Is Conventional Wisdom About Sales Coaching Wrong?

Conventional WisdomIf I asked you if you coach your sellers, what would be your response? If you are like most sales managers, you would respond with a resounding, “Yes, of course!”

But are you really coaching your sellers? When we ask sales managers to describe the kind of sales coaching they provide, almost every manager’s answer is the same. The response inevitably sounds something like the following:  “I spend one or two days per quarter (or year, or whatever) in the field with each of my salespeople. We meet in the morning to discuss our plans for the day and then we go on multiple sales calls throughout the day. After each sales call, I provide feedback to the salesperson. At the end of the day, we have a recap and discuss areas for improvement for the seller to focus on until our next field travel day.”

Do you see a problem with this scenario? Perhaps, you, like other sales managers, have more responsibility than ever before. In addition to managing large teams, you may also find yourself geographically distant from your teams. It is also likely that you can’t just meet each team member at the local diner for breakfast and then spend the day in the field as easily as you could in the past. In many cases, you may even have to drive long distances or even fly to reach sellers. When you add in the travel time, it may severely limit the frequency with which you can engage in this “field-level” sales coaching. As a result, when you compare company expectations of field time with actual field time, you may find yourself almost always coming up short.

In addition to the practical limitations of field-level sales coaching due to team size and geographic dispersion, there are other reasons why field-level coaching is insufficient. That’s right, it is overly time-consuming and largely insufficient. Why might ask? Well, let’s take a closer look at the seller’s job. Prior to conducting a sales call, the seller has had to determine the following:

Which accounts should I pursue?
Which accounts have the highest potential?
On whom should I call within these accounts?
Which people and departments are the right targets for my efforts?
Which product set is applicable based on what I know of this account / department?
How should I prepare for and conduct an upcoming sales call?

As you can see, preparing to conduct an individual sales call is the LAST in a series of decisions a seller has to make. When a sales manager observes a sales call, the sales call itself may go well; however, the call may be with the wrong account, involve the wrong person, or perhaps even explore the wrong solution. If the manager has not been involved in coaching the seller on the series of decisions PRIOR to the sales call, a huge coaching opportunity has been missed.

So as you can see, sales coaching is significantly broader than conventional wisdom might have us believe. Managers who beat themselves up for not spending adequate time in the field may actually get a reprieve. Perhaps there are other types of sales coaching that are just as important as field-level coaching and are much more doable from a time and band-width perspective. If sales coaching is to be effective, we need to view it from a more comprehensive perspective, determine which types of coaching are relevant, and distribute coaching effort across a broader spectrum of seller activities. By doing this, you will not only be able to help sellers conduct better sales calls, but you will also ensure that sellers are targeting the right accounts in their territories, identifying the right functions and departments to pursue within accounts, determining the right contacts and opportunities to pursue, and then pursing these opportunities strategically.

If the conventional wisdom regarding sales coaching is no longer working for you, perhaps it’s time to redefine and execute sales coaching that more closely matches the real job of the salespeople you manage. Then when someone asks you if you are coaching your sellers, you can confidently say, “Yes!”, AND have the results to prove it.

Michele VazzanaMichele Vazzana is a well known speaker and Partner at Vantage Point Performance. She is also the co-author of “Cracking the Sales Management Code.”

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