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On the Job Coaching

Friday, November 30, 2012
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Behold a New Concept:  On-the-Job  Coaching for Sales

Sales coaching is a hot topic.  Every webcast and paper my firm delivers on the subject yields a massive response.  Consequently, we spend a lot of time thinking about the various issues with current sales coaching models and why they fail to make a real difference in sales performance.

From my perspective, a major hitch with sales coaching is that it typically takes place intermittently and outside of the day-to-day realities of selling.  Commonly, coaching is something that’s done on a schedule (like annual career development discussions) or during an intervention for poor performance.  For whatever reason, coaching has the feeling of an extracurricular activity—and not the main event.

Consider an analogy

Unfortunately, I will have to digress to a sports analogy.  It’s like a football coach speaking to a player while drawing on the chalk board in his office.  “Now, when you get out on the field, I want you to do this.  And then do that.  You got me?  You think you can do that?”  The player nods his head.  Sure he understands.  But will he actually be able to execute during the game?  Maybe, maybe not.  Many people struggle to apply theory to practice.  It’s just not that easy.

Coaching is much more powerful when it’s done in real time within the activity.  Imagine if the coach had instead provided his instruction on the field.  “Now, I want you to do this, and then do that.”  [Player tries and fails.]  “Okay, Charlie.  Now think about what just happened.  What do you think you did wrong?”  It’s not hard to see this coaching conversation having a much greater impact than the one farther removed from the action.  It’s easier to apply the theory to practice if it all takes place at the same time.

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Applying to sales

What we need is sales coaching that takes place within the context of actual selling.  Coaching that takes place when the seller is actually prioritizing customers, pursuing opportunities, making sales calls, and managing major accounts.  When a sales manager can coach a seller through real deals, the seller (not surprisingly) becomes better at winning real deals.  “What are you planning to do during this upcoming sales call, Charlie?”  Hmm.  “What do you think is going to be the customer’s reaction to that?”  Hmm.  “How else might you phrase that?” “

Granted, this type of conversation between a manager and a seller does not have to take place in front of live customers to be relevant.  Robust coaching conversations about real deals can happen in the office during planning sessions, as long as the planning session is proximate to the sales call and there is a debrief with the manager soon after.  Most importantly, these conversations need to be intentional, not ad hoc or randomly timed.

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Let’s call this model on-the-job coaching.  Like on-the-job training, it takes place in real time.  And unlike intermittent coaching, it’s relatively easy for the seller to see the direct applicability of the theory to the practice because the activity is right there in front of them.  They’re actually practicing it.

This is why the coaching model my firm uses is focused on coaching in the moment.  There is not only a greater likelihood of improving the seller’s skill; there is a greater likelihood of improving the seller’s performance.  Practice makes perfect.  And when you’re firing with live ammo, you tend to pay closer attention.

Bottom line

If your sales coaching model doesn’t encourage on-the-job coaching, it’s probably not accomplishing what you need it to accomplish—improved sales performance.  Stop the extracurricular coaching and incorporate it into real selling situations.  Then your salespeople will pay attention and actually develop their skills.  Most important, only then will your coaching really have an impact on sales.

About the Author

Jason Jordan is a partner of Vantage Point Performance, a sales management training and development firm. He is a recognized thought leader in business-to-business selling and conducts ongoing research into management best practices in hiring, developing, measuring, and managing world-class sales organizations. He is co-author of Cracking the Sales Management Code.

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