Sales Coaching in the New, Virtual World
In the new, virtual sales environment, the world of coaching has significantly changed. With so many dispersed sales teams working remotely, sales leaders have had to adapt their coaching methods to ensure their reps remain productive and at the top of their game. According to research by Gartner, in response to the challenge of maintaining productivity in a remote environment, sales leaders should create formal policies to foster a sense of community in virtual that promotes engagement. For coaching, one of the challenges created by the shift into virtual is finding time. As managers once easily scheduled office time for coaching, in virtual, time seems both shorter and faster. Managers must make the most of limited opportunities and condense their coaching to be as equally impactful in virtual as it was in person. Now that so many sales teams have adjusted to virtual selling, here are a few tips to help managers achieve success when coaching virtually.
How the Coaching Conversation Has Changed
According to information in Forrester, with the move to a virtual setting, many organizations have focused on keeping sales reps motivated and productive. Phil Harrell, VP of Sales Research at Forrester, adds that the pandemic forced companies to reinvent how they do business and how their organizational structure and investment decisions are being shaped going forward.
To ensure success in virtual coaching, sales managers must cede some authority and let sales reps speak. Interaction is central to the coaching experience, and just as reps must engage their clients in virtual calls, managers should allow reps the opportunity to address and assess their performance. This helps sales reps buy-in to the coaching, maintain ownership, and, most importantly, gives them a sense of control. This was confirmed in a Gallup survey that found that employees who are engaged virtually are more likely to stay with their organization, reducing overall turnover and the costs associated with it. Also, engaged employees make better brand ambassadors because they feel a greater connection to their organizations, which creates stronger bonds with customers and can lead to increased sales and profits. As coaching increases productivity and retainment, it is vital managers tailor their coaching initiatives to maximize virtual engagement.
Just as effective sales reps use open-ended questions to discover a client’s true needs and desires, managers and sales reps should employ the same strategy in virtual coaching to encourage trust and a willingness to engage both of their needs. As too many closed-ended questions can feel like an interrogation, managers who use open-ended questions can help create a comfortable and engaging virtual coaching experience that promotes rep buy-in.
Another important aspect of virtual coaching is the need to create a regular coaching cadence. While there was greater flexibility and opportunity for coaching in an office setting—where it’s common for reps to stop by a manager’s office or spontaneously meet in a conference room—with virtual coaching, a regular schedule allows managers to set a clear agenda, lets the reps prepare, and ensures everyone has the time necessary to get the most from their virtual coaching sessions.
Importance of Accurate and Specific Written and Verbal Communication
Virtual coaching, with its greater reliance on phone calls and video chat, requires more precise communication. Sales managers must remember how much is lost in the absence of body language and, in some cases, facial expressions. A comment without the benefit of an eye roll, shrug, or smile can lead to misunderstandings that have disastrous consequences on coaching, which should always be geared to build reps up. In email, it can be difficult to convey tone, especially if the sales manager is not a gifted writer. When coaching, managers should consider reading their emails out loud to better judge how the tone comes across to a remote sales rep.
In addition, managers should remember reps may experience increased anxiety due to working in the new remote environment. Without the benefit of in-person interaction, such as a boss’s smile or thumbs up in passing, remote reps can feel isolated and unsure of their standing. This can make them defensive and view coaching as a reprimand or an indication they are not pulling their weight. Therefore, it is important to make yourself more accessible for quick conversations, deal strategy, or just to vent about a recent client interaction. This open communication will make the rep feel more comfortable and confident.
Importance of Technology to Support Effective Virtual Coaching
These days, as so much of coaching revolves around using technology, managers and sales reps must leverage their CRM, video conferencing, and other sales-related tools, not only when engaging clients, but during coaching as well. It’s important that both parties, manager and sales rep, are comfortable using such tools on a daily basis and to establish a support infrastructure to help with troubleshooting technical problems and provide sufficient training and resources as new applications are introduced and existing ones are updated. In order to effectively coach, managers must be proficient with virtual collaboration tools, such as screen sharing and whiteboarding, to effectively support coaching in the virtual setting.
While there is little doubt the Coronavirus pandemic precipitated an abrupt shift into virtual selling, the effect on coaching should not be underestimated. According to Craig Wortmann, founder of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, “Sales leaders are going to need to coach salespeople on how to succeed in that new reality,” but he says that the fundamental principles of coaching a sales team aren’t much different today than they were a few months ago. What has changed is the stakes. With rising stress levels and declining budgets, it’s never been more important to get coaching right. In a bit of sales irony, for many organizations, the challenges of virtual selling likely precipitated a need for additional coaching. However, the time constraints of virtual coaching kept reps from receiving the coaching and reinforcement they needed. This no doubt exacerbated their stress during an already stressful time. As the need for virtual coaching continues, sales managers and reps will navigate the changes and ensure that virtual coaching helps reps remain both productive and satisfied.
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