“Put me in coach — I’m ready to play.”
We continually teach on the subject of sales coaching as part of a management training program at Sandler. Bill Bartlett, one of our Sandler colleagues in Chicago, recently authored a bestselling book, “The Sales Coach’s Playbook.” It’s available on Amazon and is an excellent resource for just about any business owner or sales manager who wants to help each member of the team succeed and contribute their very best to the company.
Sales coaching, rather than “managing” or “supervising,” is generally the most effective way to help improve the behaviors, attitudes and even techniques of salespeople, especially the ones who show promise but who have reached a plateau above which they can’t seem to climb any higher. In many and perhaps the majority of these cases, there are negative thought patterns holding back the salesperson. We often find that it’s some kind of fear or other negative emotion associated with change.
New behaviors and techniques that would improve sales results are easily understood but difficult to adopt. Coaching can make the difference in getting past the internal obstacles keeping salespeople from making positive changes.
Contrary to popular belief, sales coaching has nothing to do with showing people the right way to sell. To paraphrase Bartlett, sales coaching is a formal process that uses one-on-one meetings to help salespeople achieve new levels of success by discovering hidden issues that inhibit their performance.
In practice, sales coaching is a form of sales in itself, and it’s not always easy to get buy-in from someone on their own negative thought patterns that need to be changed. A good sales coach will help each salesperson discover their own problems and issues that affect behavior and work with them one-on-one to “reprogram” their negative thought patters and work differently — more effectively — going forward.
The 3 key objectives of effective sales coaching are:
• Ensure the proper application of skill level
• Facilitate long-term internal motivation
• Provide concrete proof of company support
Now that we have general coaching goals established, and yours might be somewhat different or unique, let’s get into five steps that Bartlett recommends for coaching a salesperson past their internal issues toward goal achievement and a more rewarding career:
- Have the salesperson identify their negative thought patterns. This could be fear of calling the CEO, fear of gatekeepers, hating networking events, or accepting “I’ll think it over” as a next step, and so on.
- Have the salesperson identify the opposite thought pattern. You and the salesperson should discuss and agree on the new, positive thought patterns such as the rewards of working with top decision makers, warming up relationships with gatekeepers, enjoying socializing while business networking, etc. Put a new behavior plan in place based on the new thought patterns.
- Have the salesperson visualize the results of following the new thoughts and behaviors. This will require daily affirmation and repetition over time. Writing in a journal is a great way to do this. If practiced every day for a month or more, new and more positive behavior habits will begin to emerge. This can be very exhilarating as the salesperson notices even a slight shift in their thinking and behavior habits and realizes something good is happening inside them.
- Develop a plan around the new thought patterns and new behaviors. It’s important to involve the salesperson very closely here so that it isn’t the company’s plan to change them, but rather it’s their own plan that they want to keep developing. Make it part of the salesperson’s daily personal development and have them consciously practice it in the field. Then watch for actual change and improvements in the results.
- Help them adjust the plan as needed along the way. A laissez-faire management style won’t cut it when it comes to effective sales coaching. There will always be some defeats and setbacks, and as their sales coach, you have the perspective of being the team leader who is always there to help point out the needed adjustments.
There’s a lot more to sales coaching than we can deliver in a single article, but these five steps are a pretty foolproof method for coaching each individual salesperson to be “ready to play” every day.