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5 Laws of Sales Coaching: A Workshop Activity

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Wed Sep 24 2014

5 Laws of Sales Coaching: A Workshop Activity
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During a recent workshop, I asked the sales managers to develop some simple “Laws of Sales Coaching.” 

The context was to help newly promoted sales managers reach coaching success faster. My sneaky motive was for the sales managers to gain insight into their own sales coaching attitudes and practices. 

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Here’s what they developed and how the activity panned out. 

Law #1: Enable your sales team to do their personal best, every day 

It’s a simple law with a huge impact for representatives, their team, the sales manager, and the company. In fact, all agreed that it defined “sales management nirvana.” In other words, we are successful when the sales team members are successful. 

A standard approach to get “your sales team doing their personal best” has two parts:

  1. lots of sales meetings

  2. in-field coaching days. 

In both cases the sales manager’s desired outcome is some kind of commitment, for some kind of change. But it doesn’t end there. Now it’s time to maintain the momentum generated at the meeting or coaching session and drive implementation; get representatives to honour, and act on, their commitment. 

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Law #2: M****omentum eventually produces change 

According to these sales managers, “momentum” is the most difficult part of this formula. This seemed counter-intuitive; surely, the hard part is getting the commitment for some change in the first place. 

The easy part should be in maintaining a consistent and paced encouragement and support for the representative as they attempt the change process. But, no. When I dug a little deeper (why is momentum a challenge?), here is what I discovered. 

On one hand, representatives have a variety in response. On the other, sales managers have a _consistency in coaching approach—_they all follow the company’s coaching process. One brave sales manager offered this insight: “This seemingly hit-and-miss situation actually puts some doubt in my mind about my capacity to coach and manage the team.” 

And it turned out that she wasn’t alone.  The group agreed that this hesitation often leads to them playing a guessing game as they coach, connect, and communicate with their representatives. With the pressure on them to achieve sales and business goals, the group went on to explain why they were cautious coaching their team. It all had to do with risk. 

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Here are the important points the managers made: 

  • Representatives have a strong activity focus, so they have little conscious “big picture” insight about why they do what they do. As a result, the coaching conversation goes nowhere.

  • They didn’t want any confrontation that might demotivate the representative or the team (because they all talk to each other).

  • They’re afraid that the representative may resign, which would reflect poorly on the sales manager’s leadership ability.

  • They’re afraid that they may be a part of the problem.

  • The managers are so busy doing other things that they feel guilty not spending enough time with their sales team. 

Here’s the thing: all five points are from the Sales Manager’s perspective. 

So, in the next part of this activity, I asked the managers to flip the issue and look instead at a representative’s behavior (and their performance) from their perspective. 

Law #3: My representatives welcome change and my coaching 

Here are the sales managers’ answers to the question: When will representatives welcome change and my coaching?

  • When they need ideas to resolve a business problem they can’t fix themselves.

  • When the representative’s familiar resources (things they usually tap into) cannot fix the problem.

  • When the representatives can see that change will not create a major disruption in the balance between policies, rules, guidelines, and relationships but need some support doing something they’ve never done before.

  • When they know how to get agreement from everyone that counts in their circle (other stakeholders) and want you in their corner.

  • When the problem is causing more angst not being fixed than the potential disruption because of the change.    

It was then that I pushed this perspective a little harder. I tell them, “If your representatives don’t know how to do these things, guess what, they’ll play it safe and resist your coaching push. What you perceive is them ‘resisting change.’ The time it takes for them to resolve the issue internally and develop their own answers is the time it takes to change and improve.” 

I also remind them that there’s one other major consideration: “Representatives exist within a system that’s made up of many, many relationships and forces—their sales manager, company head office people, sales team mates, senior sales managers, other representatives from other teams, customers, other industry people, their spouse/ partner, parents, the brother-in-law who knows everything, neighbors, and so on. You get the picture.” 

Although some of these relationships and forces are more important or stronger than others, they all represent a critical frame-of-reference for the representative’s identity or how they see—and feel about—themselves. So, change is resisted until they’ve considered and decided how what you’re advocating will affect the status quo of all the important relationships and forces. 

Law #4: Sales people have been people far longer than they’ve been in sales 

To actually create momentum from sales meetings and coaching sessions and overcome this inertia (representatives resisting change), they have to first deal with the internal human issues before they consider the external sales (business) issues. Doing it the other way around causes more resistance to change. 

A representative’s first decision will always be to see if “known resources” can fix the problem, because known resources reduce the chance of upsetting the status quo. 

Keep in mind that, fundamentally, representatives are not seeking to change anything. Instead, they simply want to resolve their business problem(s) the easiest way—the way that they know how  or the way they did it last time. 

The process for change starts with supporting/ reassuring representatives to solve their problem(s) with what they already have. When that is insufficient, and they are aware of it and accept it, then you can move them onto a development plan. But not before then. 

Law #5: Show them where to look, not what to see 

After the other laws are in place, this one is pretty obvious. Enough said.

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