Are Your Sales Managers Ready To Coach?

“There’s an old saying,’ those who can’t do, teach!'”

“But what if the reverse is true ‘those who can do can’t teach!'”

This is an inherent problem that I see in so many sales businesses.

It’s natural that when it comes to promoting and building your sales leadership team, you will consider the best salespeople for the role. After all, promoting average and poor performers will hardly sit well with the rest of the team. So you base your sales leadership succession plan on sales performance. You promote your top SDR to the SDR team leader. Your top performing AE is moved to AE Manager, and the BDM with the most significant revenue generated becomes the Head of Business Development. These individuals have the credibility to lead from the front and will be respected for their track record, and ultimately, if needed, step in and save the day when that deal starts to stall or numbers are down.

However, there is one major flaw in this plan!

If your new sales leader is to have the most significant impact on sales performance, they need to be able to impart their skills and experience to the rest of their team. Otherwise, all you have done is taken your best player out of a direct sales role and limit their impact on sales generation.

They require a different skill set. 

Coaching, like selling, is a complete discipline in its own right, and, like selling, many organisations assume that this can be mastered by ‘just doing it’ or that some people ‘are just naturals’. But, more often than not, ‘it can’t’ and ‘they’re not!’

So when the coaching discipline isn’t developed within the leadership team, coaching is done poorly (if at all). Therefore, failure to impact performance and commitment from managers and sellers towards coaching wains further – it’s a vicious cycle. With so many other pulls on sales managers’ time, it’s easy to see why it gets pushed down their priority list if it’s not delivering the results.

So what are the core elements of coaching that sales leaders need to learn if they are to be effective within their role?

Coaching is more than telling.

Whatever an individual’s learning style, it’s fair to say that sitting and listening to someone describe “this is how I do it” is rarely an effective way of developing others. Instead, coaching should challenge, inspire and motivate individuals to make the necessary changes through engagement and self-realisation. People learn best when they are led to the moment of realisation: ‘Do as I say’ directive coaching style rarely yields results.

So what should your Sales Managers be doing?

Coaching requires a process.

You have a sales process designed to work the customer through to make a positive purchasing decision. So does your coaching structure and function. Coaching requires an individual to go on a journey, and the coach’s role is to point them in the right direction, but this takes skill and technique.  

There has to be a ‘how’ in addition to the ‘what.’

Coaches have to help sellers break down tasks into actions and steps. For example, one of the barriers is that the sellers could not describe how. It was just something they ‘did’ – which made trying to coach others on closing practically impossible. Breaking down key sales process elements and building them back into a set of repeatable actions and procedures is essential for developing the team’s skills.

Observation is non-negotiable

Imagine a sports coach who trains the team but will never watch them play! It’s inconceivable that they wouldn’t watch, review and analyse every aspect of the team’s performance and build their ongoing coaching and training plans based on these observations.

With so many options to record calls and observe sales interactions in virtual meetings, it’s now easier than ever for managers to observe customer interactions and provide feedback. However, despite the observation of a sales team becoming more accessible, many sales managers still don’t monitor their teams with any degree of regularity nor make it part of the coaching process. 

The reasons for this are numerous, but one common challenge for many sales managers is the ability to break down what is happening, analyse the skills and make the feedback meaningful. 

That’s a fundamental skill set that needs to be learned.

Coaching is not a remedial activity

“Top performers don’t need coaching?”

Top professionals in any discipline are always learning, developing and enhancing their knowledge and skill set. They recognise that their skills are never complete and the world constantly changes. What worked before needs to be reviewed, improved and refined as the world they operate in continues to evolve.

The most effective sales managers recognise that ongoing coaching and refinement of their top sellers is just as important as with those who are underperforming. You could argue that you get a better return for your investment of time in a top performer. Unfortunately, many sales managers don’t coach their top performers based on their limiting beliefs around their coaching skills and how the top performer will receive their coaching.

Coaching needs to be followed up

One-off sessions and conversations rarely lead to changes in skills, behaviours and results. Just like going to the gym – regular sessions deliver results. Big sessions once in a blue moon generate nothing. 

Having a call to action at the end of the coaching session is critical – as is the importance of an agreed set of next steps that involve active commitment from the individual (much like you would for a sales conversation!)

There are different types of coaching conversations – coaches need to develop them all!

Some coaching conversations are looking for a longer-term shift in approach to support the seller in achieving increasing targets. 

Other coaching conversations are about developing a specific skill (questioning, conducting discovery, dealing with objections).

Alternatively, the sales leader as a coach may be working on helping a seller to develop the right mindset that might be holding them back or working through a limiting belief that impacts the performance. These all require different approaches, and the sales leader needs to have the capability to recognise when other approaches are required and the skills to conduct them accordingly.

The good news for many organisations is that there is no reason that your sales leaders shouldn’t be able to become great sales coaches. The parallels between a good seller’s skills and approach and a good coach’s complementary skills are there to see.

(This is also excellent news for freelance coaches and consultants who need to win new clients!)

Looking at developing the coaching skills of your sales leadership team is potentially the greatest investment you can make, not only in your sales leaders but in your sales team overall.