Coaching Essentials: Read Any Good Spreadsheets Lately?
A Sales VP for one of our clients recently asked me to spend a day in his sales branch observing what he said would be coaching sessions. "The managers will conduct one-on-one meetings with their sales people and you can give them some feedback on their coaching," he said. Sounded like a good idea, so I agreed. I’ve always believed that a common failure on the part of most sales organizations is the lack of time spent coaching sellers to improved performance. Also, sales managers at this company had recently been introduced to a new coaching methodology and I thought it would be interesting to see what impact that coaching model was having on their efforts at this one branch.
When I arrived at the office that morning, I grabbed a cup of coffee and was led to a conference room where I was told the one-on-one meetings would take place. After a few minutes chatting with the VP and the sales manager I would be observing, the first seller came into the conference room. The weather, the latest iPhone release, and the relative merits of two baseball free agents were discussed, after which all got down to the business at hand – coaching, or so I thought.
The manager asked his seller if the file he had sent him was the latest version. The seller assured him that it was. Both then proceeded to open their laptops and pull up Excel spreadsheets, which I could see, contained a long list of customer names. Well, I thought, at least they’re prepared. One tenet of effective coaching is that it is done on a regularly scheduled, systematic basis. Clearly this sales manager had developed a system and his people knew what to expect when they met with him.
A brief discussion of accounts that had been sold since their last meeting ensued and after a few minutes, both were satisfied that all orders had been entered properly and the resulting revenue would hit everyone’s comp. It was time to move on to current funnel activity during which I assumed some coaching would take place. Both staring at their spreadsheets, the exchange went like this:
“Are you going to close ABC Company this month?”
“No, probably won’t happen until next month.”
“They’ve put off making their decision.”
“What about DEF?”
“I still haven’t met with the owner.”
“When are you planning to do that?”
“Hopefully later this week.”
“OK, make sure you get that set up.”
“I gave them pricing two weeks ago, they haven’t called me back.”
“Well, do what you can to bring that one in this month.”
This conversation lasted for over thirty minutes. While the Sales VP and I watched, manager and seller basically did nothing more than read the contents of their spreadsheets to each other. The seller left the meeting with a list of action items, mostly in the form of selling assignments – things to do with his prospects before his next scheduled one-on-one meeting. I observed the same manager conduct similar meetings with four other sellers that morning.
Later at lunch, the VP asked me how I thought the coaching sessions had gone. I responded that I hadn’t actually seen a coaching session yet, so I couldn’t really answer that question (tact doesn't happen to be one of my an innate qualities).
“I figured you were going to say something like that,” he replied. “Coaching is something we really struggle with. I feel like we sometimes lose people who have a lot of potential, at least in part because my managers are unable to effectively coach them up. How do I get them to be better at it?”
I shared several coaching exercises that his managers could begin doing immediately and would deliver impact:
- Build sales plans for each seller to include targets in predictive metrics – things like new funnel activity, average sale size, and closing ratio.
- Use time during one-on-one meetings to track actual performance versus targets in each metric, and look for gaps. Review sales opportunities and also look for gaps. In this case, the focus should be on identifying gaps in the seller’s understanding of the opportunity against some agreed upon set of information objectives.
- And most importantly, when gaps are identified, ask questions to understand WHY these gaps exist. Is there a skill or knowledge deficiency on the part of a seller that is preventing them from achieving their objectives?
- Finally, when skill or knowledge deficiencies are identified, it is imperative that the manager define a developmental assignment that will help the sales person build proficiency with the target skill or acquire the necessary knowledge. Absent this, we are sending the same person, armed with the same skill and knowledge into the same environment, but expecting a different result. Insanity anyone?
It’s not enough for a manager to identify a performance gap and simply instruct a seller to go fix it, as the manager I’d observed had done multiple times that morning. Questions like, “How are you going to go about getting that customer meeting?” and “What business problem or issue are they trying to address?” would likely have revealed skill or knowledge gaps that were preventing that seller from moving his opportunities forward. Only once the source of the problem is identified can the proper coaching intervention – in the form of developmental assignements – be put in place and real impact be achieved.
Besides, I told him, the only other option I could see would be to have his entire team download a newer version of Excel.