Years ago when I was carrying a bag for a major industrial company covering a territory in South Florida, I recall a “coaching” conversation I had with my district manager. I was new to my territory, and slightly behind plan heading into the fourth quarter, but it wasn’t for lack of effort. I was hitting all my targets for number of sales calls and new opportunities I added to the funnel, but I was still behind my goal.
My manager flew in from Atlanta for the infamous ride-along day of joint calls. I’m guessing we must have covered 100+ miles in the company car while making calls on current customers and prospects. As we finished the day (well past 6 p.m.) and headed to the airport for her return flight, she asked if we could have a coaching conversation. I said "absolutely, I could use the help!"
She then praised me for the effort in putting together what she felt was a productive day. She then said she had some specific feedback to help me. I literally leaned towards her in the car while very much looking forward to the insight and wisdom she might share so I could get my territory performing above plan. It was then that my manager shared this “coaching” wisdom with me that I remember to this day: “you need to work smarter, not harder.” And that was it as she thanked me for the day, told me she was looking forward to seeing how I applied her “coaching”, and dashed to catch her flight.
Work smarter, not harder. Now that’s always good advice, I agree. Yet, what specifically was I supposed to do? Stop being dumb? Who knows for sure. I wish I was making this up.
Too often, the sales coaching conversation fails to achieve their intended result (re: better sales performance) for several very understandable and common reasons including:
- Far too much time between a coach and a seller is spent gathering background information so they can agree on if performance is meeting and failing to meet expectations.
- There’s no agreed upon definition of the desired behaviors for “what good looks like” so the conversation is far too subjective and based on opinions and feelings.
- Most sales managers struggle to diagnose the root cause of the skill or knowledge gap between meeting expectations or missing performance targets.
- Most sales managers aren’t sure about the best corrective action needed to address the root cause of sales performance that’s below expectations.
- It’s too cumbersome to follow up on coaching sessions so the coach can evaluate progress
The highest performing sales coaches, or actually any coach in a performance-related field, seek to both enable and inspire their salespeople to reach their full potential. Their coaching conversations have 5 essential steps:
- Goal Setting - It is critical for an effective coach to first set tangible, achievable, goals before failure (e.g. missed sales quotas).
- Uncovering Gaps - An effective sales coach must become an expert in uncovering gaps in both the performance and behaviors of their salespeople relative to their goals.
- Identifying Root Cause - An effective sales coach must then identify the root causes of any performance and behavioral gaps preventing the achievement of a salesperson's goals.
- Defining Corrective Action - Once the gaps and their root causes have been identified, a sales coach must have the right knowledge and tools in place to prescribe the correct developmental and selling assignments needed to close the gaps.
- Evaluating Progress - Knowing that casual assignments are most often ignored, it is critical that a sales coach follows up with all coaching assignments in order to ensure that the prescribed corrective action is being implemented on an ongoing basis, and to offer minor course corrections as needed.
So, we can see that in order to be successful it's critical that sales coaches move past empty cliches (i.e. 'work smarter not harder'), and on to repeatable processes designed to identify and correct gaps in performance and behavior of their salespeople.
For more information on how to be a successful sales coach, and a more in-depth look at the content above, you may access our Guide to Sales Coaching here.
For 24 years, Andy Smith has been helping some of the world’s leading sales organizations, including Honeywell, MasterCard, ExxonMobil, Microsoft, and others increase their effectiveness through improved sales process execution, better sales coaching, consultative sales skill development, and higher CRM adoption. Andy holds a degree from Baylor University and prior to joining AXIOM he served in senior sales leadership roles for Sales Performance International, AchieveGlobal, and Acclivus Corporation. He started his career in sales with Xerox before joining ExxonMobil where he discovered his passion for the sales performance improvement profession. Andy lives in Denton, Texas. Ask Andy about his very average golf game, radio broadcasting of high school sports, or his three adorable grand babies.