent the support they’re entitled to – the support required to grow your business.
And for those who cannot – or who choose not to – coach to your standards and expectations, place them in a role where developing other people is not a job requirement. Many talented salespeople get promoted into sales management and leadership roles that really don’t have an interest in coaching. Because of this, they will not succeed, and they will undermine the success of their team members who need coaching. Let them sell, but don’t let them lead.
Remember that anyone can be a coach
Keep in mind that anyone can coach anyone. So, don’t get caught up in the rules of a hierarchy. Simply put, a good idea is a good idea and a good coach is a good coach. We all have skills that can help someone else, and just because you have a loftier title, doesn’t mean you can’t be coached by a subordinate. (So yes, you can coach your boss!)
I like to think that a productive and full life requires a commitment to seeking new challenges, learning new things, and finding ways to enhance current skills.
That’s why, in today’s fast-moving business environment, top companies know that command and control management and leadership styles are no longer acceptable or successful. Rather, helping your team members learn and grow must be an integral part of conducting business. In fact, sales team members must be able to make decisions and respond to changing conditions almost instantaneously.
To accomplish this, a different type of sales team management philosophy is needed – one that empowers and facilitates. What works today is a coaching mindset that permeates the culture. That mindset manifests in continual coaching conversations (asking questions, listening, challenging, sharing expertise) throughout the year, rather than merely during annual performance reviews.
At Sales Xceleration, our licensed Advisors have years of experience instilling a coaching mindset into sales organizations to optimize sales performance. If you aren’t sure how to integrate a success-oriented coaching mindset into your organization, connect with a Sales Xceleration Sales Management Consulting Advisor in your area, or contact us today at 1.844.874.7253.
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