These days, coaching is a vital part of sales organizations. A good coach hones talent in sales reps, which in turn makes for more competitive staying power in the marketplace. Oftentimes, the coach is a sales manager or sales leader; someone pivotal with a direct line to what’s transpiring in the field, a keen sense of the direction of the company, and firsthand knowledge of the impact the frontline salesforce is having on creating an extraordinary customer experience.
Obviously an effective coach is essential, yet sales coaches can’t expect to be good at coaching just by virtue of being promoted to coach because they’re at the top of their own game. Coaching the wrong individuals, setting obscure and/or confusing benchmarks, and failing to listen to what reps have to say are a few of the many pitfalls sales coaches must avoid in order to build a winning team. This blog would stretch into the outfield if we listed all the no-no’s of sales coaching. Instead, let’s take a more general approach: when coaches go too far in the wrong direction or take their role too seriously.
Difference Can Mean Greatness, Sameness Rarely Does
Listen up, sales coach: Spend time educating yourself on the work styles and work habits of individual contributors. After mining that data, you can identify strengths, weaknesses, and areas for improvement. But data-gathering about your salesforce should never lead to micromanaging. Sales coaches should see reps as individuals and celebrate their differences and the particular talents those folks bring to the team. There’s a reason each rep was hired in the first place, so play toward their strengths instead of micromanaging away what you see as their weaknesses if they don’t fit some predetermined mold.
Be Aware of Your Coaching Style
Sometimes, even the most well-intentioned sales coach can micromanage, often without knowing they’re doing it. Coaches shouldn’t engage in, for example, roll-playing calls simply because that activity is on a boilerplate coaching checklist that hasn’t been updated since Knute Rockne yelled “Win one for the Gipper!” down the field at Notre Dame.
What will serve you, your reps, and your bottom line better is identifying challenges that are specific to individual salespeople, rather than focusing on general frustrations stemming from the collective list of what’s wrong with this sales picture. Avoid dipping into disciplinarian mode. Use your experience to guide sales reps toward solutions for their particular challenges. Your experience will inform you—perhaps you overcame a similar challenge back in the day.
So how do you know if you’re going too far as a sales coach? Ask yourself if you suffer from any of these symptoms. If so, you could be a Franken-manager:
- You don’t really believe your staff has what it takes to succeed. If only they were more like you!
- Rather than offering constructive feedback when things don’t go all that well, you get into “Mommy Dearest” mode and break out the verbal wire hangers to berate people.
- You keep long-term goals and objectives all to yourself like some nervous, nut-hoarding squirrel.
- When staff members share ideas, you automatically dismiss them as not good, or you turn a deaf ear to any ideas that are not your own.
- You’d rather jump out of an airplane with an open umbrella than allow reps to take risks out in the field.
Part of being a good sales coach is keeping reps in the loop about the larger picture. They’re players on the corporate team too, so educate them about top-down goals and objectives, and demonstrate for them how doing their jobs well helps make the organization, and everyone in it, successful.
Give your staff autonomy, delegate some authority to them, and allow them decision-making power. You can do these things by establishing metrics so that reps know what is expected in terms of desired results. Also, outline clear measures for performance outcomes. If they know which line to shoot the ball from and how many points they need to win the game, they’re more likely to be victorious.
What any organization wants in a sales rep is a self-confident individual who regularly takes initiative. But when a Franken-manager coaches by breathing down the rep’s neck when they’re trying to work toward goals and find their stride in the company, they’ll end up knocking the self-confidence stuffing right out of that individual. Ut oh. Blood on the ice. Not good. Effective sales coaches are there to inspire by providing the guidance, support, and encouragement that helps reps get results. And keep in mind that reps don’t master the slap-shot right away—if they did, what would we need coaches for? Be patient, be understanding, and lead.
Coaching at its best means investing in individual contributors over the long term. As the legendary football coach Vince Lombardi once said, “The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, nor a lack of knowledge, but a lack of will.” Give your reps that will. And make it clear that they have a stake in the game. Only then will they have a chance of scoring winning goals.