What is Sales Coaching?

You hear a lot about sales coaching these days. It’s thought to be the main skill of the modern sales manager, it’s the source of an endless stream of how-to articles, and it was even the focus of a recent webinar we attended featuring Tony Robbins and Walter Rogers. But despite all of this attention, sales coaching remains somewhat of a mystery.

What, exactly, does sales coaching entail? Is it, like business coaching, about uncovering the hidden forces that shape success? Is it, like life coaching, about explaining a framework to help explain and order the complexities of the world? Or is it, like sports coaching, meant to harness and focus the talents of a large group of people?

The last of these, sports coaching, is generally considered to be the best comparison, but there are some limits to this analogy. Given the recent attention devoted to sales coaching, we thought it would be a good time to dive deep into this question. So, without further ado, let’s first define coaching, and then get into the nuances specific to sales coaching.

What can sales leaders learn from successful coaches?

According to the International Coach Federation, coaching is defined as, “An interactive process to help individuals and organizations develop more rapidly and produce more satisfying results; improving other’s ability to set goals, take action, make better decisions and make full use of their natural strengths.”

In Masterful Coaching, Robert Hargrove describes coaching as “challenging and supporting people in achieving higher levels of performance while allowing them to bring out the best in themselves and those around them.”

A coach is one who combines elements of a teacher, a counselor, a guide, a cheerleader, and a facilitator who uses the Socratic Method. A coach should understand the person’s motivations, assess their strengths and weaknesses, encourage and inspire them to achieve greater results, adopt a unique approach with each individual (instead of a one-size-fits-all approach) and foster an environment that allows the individual to thrive and become successful.

Coaching is different from managing, training, or mentoring. Traditional, old-school managers generally focus on telling people what to do. They don’t typically micromanage or drill down to the nitty-gritty of how individuals should do things.

Telling people what to do is not coaching. People don’t like to be told what to do, but rather, prefer to be enabled and helped. They want to be involved. As the old maxim goes, “Tell me and I forget, show me and I remember but involve me and I learn.” Coaching subscribes to this adage, involving employees to improve their job performances. It emphasizes the development of individuals and improving their performances gradually, which is a more practical approach than telling people what to do, which will be met with resistance.

The future of management is coaching. Old-school management methods are not effective anymore. One example of that is that it has been well-documented that the new Gen Y employees have different values and traits and because of that Gen Y does not work effectively within the scope of traditional management.

Coaching focuses on people’s strengths, not their weaknesses. Sports coaches constantly train to improve their players and focus on making them better every day. Coaches in sports seek to emphasize their best players’ strengths, more than they focus on improving weaknesses. When a football coach works on a quarterback’s strengths, he might focus on improving his accuracy or decision-making to help him improve as a quarterback. It would be silly for him to improve at being a wide receiver and work on his catching or route-running.

Nathan Jamail had a great point in his book The Sales Leader Playbook. To paraphrase him, “The best players do not necessarily win because they always execute the most difficult plays. They simply practice the basics, what’s tried and true, and get winning results. Focus on strengths and practice the basics until your players and sales teams are great at these basics.” This is what good coaches do with their teams – they focus on strengths and help their teams practice the basics.

What is sales coaching?

Although they might be a Sales Manager in title, they have to be a Sales Coach in function. Sales coaching, like any other type of coaching, requires a unique, one-on-one approach to each sales rep and not a “one size fits all” approach. A sales coach will not be able to manage the results but he or she can manage the behaviors or the steps that the sales reps take to get to those results.

Chris Lytle said in his book The Accidental Sales Manager, “You’re the sales manager but you don’t manage sales. You must coach the players to do what it takes to win instead of trying to coach the score.”

Keith Rosen said in his book Coaching Salespeople into Sales Champions, “Management is dead. Sales managers can’t just become sales coaching by changing their title without changing their skill set. The coaching model is based on the belief that the question is also the answer and that the coach is responsible for finding the answers themselves and developing their own problem-solving skills. Coaching uses a process of inquiry so that people can access their own energy or inner strength to reach their own level of awareness. Tapping into a person’s previously unused strengths and talents advances personal growth and learning, which challenges people to discover their personal best. Coaching is collaborative as well as interactive.”

Noted sales coach Gary Milwit said in an interview, “Some of the best coaches I ever worked with figured out how to get to the bottom of issues. You learn by making mistakes. You have to be able to say that you were wrong.”

An important thing to note is that to be an effective sales coach requires you to spend one-on-one dedicated time with each sales rep regularly. It also requires you to know each individual rep’s strengths, weaknesses and key performance metrics. Sales is a science, and sales managers must manage their team by analyzing metrics and KPIs or they will quickly lose the respect of their reps. Just like any coach, a sales coach draws from his or her experience, but the truly successful sales coaches or sales managers are data-driven and analytical. They ensure the successful performances of their reps by measuring hard data and subsequently measuring improvement and progress after coaching sessions.

Sales coaching is the new sales management. It helps promote individual rep’s development, improves job performance and reduces unnecessary learning time. Another key benefit is that sales coaching helps retain top performers. Unlike sales management, which focuses on telling them what to do, coaching helps reps who are already high performers become even more effective and successful.

Are you a good sales coach? What approaches do you use to coach your reps?

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