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CHAPTER 8:
SALES COACHING FOR UNDERPERFORMING SALES

Implementing process-based sales coaching, along with investing in your sales managers to develop their coaching skills, will yield many benefits. One benefit in particular is helping sales managers determine whether sub-performance by a sales person is an issue with skill or work ethic. This is important because if it’s a skill issue, your sales managers should be much more patient than if it’s a work ethic issue. 

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WORKING WITH THE SALES PERSON

If you have a standardized process with metrics and goals, then your sales managers can work with their sales people to set tactical goals. These goals, worked on in the short-term, are not necessarily tied to outcomes. For example, if a sales person is behind and they are made aware that they conduct significantly fewer sales calls than what is typically necessary, then they can consciously work to make more calls, seeing if that leads to higher pipeline volume. 

Once the sales person makes this commitment, your sales managers can see if they are willing to change their behavior. If the sales person comes to the next coaching session without making the changes they agreed, still under-performing, then your sales manager will know very quickly that the sales person has either an execution or work ethic problem. These problems are managed very differently than problems with someone who’s working hard but just doesn’t have the skills to be as effective as they need to be. Skills can be developed but attitudes are much more difficult to change. 

Processes and metrics enable this very specific and direct level of sales coaching. Average to poor sales people and sales organizations run away from metrics because metrics are used in many places to penalize instead of develop better performance. However, metrics used properly help your sales managers to identify the highest priority opportunities to help sales people improve. This comes from examining metrics together with the sales person. First, a sales manager should ask the sales person what they’re doing well and second, where they want to focus their near- and long-term development.

KEEP IT SIMPLE

Skills development often fails because sales people get overwhelmed with trying to improve too many things at once. The best sales managers help their sales people narrow their development focus down to a few basic changes. Imagine a golf coach telling you that if you did 15 things differently your swing would be perfect the next time you played golf. Think about how unproductive that would be. You probably wouldn’t remember any of the suggestions and would default back to the swing that led you to seek help in the first place. It’s better to focus on one or two changes, master them and finally see the improvement before moving on to more complex changes. 

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GET ON THE SAME PAGE

Once the manager and the sales person agree on needed changes and the areas of focus to achieve those changes, they should create a thirty-day plan to implement these changes. This is especially useful when the focus is on fixing the sales person’s pipeline. Fixing pipeline problems solves almost every sales problem. Once the pipeline gets filled, you can start worrying about other areas of sales execution. Notice that we’re not saying, “This is your quota. Now go get it.” The focus is on addressing the root cause of weak pipelines that result in missed quotas. 

When your sales manager meets with your sales person for coaching, it might not be completely obvious what they need to work on and to what degree. In this case, the sales manager and the sales person can jointly review scenarios to model what will deliver the most profit. For example, if a sales person is currently making five calls a week and only achieving half of their pipeline, perhaps they will agree to make ten calls a week for the next month. 

If the sales person does that but doesn’t get the pipeline that they want, then nobody’s in trouble because they and the manager made their best guess and executed it. You must have a culture where a sales person and manager can fail safely. This enables them to set goals together and execute the goals in the activities that they thought were needed to achieve the goals. 

The only time the sales person gets in trouble is when they make a commitment and don’t follow through. If the sales person and the manager make a plan together and either one don’t do their part, then that’s a very different challenge. For most good sales people, this happens only one time before they realize the seriousness of their commitments. Very quickly, people who don’t have a work ethic problem and are serious about their success, end up performing successfully. Sometimes doing the right things still doesn’t move the needle, but at the very least, it binds the sales person and the manager in a way where they really look to those coaching sessions as helping opportunities, rather than feeling judged.

 

Cptr8_BePrepared.jpgYou know that your sales people and managers are having really good coaching sessions when they come well-prepared on the things that they want to change. You will find that the best sales people start managing themselves and bring opportunities that will help them be more successful to get buy-in from the sales manager for continued support. 

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You have written an excellent piece. I do not say that lightly

VP of SALES, $3 Billion Revenue Co.

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